the key to the best Eggs Benedict!
Eggs…one of my favorite foods. Top 5 for sure. Why I love eggs so much is simple – they are insanely versatile. From the numerous ways to eat an egg, to baking, sauces, gelato and so much more, the incredible edible egg is indispensable (for those of you old enough, you’ll remember that jingle for eggs way back when). But let’s get to the goods!
The Classic: Eggs Benedict
One of my best adaptations for a classic dish is Eggs Benedict. I don’t like to go too crazy changing the recipe, but I have tried many variations and still prefer something close to the classic – a perfectly poached egg on top of a seared slice of Canadian bacon, on top of a toasted English muffin, with hollandaise sauce poured on top. Add a little cayenne and chives for garnish and, voila! A perfect Eggs Benedict.
Food Geek Paragraph – Eggs Benedicts Origins
So, where is Eggs Benedict from?? Is Eggs Benedict an American (USA) dish, with Canadian protein, English bread and a French sauce? As it turns out, this is more accurate than I originally thought. The dish is an invention from the United States and, as far as the interwebs and the few hours or so I spent looking into this are concerned, was first served in New York in the late 1800’s. Hollandaise sauce is a classic French sauce – one of the five French “mother sauces” along with tomato sauce, bechamel, velouté and espagnole. And it’s pretty bad-ass too!
Most of us know “English muffins” aren’t English right? Turns out they are English, but, for obvious reasons, they are just called muffins in England. Not to get the wheels of this too far into the ditch, but recently we made homemade English muffins and I doubt we will buy supermarket brands ever again. Anyway, check “yes” for the English muffins being yet another (or one of the few) outstanding English culinary inventions.
So Canadian bacon? Is it really Canadian? Not really. And the supermarket type of Canadian bacon isn’t even pork belly. So, as we know it in the USA, it’s neither Canadian nor bacon. And if you ask a Canadian not familiar with American ways of naming things stupidly, they wouldn’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Believe me, Angela’s parents are Canadian and they rolled their eyes when I asked about this “Canadian” bacon variety. The kind of Canadian bacon you are most likely to find is almost all from the loin – not the belly. But so what…call it bacon or Canadian bacon or back bacon or whatever you want. I’ve been known to call a cow “beef” and grapevines “wine plants,” so unless you’re writing a butchering book it shouldn’t make a damn. So, there you have it…a bunch of worthless geeky information on this brilliant dish.
Are Eggs Benedicts Difficult to make?
Why are so many people intimidated by this amazing breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner creation? It’s most likely poaching the eggs and making a good hollandaise. A little practice on both and it will seem so simple. I find that assembly is the most challenging – that is getting everything plated and the individual components are still hot. So, here’s how I do it in simplicity:
I sear the Canadian bacon, wrap in foil and put in the oven to keep warm. At the same time, I toast the English muffins and do the same with them. I’m looking for crunchy but not too dried out. Then I make the sauce and keep it warm over a double boiler (just keeping it warm, not over cooking, which can curdle the sauce). Then I can focus on poaching eggs perfectly and assemble the plate while doing so. Just try it and if you dick it up then try again. You may nail it on your first try (just remember how you did it)!
OK…let’s address poaching an egg. This may be the most challenging part. I’m going to be super basic with this, so if you’re an expert and do things differently…good for you!! You get a cookie! But for everyone else in the world, if poaching an egg seems daunting, then hopefully this will help. Everyone has their take on how the yolk should be, but I’m going to be talking about the nice runny style with firm whites typical of a classic poached egg. If you ONLY like your yolks hard, then maybe you should have a hard-boiled egg and you can skip this recipe. I use a Le Creuset Dutch oven for this process. It just seems to work perfectly. I’ve used almost every type of pot/pan and this is what works best for me. If you don’t have an enameled cast iron vessel, it will still work perfectly – I just happen to be a food dork, that’s it (and cast-iron holds heat so well it’s easy to keep the temperature perfect).
