God, I love Eggs Benedict. I completely hate poached eggs in any other incarnation, but when they are nestled atop a toasted english muffin with Canadian bacon and the perfect Hollandaise sauce – pure heaven! I think I first fell for the Benedict in college when I dated a guy that worked at the Pour la France chain in Aspen where they had three or four different benedicts on the menu. I used to sit at the bar and get them for free, so I ate one practically every day he was working. (I also discovered the Mimosa this way.) My favorite was the Veggie Benedict, which was avocado & tomato instead of bacon. The guy was a total tool – I think I kept on seeing him because I enjoyed the free Benedicts. Yes, I was an Eggs Benedict Whore.
Anyway, my love affair with the Eggs Benedict has endured long past my days in Aspen. When you get a really good Eggs Benedict, there is nothing better. When you get a bad Eggs Benedict, there is nothing worse. The best Eggs Benedict I have ever had was at the Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida. The secret to great Eggs Benedict really lies in the Hollandaise, an unforgiving sauce that you must make from scratch – anything in a bottle is nothing short of an abomination. I have had the best luck with the basic Hollandaise found in the eponymous Mastering the Art of French Cooking from one Julia Child. I have included her sauce below, along with her recipe for classic Eggs Benedict.
FOR THE HOLLANDAISE SAUCE
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or more, if needed
6 to 8 ounces very soft unsalted butter
Freshly ground white pepper
FOR POACHED EGGS
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar per 2 quarts water
4 large eggs, the fresher the better
FOR THE EGGS BENEDICT
4 slices English-muffin halves
4 thin slices Canadian bacon
Thin slices of black truffle (optional)
warm poached eggs
1 cup Hollandaise Sauce
MAKE THE HOLLANDAISE SAUCE
- Whisk the yolks, water, and lemon juice in the saucepan for a few moments, until thick and pale (this prepares them for what is to come).
- Set the pan over moderately low heat and continue to whisk at reasonable speed, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the pan, where the eggs tend to overcook. To moderate the heat, frequently move the pan off the burner for a few seconds, and then back on. (If, by chance, the eggs seem to be cooking too fast, set the pan in the bowl of cold water to cool the bottom, then continue.) As they cook, the eggs will become frothy and increase in volume, and then thicken. When you can see the pan bottom through the streaks of the whisk and the eggs are thick and smooth, remove from the heat.
- By spoonfuls, add the soft butter, whisking constantly to incorporate each addition. As the emulsion forms, you may add the butter in slightly larger amounts, always whisking until fully absorbed. Continue incorporating butter until the sauce has thickened to the consistency you want.
- Season lightly with salt and a dash of cayenne pepper, whisking in well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding droplets of lemon juice if needed. Serve lukewarm.
POACH THE EGGS
- Fill the pan with water to a depth of 2 inches or so, add the vinegar, and bring to a slow boil.
- Rapidly crack and open each egg into the water, holding the shell as close to the surface as possible. The eggs will cool the water; adjust the heat to maintain a slow simmer. After a few moments, when the whites have just begun to set, drag the back of the slotted spoon gently across the top of the eggs, to move them off the pan bottom so they don’t stick. Cook the eggs for about 4 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary.
- To test for doneness, lift 1 egg from the water with the slotted spoon and press both white and yolk. The whites should feel fully set but not too firm, and the yolks very soft. Poach longer for firmer eggs.
- When set the way you like them, remove the eggs from the saucepan with the slotted spoon or strainer and immerse them in a bowl of warm tap water to wash off the vinegar. Set the spoon on a clean towel (or folded paper towels) for a moment to remove excess water, and serve eggs immediately.
ASSEMBLE THE EGGS BENEDICT
- Just before serving, toast the bread circles or muffins lightly, butter both sides, and warm the ham and the optional truffle slices in a frying pan with a tablespoon of butter.
- Center a toast round on each warm serving plate; cover with a slice of ham and then a poached egg. Spoon hollandaise sauce generously over each egg and top with an optional warm truffle slice. Serve immediately.