Eggs Benedict is about a century old, but it’s not really known who invented it, or who Benedict was. (There are several claimants.) I’m suspicious of the dish in restaurants, because it’s the only fancy egg dish that is very well known nationwide. So a lot of cooks who really don’t know what they’re doing try to make it, with predictable results.
Although the classic version used Canadian bacon, I like eggs Benedict better when made with a thick piece of grilled or (better) baked ham. But other substitutes are interesting. Prosciutto, for example. Smoked salmon isn’t bad. In fact, in many breakfast restaurants you’ll see a whole section of “bennies”: poached eggs with a choice of many understories.
The trickiest part is poaching the eggs. You need the freshest eggs available. Only then will you be able to make the yolks stand up like spheres instead of blobs. The hollandaise should also have some body, and enough cayenne to keep all that richness from cloying. A great touch: truffles shaved on top.
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- Pinch cayenne
- 2 Tbs. salt
- 2 Tbs. vinegar
- 8 very fresh jumbo eggs
- 8 small slices lean, smoky ham, about 1/4 inch thick
- 4 English muffins, split and toasted
1. Whisk the egg yolks and the vinegar briskly in a metal bowl set over a saucepan with about an inch of simmering water at the bottom. If you see even a hint of curdling in the eggs, take the bowl off the heat, but keep whisking. Keep going back and forth from the heat until the mixture turns thick and lightens in color. Whisk in a tablespoon of warm water.
2. Begin adding the softened butter, a pat at a time. After about a fourth of the butter is in there, you’ll begin to see a change in the texture of the sauce. At that point, you can step up the addition of the butter a bit, and keep going till all the butter is incorporated.
3. Whisk in the cayenne and the lemon juice. Set the bowl in a bigger bowl of warm (not hot!) water and cover with plastic wrap.
1. Use a large stainless-steel skillet filled with water about an inch and a half deep. Bring it to a boil while dissolving the salt into it and adding the vinegar.
2. The hard part of poaching eggs is keeping them together as you add them to the pan. The best trick is to use a tall coffee cup–the kind that narrows at the bottom. Break one egg into each of four cups. (Or eight, if your skillet is big enough to fit all those eggs.)
3. When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to the lowest possible setting. Slide the eggs carefully into the pan, two (or four, even) at a time. Let them simmer for three to four minutes, depending on the size of the eggs.
4. The best tool to remove the eggs with is a round skimmer with holes in it, or a large slotted spoon. Carefully remove one at a time, and let the excess water drip off.
5. Place a slice of ham atop each English muffin half, then top with an egg. Cover with a generous flow of hollandaise. Garnish with a light sprinkle of cayenne.
Serves four brunch entrees, or eight dinner appetizers.