Long Simmering Eggs Benedict Rant
I’ve long thought about blogging about Eggs Benedict, and until today the topic hovered just under my “Must Blog This” threshold. But no more!
Speaking only for myself (although others are free to hop on this bus in comments), I consider Eggs Benedict — done well — to be the perfect breakfast food. As such, 95% of the time if a new (for me) restaurant offers Eggs Benedict, they will be my choice, if for nothing else than to provide a common meter stick against which I judge restaurants that serve breakfast.
What makes the perfect Eggs Benedict perfect?
First, let’s answer the basic question: What are Eggs Benedict?
Eggs Benedict are a deceptively simple egg presentation, most frequently eaten at breakfast or brunch. There are only 4 ingredients. They consist of:
An toasted English Muffin half on which is layered a slice of Canadian Bacon and a poached egg, with Hollandaise Sauce.
Sound simple? Ah! As with most simple foods, they are quite hard to do right. There are so many ways to mess them up
- Under cook the eggs
- Overcook the eggs
- Using eggs that aren’t fresh enough to hold together while poaching
- Not adding a bit of vinegar – ANY vinegar – to the poaching water (helps hold the egg together)
- Too thick a slice of Canadian Bacon
- Use of any other meat in place of Canadian Bacon – (Side note: MOST frequent error is using ham instead of Canadian Bacon. I’ve come to accept this as finding Eggs Benedict done with Canadian Bacon has become far too rare. But my rating maxes at 4 stars if Canadian Bacon isn’t used)
- Use of far too much meat.
- English Muffin NOT toasted
- English Muffin grilled instead of toasted
- Poor choice of English Muffin – even if toasted.
And then there is the Hollandaise. Without the Hollandaise, a Benedict this is not. But even with Hollandaise, it has to be done well:
Here are common problems with Hollandaise:
- Failure to “brighten” with acidic addition – Lemon Juice is classic
- Failure to add a touch of heat – Cayenne (preferred) or ground White Pepper
- Egg Yolk Failure – too much of the white left after separation.
- Too thick – I’ve actually seen flour used by one restaurant that shall go nameless – and will never again have my business!
- Too thin – Come on folks, eggs don’t cost THAT much!
- Poor emulsification
The perfect Eggs Benedict must start with a decent (not necessarily completely perfect by itself) Hollandaise. It should be simultaneously buttery, bright and salty with a hint of spice. It’s flavor should pop in your mouth and it’s viscosity should allow it to coat the egg, with a bit left over to soak into the muffin. It should be used in moderation. And it’s not that hard to do Hollandaise well! Click here for a quick and easy way to do it in a blender. It’s not the exact Hollandaise I would make (I’d use a bit more lemon, a bit less butter and the Cayenne isn’t optional) but once you have the gestalt, minor variations in proportion are a matter of preference.
Eggs Benedict are a balance of all four ingredients. Excess of any ingredient ruins the balance. And “More is Better” is anathema. The runny yolk of the poached egg combines with the Hollandaise to form a divine medly that coats the egg and your tongue without clogging it. And soaks into the English Muffin. Each bite should consist of just a bit of each main ingredient.
Ambrosia – when done right.
And don’t get me started on sides! Too late. I’m already started!
Eggs Benedict are most often served with some form of home fried potatoes. To which I say: Huh? What’s going on here? Eggs Benedict are a rich dish. Why add the heaviness of a lump of potatoes – even if done well – to the experience? Give me something that balances the dish. Fresh, Sweet fruit is best – in sufficient quantity. A slice or two of Orange or Kiwi doesn’t qualify if it’s in addition to the potatoes – you have to save them until the end as a palette cleanser. And this creates a “sub scale” for judging the sides:
ZERO points for potatoes only, done poorly, with no fruit at all and no sour cream available.
Add points for:
- Potatoes done well and flavorfully – with a bit of onion and fresh herbs
- Sour Cream offered with Potatoes
- Small amount of fruit
But highest points are awarded for serving with fruit without potatoes. I do consider it acceptable if the menu lets you choose – and only if the wait staff always asks!
Lastly: What pushed me over the top of the “Must Blog This” threshold?
This morning, after resolving an unexpected minor family emergency, I found myself near a restaurant that has long had good reviews for their Eggs Benedict. So I tried it. And. It. Failed. Of the four essential ingredients, only one (the egg) was done well. The English Muffin was sliced (no nooks) then sealed (bad – can’t absorb yolk/Hollandaise) by grilling instead of toasting. It was served with two large slabs of ham totally overwhelming the balance. The Hollandaise was run of the mill – not bright enough – and served in copious amounts. Finally, the side dish was potatoes done neither poorly nor well, with no option for fruit.
After having anticipated their Eggs Benedict for so long – based on reviews – the disappointment finally tipped the scale.