Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Hangover

I can't think of a better way to start the new year than with my most beloved breakfast, "Eggs Benedict!" Eggs Benedict is a classic American dish with many theories of it's creation. The most interesting version is that of Lemuel Benedict. Lemuel Benedict was a dashing ladies' man, a successful New York stockbroker, had a reputation for leaving huge tips at New York's finest restaurants, and was frequently included in the newspaper society columns. In 1894, Lemuel showed up at the former Waldorf hotel location with a nasty hangover. He ordered two poached eggs, bacon, buttered toast and a pitcher of Hollandaise sauce. The dish was quickly adopted by the Waldorf, substituting rounds of ham for the bacon and an English muffin for the toast. Lemuel enjoyed the attention and prestige following his creation. Upon Lemuel's death in 1943, Jack Benedict, Lemuel's first cousin and real estate salesman from Colorado, became obsessed with making sure Lemuel got credit for creating eggs Benedict. In 1978, Jack became furious about an article that appeared in Bon Appetit crediting Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict as the creators of the dish at Delmonico's. The article did refer to one account of a young man with a hangover at the Waldorf; however, the article did not name the man as Lemuel Benedict but Samuel! Jack was completely enraged, or it could have been all the trans fats and cholesterol in his system! Either way, although this is probably the most unhealthy breakfast you could eat, it is delicious and definitely worthy of special occasions!

The most important part of eggs Benedict is, of course, the Hollandaise sauce! I have previously posted a recipe for Blender Hollandaise, but I think it's empowering to make it successfully by hand! Hollandaise sauce is one of the five French mother sauces, and is believed to date back to the mid-18th century. The name, as it suggests, is a nod to the fine butter and eggs provided by Holland (and the Netherlands) required to make a quality Hollandaise. Not only is Hollandaise sauce delicious with poached eggs, it's also very nice with vegetables (especially asparagus), fish, and even beef! In fact, it is the base for Bearnaise sauce! When making a Hollandaise sauce, it is very important to use the freshest, best-quality eggs you can find. In addition, I like to make the Hollandaise first, and rather than hold it in a warm water bath, I put it in a small thermos (a great tip from Anthony Bourdain), where it will keep for up to an hour! According to James Beard, eggs Benedict was usually topped with "Hollandaise sauce and a slice of truffle," but I rather like a little chopped chives. And finally, there are many recipes for Hollandaise sauce, but this is the one I've been making for years to great success! So don't be scared, you can do it! Lemuel and Jack would be so proud!

Eggs Benedict

Serves 6

For the hollandaise sauce
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup boiling water
Dash of salt, white pepper, and cayenne, to taste

For the eggs Benedict
12 slices Canadian bacon or thin slices of cooked ham
12 eggs
6 English muffins, split, toasted and buttered
Truffle slice or chopped chives (optional)

For the hollandaise sauce
Divide the butter into thirds. Beat egg yolks with lemon juice in the top of a double boiler. (No double boiler, click here!) Add 1/3 of the butter. Place the pan over simmering, NOT BOILING, water; cook, beating constantly, until the sauce starts to thicken; add remaining butter, 1/3 at a time, whisking constantly until fully incorporated. Beat in the boiling water and continue stirring until mixture thickens; remove from the water. Stir in the salt, white pepper, and cayenne, to taste. Hold in a warm water bath or a small thermos. (If the sauce separates, whisk in 1-2 tablespoons cream until smooth again. If the sauce curdles, throw it out and start again.)

For the poached eggs
To poach eggs to perfection, bring a pan of water to a gentle simmer with a splash of vinegar. (I highly recommend a non-stick pan, if you have one.) Carefully break in the eggs, or break them into small cups and then gently tilt them into the water, return the water to a simmer, then immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Finishing the dish
Cook the ham in a large skillet until lightly browned, keep warm.

Place two halves of one of the muffins on each plate. Top each muffin half with ham and poached egg. Spoon the sauce evenly over each plate. Garnish with truffle or chives, if you like. Mmmmm!

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