In 250 articles written since this blogging adventure started in December 2012, the top, top, top post has been EGGS: BENEDICT, FLORENTINE AND ROYALE in January 2013 with nearly 40,000 readers.
It can’t be that there are no other recipes on the Internet, there must be thousands, but clearly my original post has struck a chord. Not a week goes by without another few dozen more folks checking in to see how to cook up perfect poached eggs on an English muffin, with hollandaise sauce. Mind you, a few UK based chefs should have checked my recipe. Never have I had worse eggs ‘Benny’ than in England. Most Brit cooks probably don’t know, or care, that this is a quintessentially New York creation, going back more than 100 years.
The first problem in England, is that chefs think they can mess with a perfectly simple recipe. The second problem is that in the UK, English muffins aren’t the same as English muffins in North America. But whatever the slight difference, just tear them in two (never cut), toast them (never un-toasted) add a topping of your choice, a poached egg and a good dollop of freshly made hollandaise sauce.
I’ve had horrible examples on raw muffins, cold croissants and even a potato pancake. While I admit my own sauce sometimes turns out a little bland, nothing could be worse than the foul chemical tasting preparation from a bottle I suffered through recently. I shan’t mention the establishment. Or another where the hollandaise was substituted with mayo. In Sussex, a hotel chef stacked two untoasted muffins on top of each other, added canned ham and one poached egg. When I asked for the muffins to be toasted, and for some sauce, I was told that’s the way it was done. I’m pleased to say the hotel is now out of business.
On the subject of toppings, don’t mess with success here either. The original Eggs Benedict calls for a slice of ham. Variations such as substituting spinach (Eggs Florentine) or smoked salmon (Eggs Royale) can be delicious. A spot we used to frequent called their version with both spinach and smoked salmon, Eggs Norwentine, a name I refuse to endorse, though the result is delicious. However, an Internet search throws up this variation named Eggs Norwegian, and for a name, it will do just fine.
Here are the stories of two competing claims for the invention of the original Eggs Benedict in New York.
The Delmonico’s Restaurant version: In the 1860’s, a regular patron of the very first public dining room ever opened in the US, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, wanted something different to eat and asked Chef Charles Ranhofer (1836-1899) for his ideas. He offered her a dish which he named Eggs Benedict and published the recipe in his cookbook, The Epicurean in 1894. Although the present restaurant has little to do with the original family establishment, they still claim to have invented the dish. But what’s this? They serve it thus: Farm Egg, Brioche, Hollandaise, American Caviar. I guess as inventors, it’s theirs to change, but I hardly count it an improvement.
The Waldorf Hotel version: Coincidentally, that same year, 1894, Mr. Lemuel Benedict, a Wall Street broker, who was suffering from a hangover, apparently ordered “some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise sauce” in the hotel’s restaurant. The legendary chef, Oscar Tschirky, was so impressed that he put the dish on his menu and named it after the banker. The hotel is currently closed for extensive renovations, so we’ll have to wait and see how, or if, they present their version of Eggs Benedict when the place reopens next year.
Delicious as the muffin, topping, poached egg and sauce are, the plate always seems a little empty if served solo. I’ve already mentioned the sad offering from the Sussex hotel, where the plate was barely enlivened with a scattering of chopped parsley. Chefs need to put a bit more effort into the accompaniments and garnish.
My personal first choice, whichever version I’m serving, is a few spears of fresh steamed asparagus, lain between the two halves of the muffin so they benefit from the hollandaise. If the spears are skinny, I break them at the division between tender and tough. If the spears are fat, I peel them from the flower head down and chop off the base.
I love home fries and they work exceptionally well with eggs Benny. For a change, I first boil some tiny new potatoes, often coloured yellow, red and blue, for a few minutes, then chop in half and pan fry in a little butter and olive oil. Drain on a paper towel, heavily season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper and serve. Sometimes, I will add a couple of cherry or grape tomatoes, pan fried whole, or even some thinly sliced onions, all sautéed in the same pan. Each distinctive flavour adds its own delight.
