Every Sunday morning growing up was marked by the same sight: my father hovering over a griddle making pancakes, my sister requesting that he put strawberries in the batter, me reminding him to make mine without the berries, and my brother standing in front of the fridge drinking milk straight from the gallon. We all live in different states now, but our first question when we all come back home is if Dad will make pancakes in the morning.
Away from my family, I’m more likely to be sitting at a table with friends on a Sunday while a waitress takes our order. Being on my own in the city has opened my eyes to new kinds of breakfast treats aside from my Dad’s tried-and-true pancakes. My new breakfast delight? Eggs Benedict.
Its exact origins are unclear, but eggs Benedict is a truly classic American dish. As early as 1894, it appeared in The Epicurean by the chef of the famed Delmonico’s, Charles Ranhofer. His recipe, “Eggs a’ la Benedick” involved lightly toasted muffins with cooked ham and poached eggs covered in hollandaise sauce. The recipe was supposedly inspired by Mrs. Le Grand Benedict, who thought of the dish when she grew tired of the usual fare at Delmonico’s. However, another more interesting source cites a hung-over Wall Street stockbroker, Lemuel Benedict, requesting “buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of hollandaise” from the Waldorf Hotel’s kitchen in 1894 as a cure for his morning-after ails. Impressed with the dish, the the maitre-d’hotel, Oscar Tschirky made it a menu staple. Whether it was Delmonico’s or The Waldorf or both, Eggs Benedict became a classic found in any restaurant serving breakfast.
Eggs Benedict seems pretty simple – really, it’s just a poached egg, hollandaise, and a toasted English muffin. Even the meat is optional. So why does such a simple dish, with origins as a hangover cure, bear a “DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME” label?
With only three components, eggs Benedict sounds simple; it’s just bread, poached eggs, and hollandaise. But in reality, preparing these components can be tricky, especially the egg and the sauce. Poached eggs aren’t necessarily hard to get right, but they are very easy to get wrong. Dropping a gooey egg into simmering water and trying to get it to stay in one uniform piece seems to go beyond the laws of physics, and inevitably, eggs will separate, the whites can tear, and not to mention it’s difficult to know when a poached egg is cooked enough to your liking. Hollandaise sauce is also known to be a culinary nightmare. Because it’s an emulsification – a mixture of things that don’t mix – it’s a tough sauce to get right. Hollandaise is temperamental, and can break even if you look at it the wrong way. I’ve broken some hollandaise sauces, but with more whisking and more butter, it is possible to get it back.
With that being said, it is not impossible to make eggs Benedict at home. For any home cook that is up for a challenge and willing to practice, I highly suggest trying to master eggs Benedict. For the Sundays that I find myself not wanting to brave the brunch line, or for the Sundays that I’m not making a stack of Dad’s pancakes for myself, I treat myself to eggs Benedict. Through my experiences making eggs Benedict, I have a few tips I learned along the way (including a foolproof hollandaise recipe that I learned in culinary class that substitutes cold cubes of butter for the traditional clarified butter). But for those who aren’t fans of hollandaise, I’ve included two hollandaise-free variations that are just as rich and satisfying.
After trying many different methods and tips for poaching eggs, my suggestions come down to three fundamental don’ts:
First, don’t boil the water. The big rolling bubbles that happen during boiling are too rough for poaching eggs. The bubbles will end up breaking apart the whites from the yolk and you’ll be left with boiled scrambled eggs. The right water temperature is a gentle simmer with small bubbles that slowly rise to the surface. Keep the water at this temperature and then it’s time to slowly drop the eggs into the pot.
Second, don’t harass the egg. Poaching is a gentle cooking method, so it is best to leave the eggs alone after using a dish to slowly pour them into the simmering water. I tend to fuss when I cook, but my poking and prodding, in this case, does more harm than good. That is why I was grateful to discover Alton Brown’s method of poaching. Like making minute rice, once the egg is in the pot, pop the lid on and remove it from the heat. After about 4 minutes, the egg will be perfectly poached with a barely runny yolk and firm egg whites. Adding a teaspoon of acid, like vinegar, per cup of water will also ensure that the egg whites remain stable and firm.
Third, and most importantly, just don’t panic. Eggs are tricky, so be prepared for some hiccups. The yolks can leak. The whites sometimes rip off and look like strips of floating toilet paper in the pot. And timing your eggs for the perfect doneness to your liking will take some practice. But the important thing to remember is not to freak out. Egg whites can always be trimmed and shaped once you pull the eggs out of the pot if they get too scraggly. But best of all, poaching eggs is cheap – all you need is eggs and water. So if you do mess up beyond repair, it isn’t too much of a waste to try again with another. Practice poaching with only one egg at a time until you feel comfortable enough to do them in batches.
