Today’s Recipes: Traditional Eggs Benedict, Perfectly Poached Eggs, Traditional Hollandaise Sauce, Super Easy Hollandaise Sauce, How to Fix a “Broken” Sauce, and Eggs Benedict Casserole.
Eggs Benedict is the sacrosanct grande dame of Sunday brunches around the United States. Most of us can’t remember a time when it wasn’t offered on virtually every breakfast menu. The actual creation, as with most recipes, is obscured by time, but it most likely started in New York City.
There are two generally accepted possibilities. The first is that an esteemed patron of Delmonico’s Restaurant requested something new to eat for lunch and the chef, Charles Ranhofer, devised and presented the combination of muffins, ham, eggs, and Hollandaise sauce to the delighted patron. The second states that a hung-over stockbroker from Wall Street went into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and told the legendary chef, Oscar Tschirky to put together some toast, crisp bacon, two eggs and Hollandaise sauce. Supposedly Chef Tschirky liked the idea so much that he put it on his regular menu, substituting Canadian bacon for the regular bacon and an English muffin for the toast. No matter who came up with it, it will forever be one of this country’s favorite breakfast and brunch offerings.
The time-honored Eggs Benedict is really quite simple. Ingredients can vary but it is always comprised of four components – bread, meat, eggs, and sauce. Any or all of these can be adjusted to meet your individual tastes. Traditionally an English muffin is split and toasted, topped with a slice of warmed Canadian bacon and then a softly poached egg. All of this is topped with a generous portion of hot hollandaise sauce. Delightful and decadent, it is no wonder it is so popular.
English muffins were originally made from leftover bread and biscuit dough scraps combined with mashed potatoes. When fried on a hot griddle, they become a light, crusty muffin that is addicting. For muffins with the deep “nooks and crannies” that we all love, the dough is so soft it is almost a batter. When made this way you will need “muffin rings” that you can buy in kitchen supply stores. Cover your cooking surface with cornmeal so they won’t stick.
Canadian bacon is a term referring to smoked or unsmoked boneless eye of pork loin. It is much less fatty than regular bacon and a great option if you are trying to watch your calories. Of course the hollandaise wipes out any advantage, LOL. You can also use a slice of ham or a couple slices of cooked bacon. For those who are avoiding meats, you can substitute cooked spinach, a thick slice of tomato, some smoked salmon, or even a grilled portabello mushroom.
Poached eggs are not required, but Benedict just wouldn’t be the same without breaking into a perfectly poached egg and watching the yolk flow out and merge with the hollandaise sauce. For those who don’t like soft eggs, you can of course cook them longer, or even scramble them. If you have people who hate eggs – as hard as that is to believe, they do exist – you can leave them out or substitute something else such as potatoes or grilled vegetables.
Here’s a bit of trivia for you … Hollandaise was originally called Sauce Isigny after a town in Normandy which was known for its butter. During World War I, butter production was halted in France, and it had to be imported from Holland (now called The Netherlands). Thus the sauce was named Hollandaise which means Holland-style. Hollandaise sauce is one of the five French master sauces that every chef learns in culinary school. Made with egg yolks emulsified with butter, a touch of lemon juice and cayenne pepper, it is the base for several other sauces including Bearnaise, Mousseline, and Maltaise. The first documentation of a sauce with similar ingredients and techniques appeared in the mid-17th century, and in the mid-18th century a Sauce a la Hollandaise showed up in Marin’s Dons de Comus. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that today’s format surfaced.
If you are making your hollandaise from scratch, one of the ingredients is clarified butter, known as Ghee in South Asian cultures. Made by simmering unsalted butter until all the water is evaporated and the milk solids have settled to the bottom, then skimming away the scum that gathers on the surface. What is left is pure butterfat which can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a long time without spoiling. With the milk solids removed, it is difficult to burn the butter, raising the smoke point and allowing cooking at higher temperatures. While not absolutely required for a good hollandaise, you can buy Ghee at grocery stores and will usually find it in the foreign foods aisle. It is another way to make a homemade hollandaise easier and quicker to make.
I also love Eggs Benedict, but I seldom order it in a restaurant. I have no control over how it is made and how long it is held. Hollandaise can go bad after 3 hours and the average brunch is at least 6 hours. Unless you can guarantee that the kitchen is throwing away the hollandaise every 3 hours and replacing it with a fresh batch, I wouldn’t order it unless I am there within the first 2-1/2 hours of brunch service. While there is probably no danger, I prefer to make my own and eat it at home while I’m still in my jammies, LOL!
The biggest challenge is emulsifying the egg yolks and butter and keeping them emulsified. Some people add a little mustard which does help keep it from breaking. If you are uncomfortable with making the sauce from scratch or don’t have the time and patience necessary, there is an excellent option available. Knorr makes a wide range of products, all with extremely high quality standards. I have used their sauce mixes for years and they are my go-to when I am short of time.
If you want to make Eggs Benedict for a crowd, I have included a recipe for a make-ahead casserole that you can put together the night before and refrigerate. Bake it off in the morning while you make the hollandaise and you’ll have all the flavors of Benedict without the a la minute preparation. Your guests will be suitably impressed and you should be prepared for a round of applause when you serve breakfast!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Adding a little vinegar to the cooking water helps egg whites coagulate quickly and gives you perfectly poached eggs.
Kitchen Skill: Whisking
Why: To blend ingredients until smooth
How: This may sound like a silly thing to explain, but it is surprising how many people do this in a very inefficient manner, tiring their arms far more quickly than necessary.
