For the past few weeks, I’ve had a craving for Eggs Benedict. It takes a few minutes to prepare the dish from scratch, and I’ve been a bit busy the past few weekends. In addition, the dish can be a bit complex, especially if you make the hollandaise sauce from scratch. This morning, I finally got my act together and decided to prepare the dish.
I started out with the poached eggs. While it takes a bit of practice to make poached eggs that look beautiful, the basic recipe is very simple. First, simmer two to three inches of water in a saucepan wide enough for all of your eggs to sit without significantly touching. You should add some vinegar to the water; this will help the eggs to form up more quickly.
Here is an important trick when poaching eggs: don’t drop the eggs into the water. If you are very slick, you can break the eggs just over the surface of the water. I find it easier to break the egg into a small dish and gently slide the egg into the water. After the eggs are into the gently simmering water, just cook them for three to five minutes.
After a few minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to a small dish or bowl of clean water in order to remove any of the vinegar flavor. Then, transfer the egg to a towel and pat dry. (Be careful, of course, not to break the egg open–the yolk should still be runny.) You can choose to trim the egg of any excess whites if you like–it depends on your presentation.
While I was poaching the eggs, I quickly heated some Canadian bacon. Simply heat a pan or griddle and cook the bacon on both sides for a minute or so. Canadian bacon is generally fully cooked, so you really just have to heat it through.
English muffins are simple–pop them in a toaster and cook. I wish I had turned down my toaster a bit. Crispy English muffins are great for eating with your hands, but I think it’s easier to cut through English muffins with a regular knife when they are still a little soft.
For the last component of the Eggs Benedict, I prepared the hollandaise sauce. For all French sauces, one of the best references is Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck. I enjoyed preparing the sauce–in fact, it was the highlight of the dish. In essence, a hollandaise sauce is a butter and egg sauce flavored with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. In short, you use low heat to gently cook egg yolks with a bit of water. Salt and a tablespoon of lemon juice and is added and the cooking continues. Then, you add some whole butter and whisk it into the mixture to help stop the cooking. Melted butter is gradually added to the mixture to form a sauce; salt and white pepper is added to taste. In the end, there is around three tablespoons of butter for each egg yolk.
One of the keys of making a hollandaise sauce is to manage the heat. If the heat is too high, you end up with scrambled egg yolks. In order to manage the heat, I prepared the sauce using a double boiler. (Well, not really–I used a metal pan over a sauce pan with boiling water–same thing, though.) The hollandaise sauce has a lovely creamy texture and a delicate yellow/white color. It’s rich and velvety with a tangy (but not overpowering) flavor.
Assembly of the Eggs Benedict is a snap: English muffin, Canadian Bacon, poached Egg, and a generous topping of hollandaise sauce. And it’s an awesome dish. There’s a variety of textures as you bite through the bread, meat, egg, and sauce, and the flavors of each ingredient balance each other. The tang of the lemon juice balances against the smoke of the bacon, and the eggs and sauce provide a beautiful compliment to each other.
When I prepare the dish again, I would prepare the hollandaise sauce before the other elements. I believe I could have kept the sauce warm easily while keeping the other elements of the dish warm was a bit more difficult. The sauce is the most difficult element, and the other three elements can come together at the same time without trouble.
In the end, this dish is not so difficult. The entire time to prepare everything was between 30 and 60 minutes including cleaning. (And cleaning does take a bit of time–you end up using quite a few dishes to prepare everything.) It’s well worth it; I will certainly be making Eggs Benedict again.