Finally, I sprinkle some paprika onto the sauce-topped eggs, the red spice adding colour and a little fire.
Herbs I can take or leave alone. When my garden pots of basil, parsley and chives are overflowing with fresh greens, I might pluck some for decoration, or in the case of parsley, chop it finely and sprinkle everywhere. Failing fresh herbs for garnish, I leave them out.
Occasionally, guests who are on a gluten free diet or something like that, ask me to leave out the muffin, in which case I double up on the spinach, lay the smoked salmon on top, the poached egg above than and a small blob of hollandaise to finish.
- 2 fresh large room temperature eggs (each)
- 1 English muffin (each)
- 5 or 6 slices thinly cut ham to cover the muffins
- 2 TBSP HOLLANDAISE SAUCE
- 6 asparagus spears
- White vinegar
- Pinch Paprika
Preparation and cooking
- Prepare the HOLLANDAISE SAUCE and set to one side over a very low heat.
- Fill a deep sided 10 in frying pan with water, add a good splash of white vinegar, and bring to the boil. The vinegar will help the albumen in the eggs hold together. Salt will substitute. Or use an egg poacher.
- Wash the asparagus and break off the tough ends. The spear should break exactly where the tender part ends and the tough part starts. Make sure the flower end is washed clear of sand. With very think stems, peel from the flower downwards and cut ff the end. Put just 1 in of water in the bottom of a steamer and set to boil. Add the asparagus and steam for 5 min.
- At the last minute, add the carefully broken eggs to the boiling water and turn off the heat. Let the eggs sit for 3 min for soft and 5 min for medium.
- Break, do not cut, the muffins in half and toast. Use a fork to pry apart, if the muffin is stubborn.
- Plate the toasted muffins, arrange the slices of ham on top of the muffins, using a slotted spoon, gently lift each egg out of the water, drain excess water on a paper towel and then carefully slide the egg onto the ham. Top with a couple of spoonfuls of sauce and finish with a touch of paprika for colour. Decorate with the asparagus spears and serve immediately.
- Replace the ham with lightly steamed spinach for a vegetarian version. The spinach can steam along with the asparagus. Drain very well, to avoid a soggy muffin.
- Replace the ham with lightly steamed spinach AND smoked salmon or gravlax. Drain the spinach very well on a paper towel.
- Replace the ham with smoked salmon or gravlax for another delicious alternative.
If you are in a panic about this, use a packet mix. But the taste is infinitely superior if you make it from scratch. It only takes 5 min and can then rest while you prepare the remainder of the ingredients.
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 TBSP lemon (or less!)
- 1/4 lb melted butter
- 1 TBSP hot water
- pinch cayenne pepper
Preparation and cooking
- Beat the egg yolks in a pan over hot water so they start to thicken.
- Add a few drops of lemon juice and keep beating.
- Add melted butter slowly to form an emulsion. TIP: If at any time the sauce starts to separate, add a little very hot water and beat in gently.
- Taste and add more lemon juice if necessary. Season with a pinch of cayenne pepper for colour and bite.
If you are one of the 38,222 people who have read this blog before, my thanks and apologies for bringing up old news. There are some slight revisions which I think improve the recipes. The recipes also appear in Market to Table: The Cookbook, which you can buy online from Lulu.com, Apple and Amazon; an excellent fully illustrated eBook for about $11.50!
I usually serve eggs Benny in any of its incarnations with either a Bloody Mary or a glass of bubbly. Our wine expert Jim Walker suggests that a white Châteauneuf du Pape would be divine. His Arthur’s Cellar wine club offers a 2017 Cuvée Flora from Domaine Giuliani at $41.40 the bottle. It is currently sold out locally at LCBO.com, but supplies are on their way, he assures me.
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All styling and photographs by Nigel Napier-Andrews.
Categories: Market to Table