I hope my tips and tricks have dispelled some of the fear associated with making eggs Benedict at home (although, with its heavy calorie load, it probably shouldn’t be something you make all the time). I’ve included three recipes: the Classic Benedict, Huevos Benedictos, and Eggs Florentine. The Classic includes my fool-proof hollandaise recipe, but the other two recipes are hollandaise-free. All the recipes are quite simple to make once you’ve mastered how to poach an egg. With some practice and determination, any home cook should be able to whip up some eggs Benedict without depending on the Sunday brunch special. So grab your hooker of hollandaise and start making some Benedict at home!
Classic Eggs Benedict
This recipe is the classic dish, where even the ham or bacon is optional, so make sure to showcase a perfectly poached egg and hollandaise. The hollandaise requires a double boiler and a strong arm for whisking. Don’t hesitate to remove the bowl of hollandaise off the heat, otherwise you can end up with scrambled eggs instead of sauce. This recipe hasn’t failed me yet, and even reheated it still works. Even if you may hit a snag, remember one piece of advice: more butter! I have resurrected many hollandaises from the point of separation by adding more butter and whisking (pleading with the eggs seems to help, too).
4 eggs for poaching
4 English muffins, sliced in half and toasted
Ham or bacon (optional)
Hollandaise sauce (below)
Bring a pot of acidulated water to a gentle simmer. Drop the eggs in the pot, cover, and remove from heat. Let eggs stand and poach for about 4 minutes. While the eggs are poaching, toast the English muffins.
Once the eggs reach desired doneness, remove them from water using slotted spoon and place gently on a paper towel to soak up excess water.
If using meat, heat it, then place it on each toasted muffin, then add the poached egg on top of the meat. Drizzle with hollandaise and serve immediately.
(Almost) Foolproof Hollandaise
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons water
6-7 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
2½ teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the egg yolks and water into a bowl and whisk together. Place bowl over double boiler and continue to whisk until egg yolks have slightly thickened and become lighter in color.
While whisking constantly, begin adding cubes of butter two at a time. Be careful not to scramble the eggs. If you are scared of the bowl getting too hot, remove it from the double boiler and whisk off the heat, then return to the heat.
After all the butter has been added, the sauce should be pale yellow and quite thick, but still smooth enough to drizzle off the end of the whisk.
Add the lemon juice and whisk together, then salt and pepper to taste.
Serve on top of poached eggs, and add paprika if desired.
Makes ½ cup
What can I say? I love Tex Mex. So, I give you Huevos Benedictos. It’s a lot less refined than the classic Benedict, just the way I like it. Poached eggs are served atop buttery, flaky, cheesy, and spicy buttermilk biscuits and then covered in a homey and comforting chorizo sausage gravy – so good you might even consider eating it without the egg.
Place poached eggs on warm cheddar biscuits. Top each egg with sausage gravy.
Serve with a side of chopped tomatoes, lime juice, and cilantro if desired.
Spicy Cheddar Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1½ teaspoons salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup cold buttermilk
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
¼ cup finely diced mildly spicy peppers, like jalapeños or long hots
Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the cold butter and crumble until coarse crumbs are formed. You can do this with an electric mixer, a pastry blender, or just your hands if you work quickly. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine buttermilk and egg and beat lightly. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and mix lightly until roughly combined.
Add the cheddar cheese and peppers and gently mix until the dough barely comes together. Dump dough onto a floured surface and quickly knead. Roll the dough out into a ½-inch deep rectangle about 10 inches by 5 inches.
Using a floured knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into approximately 12 rectangles. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes until tops are golden brown and biscuits are cooked through.
Yields 12 biscuits
1 medium link chorizo (about 10 ounces)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon flour
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Add about 1 tablespoon oil to a skillet and place on medium heat.
Remove casing from chorizo, then crumble into hot skillet and brown.
Once the chorizo is fully cooked, strain it from the pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate, making sure to reserve about 1 tablespoon fat in the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add flour. Using a whisk, mix the grease and flour until thoroughly combined, forming a roux. Let the roux cook, while whisking, for about 4 minutes.
Off the heat, whisk in the milk. Place pan back on low heat and continue to whisk until all lumps have disappeared and the gravy has thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the cooked chorizo crumbles into the gravy. Stir to combine.
Makes 1 cup
Eggs Florentine with Mushroom Cream Sauce
Eggs Florentine is a traditional variant of Eggs Benedict. My version uses spicy arugula as well as spinach, and subs the hollandaise for a savory mushroom cream sauce made with Worcestershire.
4 eggs, poached
4 English muffins, sliced in half and toasted
4 cups of spinach and arugula, mixed
Mushroom cream sauce (below)
Halve and toast the English muffins. As the muffins toast, poach the eggs using your preferred method.
In a nonstick skillet, lightly sauté the arugula and spinach until wilted.
Assemble the Florentine by adding the arugula and spinach on top of one half of an English muffin followed by the egg. Finish by pouring over the mushroom cream sauce.
Mushroom Cream Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms have completely released their liquid (about 10 minutes).
Remove from heat, slowly pour in the heavy cream, and stir. Place back on low heat and stir until sauce begins to thicken. Add the Worcestershire sauce and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Makes 1 cup
Photos by Rachel Wisniewski