Place your mixture in a large, deep bowl with a round bottom and hold it down at waist level. Move the whisk in a circular motion, using your arm and shoulder instead of just your wrist. The whisk should start at the far side of the bowl, scrape across the bottom, and come up the side closest to you, similar to the movement of folding. When done quickly you can whip cream into peaks, egg yolks to the ribbon stage, and make any mixture lump free.
- 6 English muffins, split and lightly toasted
- 12 slices of Canadian Bacon, warmed
- 12 large eggs, poached
- Warm hollandaise sauce, homemade or from a Knorr mix
- Minced fresh chives
- Lightly toast the English muffins and place two halves on each warmed plate or shallow bowl. Top each half with a slice of Canadian bacon and a hot poached egg. Pour some hollandaise sauce over each and sprinkle with minced chives. Serve immediately.
- 1 to 2 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp white vinegar
- 12 eggs
- Heat about 3 inches of water in a large saucepan with straight sides over medium heat to a simmer. Stir in vinegar.
- Crack each egg into individual small bowls or cups. Slide eggs, one by one, from the bowls into the simmering water, cooking no more than 4 per batch. Maintain the water just below a simmer, reducing the heat to low if necessary. Bubbles around the sides of the pan are fine but there should be no bubbles that break the surface of the water.
- Cook until the whites are set and the centers are still soft, about 3 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon, tap bottom of spoon on a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, and place in small warmed bowls, cups or ramekins.
- To Cook Ahead: Cook as above but when you remove eggs from hot water, place them in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. You can keep them in the water for a few hours, covered, in the refrigerator.
- Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil, reduce the heat and hold at just below a simmer. It should be steaming hot.
- When you are ready to serve, carefully transfer eggs to hot water and re-warm for about 30 seconds or until heated through. Remove from hot water with a slotted spoon, tap bottom of spoon on a clean kitchen towel or paper towel to get rid of extra water, and serve.
Two Versions of Hollandaise Sauce – Traditional and Super Easy
- 1/2 tsp cracked peppercorns
- 1/4 cup white wine or cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup water, or as needed
- 4 large eggs, fresh or pasteurized
- 1-1/2 cups melted or clarified butter
- 2 tsp lemon juice, or as needed
- 2 tsp salt, or as needed
- Pinch ground white pepper
- Pinch cayenne (optional)
- Combine the peppercorns and vinegar in a small pan and reduce over medium heat until nearly dry, about 5 minutes. Add the water to the vinegar reduction. Strain this liquid into a stainless steel bowl.
- Add the egg yolks to the vinegar reduction and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisking constantly, cook the egg yolk/vinegar mixture until the yolks triple in volume and fall in ribbons from the whisk. Remove the bowl from the heat and place it on a clean kitchen towel to keep the bowl from slipping.
- Gradually ladle the warm butter into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. If needed, have someone else either hold the bowl steady or pour in the butter. If the sauce becomes too thick and the butter is not blending in easily, add a little water to thin the egg mixture just enough to whisk in the remaining butter. Season the Hollandaise with lemon juice, salt, white pepper, and cayenne. Serve immediately or keep the sauce warm in a bowl over simmering water up to 2 hours.
- Yield: 2 cups
- 3 large egg yolks
- 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 1-1/2 cups clarified butter, about 3 sticks of butter (see below for directions)
- Whisk egg yolks, lemon juice, water, salt, and cayenne in a medium stainless steel or glass bowl to blend. Place bowl on top of a saucepan filled with about 2-inches of barely simmering water – do not let water touch the bottom of the bowl.
- Whisk constantly until thickened lightly, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 160°F, about 5 minutes. Transfer yolk mixture to blender or food processor. With motor running, gradually pour hot melted butter through opening in top and blend until mixture is thick and creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt or cayenne as desired.
- Yield: about 1-1/2 cups
How to Fix a “Broken” Sauce
If the eggs and butter are no longer emulsified, that is called “breaking.” To fix this, combine 1 egg yolk with 2 tbsp water in a clean bowl over barely simmering water. Slowly whisk in 3 to 4 tbsp melted clarified butter. When smooth and slightly thickened, start adding the broken sauce, a little at a time, to the newly made sauce, continuously whisking briskly until completely incorporated and the sauce is smooth and silky. Take the bowl on and off the heat as needed to maintain a stable temperature.
Serve immediately or hold on warm heat for up to 2 hours.
- 1 large onion, peeled and chopped finely
- 2 tbsp butter
- 6 English muffins (1 package), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- About 12 oz Canadian bacon or cooked ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 10 large eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
- Hollandaise sauce, for serving
- Minced fresh chives, for garnish
- Fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish
- Heat butter in a medium saute pan and cook onions until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
- Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spread muffin cubes on a baking sheet and lightly toast for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until golden brown; set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until well beaten. Whisk in milk, salt, and thyme leaves. Stir in cooked onions, muffin cubes, and Canadian bacon. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight, or at least 8 hours, to let bread fully absorb egg mixture. It will be very liquid when you put it in the refrigerator and fairly solid once the bread has absorbed the eggs.
- Remove casserole from refrigerator and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake, uncovered, until the eggs are set and the top begins to crisp, about 20 minutes more. Be careful not to overcook or the eggs will be tough and rubbery. If using a glass dish, reduce the baking temp to 350°F or reduce the cooking time by about 10 minutes. When done, remove the casserole from oven and let it stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- While casserole is baking, make or reheat Hollandaise Sauce. To serve, cut casserole into squares and place on warmed plates or large, shallow bowls. Top each piece with warm Hollandaise, sprinkled with chopped chives, and garnish with a couple sprigs of fresh thyme just before serving.