How to poach an egg
Bring about 4-6 inches of water to a boil, then reduce heat so you have a good, aggressive simmer, but not a boil. Add a tablespoon or so of distilled white vinegar or rice vinegar. This will help with the formation of the whites. You should crack your eggs into ramekins or some other little bowl to put into the water. If the yolk breaks, you screwed up and it won’t work, so try again. If you got a piece of shell in there, I suggest that you remove it before you cook it and ultimately eat it (which isn’t recommended).
Create a whirlpool with a spoon and gently slide the egg into the center. A note on the whirlpool…a gentle one will do. We aren’t trying to drown a giant squid. Wait a few seconds, nudge the egg off the bottom and into the current of the whirlpool and add another egg. The nudging keeps the egg from sticking to the bottom and makes room for egg #2 to be dropped in (it may not even be necessary btw). If you have a bunch of wispy egg white strands it’s not the end of the world, but not optimal…chances are the water is too hot. I’m assuming you’ll do two or four eggs at once, so you need to work somewhat quickly to ensure the eggs are generally the same when you take them out. OK, I’m going to just say at this point, it’s about feel and looks more than anything, but use two minutes as your guide. Your water temperature, how many eggs, and many other variables make it impossible to just go by time (so shitcan that egg timer). Keep an eye on the whites and when they seem like they’ve firmed up, pull one out with a slotted spoon and look. Tilt it from side to side to see the firmness of the whites. If the white looks good – firm yet somewhat wobbly – you should be ready to go! This will take practice, so don’t give up after your first egg.
The two minutes while the egg is cooking is GO TIME! You need to plate your muffins and bacon, so that the egg is ready to place on top. When removing my poached eggs, I turn them out onto some paper towels in my other hand to remove all of the water and then gently place them on my pre-assembled muffin and bacon plate. Finally, give your hollandaise a good stir, and pour it over the top of your assembled benny.
Eggs Benedict Sauce – aka Hollandaise
We prefer a nice citrusy and somewhat spicy hollandaise. Because it is an egg-based sauce, super eggy sauce on top of super eggy poached eggs is a bit too much egg for our liking. You can find our version for Lemon Hollandaise Sauce here.
Ang likes a shit-ton of sauce so I cover her plate completely. I prefer a more moderate, aka “normal,” amount of sauce. I don’t think we need to break down how to make the hollandaise sauce much here, but if your sauce breaks down, you’re fucked. Just kidding but follow the quick tips below and you’ll be fine. Using an immersion blender often solves this problem.
Eggs Benedict Quick Tips
For those of you who are “too busy” to read my rambling above, here are some quick tips to master Eggs Benedict:
- An enameled cast iron pot (like Le Creuset) works best for poaching the eggs (no idea why, but it does).
- Add any citrus (or any vinegar) in the sauce…experiment and see what you like. We often use lemon juice or white vinegar.
- When removing the egg, use a paper towel to absorb as much water before plating
- If the sauce is too thin, try an immersion blender to thicken. This works if the sauce breaks down also.
- The sauce will tend to thicken as you let it stand over the double boiler – taste it to determine if you want to thin it back out with more citrus or warm water. This is personal preference, but we prefer a thicker sauce
- To know when the egg is done, practice is the best way based on what you are looking for. Add eggs when the water is simmering and use 2 minutes as a guideline for a runny yolk but firm white.
- Crack eggs into ramekins first (not from shell to water). It allows you to put them in the water easier, at closer intervals, without that bit of shell that happens occasionally, and the finished egg will be more compact.
- Use the freshest eggs you can get for the poached egg – farm fresh is the best if you can find them at your local farmers market
Experimentation with everything is encouraged – here are just a few that I have tried with success:
- Swap summer sausage for Canadian bacon
- Garnish with something other than chives (like parsley, cilantro, thyme, etc.).
- Use a crab cake instead of the muffin and fried green tomatoes instead of bacon.
- Use fresh orange juice in the sauce for a little sweeter version (grapefruit too!).
- Use a good Italian or French bread in place of the English muffin.
- Add whatever cheese in whatever form to the assembly of the dish.
We encourage you to give this a try and let us know how it turns out! Happy egg-ing!