Think breakfast and most people will start to conjure up mouth-watering images of “eggs Benedict”. This classic has been served in many variations over the years and there is also almost as many derivatives of the original out there. To name a few:
- Eggs Blackstone substitutes streaky bacon for the ham and adds a tomato slice.
- Eggs Florentine substitutes spinach for the ham. Older versions of eggs Florentine add spinach to poached or eggs.
- Eggs Mornay substitutes the Hollandaise with Mornay (cheese) sauce.
- Eggs Atlantic substitutes smoked salmon for the ham.
- Huevos Benedict substitutes either sliced avocado or chorizo for the ham and is topped with both a salsa and hollandaise sauce.
- Eggs Hussarde substitutes Holland rusks for the English muffin and adds Bordelaise sauce.
- Eggs Sardou substitutes artichoke bottoms topped with crossed anchovy fillets for the english muffin and then, atop the egg and its hollandaise sauce was a dollop of chopped ham and a slice of truffle.
- Artichoke Benedict replaces the English muffin with a hollowed artichoke.
- Eggs Beauregard replaces the English muffin, ham and hollandaise sauce with an American biscuit, sausage patties and country gravy. The poached eggs are replaced with fried eggs.
- Irish Benedict replaces the ham with corned beef.
- Portobello Benedict substitutes Portobello mushrooms for the ham.
- Eggs John Scott replaces the Hollandaise sauce with HP Sauce.
- Eggs Billy replaces the English muffin with a lightly toasted buttermilk biscuit, country ham for the Canadian bacon, fried egg over easy for the poached egg, keep the Hollandaise sauce.
- Eggs Provençal replaces the Hollandaise sauce with Béarnaise Sauce.
- Russian Easter Benedict replaces the Hollandaise sauce with a lemon juice and mustard flavoured Béchamel Sauce and is topped with black caviar.
But first lets look at the definition to learn exactly what “eggs Benedict” is.
Well that seems pretty simple; just four main components. So lets break these down even further and I will walk you through a “step by step” of how to make a simple yet perfect, “eggs bene”.
1) English muffin – The base of any good eggs Benedict is great English muffin. An easy find in the supermarket for some, but for others it is required to make them yourself. At work, I am a firm believer in making everything ourselves so here is the muffin recipe that we use:
- 450gm flour
- 8gm salt
- 8gm castor sugar
- 16gm yeast (dry)
- 55gm butter
- 225gm milk
Combine the yeast, sugar and 25ml of milk. Mix to a slurry and pour onto the remaining ingredients. Leave in a warm place for 25 mins or until double in size. Roll the dough out (1 inch thick) and cut out with a circular cutter the size muffins that you require. Pan fry on a low heat (both sides) until cooked all the way through.
The big thing to remember is that an English muffin is cooked by pan frying not baking; I think that is where most people go wrong. Once you have you cooked muffin; split it in half and gently toast. Once it is at the desired golden brown, brush with softened butter (not melted) and you have the first step completed.
2) Ham – The ham is the simplest of all. I like to use a smoked ham loin due to it being slightly leaner, but any leg ham will suffice. Just slice it 1-2mm thick. Place on a hot grill of fry pan just long enough to get colour. Remember that the ham is already cooked, so in essence you are only reheating it. Leave it in the pan too long and you will end up with a dry and tasteless piece of meat.
3) Egg – The poached egg is again very simple of you follow a few basic techniques. First off, have a pot of boiling water 2-3inches deep. To this you need to add salt and vinegar. You should be able to distinguish the taste of both in the water if you have added the correct amount. This “acidulated” water is very important as it coagulates the protein(egg white) in the egg. This is reaction is basically what keeps your egg nice and tight rather than all thin and spread out. Next is the egg itself, always ensure that you have the freshest egg possible; this again determines the spread of an egg once cracked. The older the egg the bigger the spread.
Crack the egg into a small bowl first rather than directly into the water. This allows us to ensure that the yolk is still intact and the is no presence of any shell particles. Next take a ladle and stir the water in a circular motion to create a “whirlpool” effect. While the water is spinning, gently place the egg into the center of the water “the eye of the whirlpool” and allow the centrifugal force to assist in shaping the perfect poached egg. The water should be only at a gentle simmer as the egg is very delicate at this stage and any excess handling can result in damaging the yolk of deforming the shape. At this stage you should skim away and excess white or egg membrane that is floating on the surface. Once the egg is at the desired cooking degree (2-3mins for medium), remove from the water with a perforated spoon and gentle place on absorbent kitchen paper to remove any water. If this is not done, the result will be a soggy english muffin, reminiscent of duck food..
4) Hollandaise sauce – This really is the “peace de resistance” of the dish and one of French cooking basic sauces, yet so often it is done really badly; so here is my recipe:
- 75ml white wine vinegar (Champagne vinegar if available)
- 1 tablespoon shallot (finely chopped)
- 10 black peppercorns (crushed)
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 egg yolks
- 400gm butter (unsalted)
- Cayenne pepper
- Lemon juice
Firstly, place the vinegar, shallots, peppercorns and bay leaf in a sauce pan and bring to the boil. Simmer this until it has reduced in volume by half. Strain the liquid off; this liquid is called a “reduction” and is the base to a good sauce.
Place your egg yolks into a mixing bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the reduction. Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water to allow the steam to start heating up the egg mixture. Constant whisk the eggs over the heat until they become thick and light in colour. The best test is when you run your whisk through the mix, can you still see a trail left behind? This is known as “sabayon” stage. Remove from the heat before it goes any further or you will end up with something that resembles scrambled eggs..
Melt the butter over a gentle heat to cause a separation of the butter milk and oil. Remove any of the scum that comes up and settles on the surface. Allow the butter to cool slightly, then gradually pour the melted butter into the egg mixture. Make sure you add the first amount of butter very slowly and constantly whisk it while pouring. Once all the butter has been emulsified into the egg mixture, discard the remaining butter milk in the pan. Season the sauce with Cayenne pepper, salt and lemon juice.
As I mentioned earlier; this is a base sauce in French cooking. With a few minor adjustments, you can make many other sauces such as béarnaise, Maltese, Choron; but that is a whole other blog post. So now it is just a matter of combining the four ingredients together and “plate up” as you see fit. I like a simple white plate and usually garnish with some blanched asparagus to offer some colour contrast.