I love you Eggs Benedict. I love you in all your varieties. I love you with your traditional Canadian bacon. I love you with smoked salmon, tomatoes and bacon, and crab cakes. I love your oozy poached eggs and your lemony hollandaise sauce. I love your english muffin, but I’ll take you on a biscuit, too.
This past week, I learned how to make one of my favorite brunch foods- Eggs Benedict. I’ve always been a little too intimidated to try making it at home. I watched a friend’s parents make it one time, and timing everything as well as getting the hollandaise sauce right seemed pretty difficult. The good news is that parts of this dish are pretty easy, and you can even poach the eggs the night before you need them. The biggest challenge is the hollandaise sauce.
So, I’ll start off with the poached eggs. First, you will want to get a good amount of water at a very low simmer. You only want to a few sparse bubbles here- just enough to keep the eggs from wanting to hug the bottom of the pot. 3-4″ of water to submerse the eggs is plenty. You should also add a little acid ( in the form of vinegar) to the water to help set the whites. Just a couple teaspoons should be plenty. Also, get a bowl of ice water ready. Crack the eggs into separate ramekins, and then gently lower the eggs into the simmering water.
These eggs should take 3-4 minutes for the white to set, and the yolk to remain mostly liquid.
Retrieve them from the hot water with a slotted spoon, and gently lay them in the ice water. This will keep them from cooking any farther. When the eggs are cool, you can retrieve them with your slotted spoon, and move them onto a paper-towel lined dish. You can trim off any undesired parts of the white with kitchen scissors to get a more uniform looking egg. Now, you can put these in the refrigerator until you are ready to make your Eggs Benedict. You can re-warm the poached eggs very briefly in the same temperature water you cooked them in (for less than a minute), and then move them to a paper-towel lined plate again before assembling your Eggs Benedict.
If you were going to be making traditional Eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon, you would also want to cook the Canadian bacon. Canadian bacon is quite lean, and care should be taken not to overcook it. You want to cook it briefly in a pan with butter over medium heat. I opted to make a smoked salmon eggs benedict, which did not require any cooking.
To make the hollandaise sauce you will need 2 oz. of clarified butter per egg yolk. To make enough hollandaise sauce for two people (with plenty extra), I used 2 egg yolks and 4 oz. of clarified butter. A stick of butter is 4 oz., but you will lose some of the volume during the clarification process, so make more than you need, and store the rest in the refrigerator for another time. Making clarified butter is easy. David Lebovitz does an excellent job of explaining how to do it in his post, How to Clarify Butter. Please take a peek.
Once you have your room temperature or slightly warm clarified butter, assemble your other ingredients. You will want to get a pot with a few inches of water barley simmering. You will be making your hollandaise sauce in a heat-proof mixing bowl over the gently simmering water. It is good to have a damp dish cloth folded on the counter next to the pot, as well. This way, if your hollandaise starts to get too hot, you can remove the bowl over to the dishcloth, and it will help keep the bowl from wiggling around as you stir your sauce.
You will also want fresh lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper in arm’s reach.
Separate your eggs, and deposit the yolks into a large metal mixing bowl. Add about a tablespoon of warm water to the yolks and whisk. This will help to stabilize the sauce. Now, move the bowl on top of the simmering water. You want to whisk the yolks continuously until they thicken a bit, and turn a really pale yellow color. Do not be afraid to take the bowl off the heat as needed if you feel things are getting too hot, or cooking too quickly. You can move it on and off the simmering pot of water and adjust the water temperature, or stir off the heat as necessary. You want to get to the point where you can see the path of your whisk in the eggs.
Next, you will add in the clarified butter in a slow stream, whisking constantly. If the sauce is getting too thick, or too hot, take it off the heat and whisk, then resume. Eventually you will add all 4 oz. of the clarified butter in, but don’t be in too big of a rush. Pay attention to the sauce. Give it what it needs. Too thick? Maybe add another tablespoon of warm water. Too thin? Let it cook a little more, still whisking vigilantly. Chef Patterson told us in class at L’Academie de Cuisine this week that the enemies of hollandaise are, “too hot, too cold, too thick, and too thin.” Adjust as necessary.
Once you have incorporated all of your clarified butter, you will want to taste your sauce, and then add in salt, lemon juice, and a tiny pinch of cayenne, to taste. Turn the simmering water off. You can hold the hollandaise and keep it warm over the warm water for 45 minutes. Actually this is a Montgomery County law. We learned that in class, too! Don’t hold your hollandaise over 45 minutes in a restaurant in Montgomery County or they will come to get you!!
The finished hollandaise should have a texture which should just coat the poached egg without running off and certainly without laying on it like a lump. Don’t be afraid to whisk in a tablespoonful of warm water to thin it out before assembling your benedict. Just add a little at a time and whisk in throughly. Sitting over the warm water can still cook the sauce a little bit, so pay attention to see of your sauce needs any doctoring before serving.
Toast your english muffins, top with a few slices of smoked salmon (or Canadian bacon), and a warm poached egg. Put your egg bottom side up, so it sits up nicely. Then, top with a large spoonful of hollandaise. I topped mine with a few sliced chives, as well.
I highly recommend you try this. It is beyond yummy. Don’t try to do it on a morning when you are rushed or stressed. It takes a little effort and care, but it will be delicious and worth your effort. Make yourself a mimosa while you are at it.