I have made the decision to cook and eat eggs Benedict once a day for the foreseeable future. At some point I may decide that the daily practice of eating two tablespoons of butter in a single meal is a bad idea. Maybe I'll get tired of the hassle. For now I am pressing forward with this project, because eggs Benedict are one of my favorite things to eat on Earth, and also because cholesterol, along with ideas such as consequence and moderation, is imaginary.
Preparing eggs Benedict requires close attention and a careful approach, but it probably isn't as difficult as you think.
THE NATURE OF EGGS BENEDICT
A note before we proceed: I'm taking pretty liberal use of the term "eggs Benedict." I like to roll with whichever cured meat I want. Smoked salmon is my favorite, although you may prefer pastrami or prosciutto or some other thing. Purists would insist on ham as the cured meat. Purists also fold their underwear and actually watch the baseball games they go to. Don't be them. Most ham sucks.
These are the major components of eggs Benedict, ranked in order of importance:
1. Hollandaise sauce
2. Poached eggs
3. Hollandaise sauce
4. Cured meat of our choosing
5. Hollandaise sauce
6. Hollandaise sauce
7. Hollandaise sauce
8. English muffin
9. Hollandaise sauce
10. Maybe a plate of some kind?
11. Hollandaise sauce
A basic hollandaise sauce consists of egg yolk, butter, lemon juice, and seasoning. The institution of eggs Benedict acts merely as a gussied-up excuse to eat hollandaise sauce. The poached egg, cured meat, and English muffin are present largely because eating a God-dang bowl of hollandaise in the presence of others would be unseemly, and that is because we are governed by a system of oppressive, suffocating norms.
The other ingredients are aesthetically pleasing, and even that attribute is rightly stamped out by hollandaise sauce, which ought to be poured over all of them in such excess that they are nearly obscured entirely. The film "Children of Men" was about a dystopian future in which egg yolks and butter do not emulsify. One of my favorite food items is hollandaise sauce, which I really enjoy.
FOR A SINGLE SERVING, YOU WILL NEED
The first time around, you might want to set aside about a half-hour. This isn't a "throw stuff in a pot and walk away" half-hour, though. You'll need to be standing in the kitchen and doing stuff most of the time.
Probably not more than five bucks.
A modest amount, but not too much. There is a possibility of failure here, but I think you have a pretty good shot at success your first time around. You don't have to be an expert, but you do need to pay close attention to what you're doing.
I love you, and I believe in you.
COOKWARE OF NOTE
- A pot. Something medium-sized would be best -- maybe 10 inches in diameter.
- A glass or metal bowl. It needs to be large enough to completely cover the pot. Go ahead and set it on top. If it works as a sort of inverted lid without touching the bottom of the pot, you're good.
- A slotted spoon. Trying to shortcut this with a spatula or some other thing will up your chances of splitting your poached egg and blowing this whole operation.
- Two measuring cups: 1 cup, and 1/2 cup. Don't worry, you won't actually be measuring anything.
- A skillet.
- A towel. This can be a clean cloth towel or a paper towel.
- Four eggs. I've read that quality eggs are more poach-friendly, and even good eggs are pretty cheap, so go with those.
- Unsalted butter.
- A lemon.
- An English muffin.
- Cured meat of your choosing.
- Fresh chives.
- White vinegar.
- Salt and pepper. I would recommend cracking it straight out of a pepper grinder, because it's 10 times better.
HOW TO DO THIS
1. Melt two tablespoons of that butter in the pot. Once it's completely liquefied, transfer it to your 1-cup measuring cup.
2. Give the pot a quick rinse, fill it with about an inch of water, and bring it to a simmer.
3. Crack two of the eggs and dump the yolks -- just the yolks -- in the bowl.
To do this, I like to knock the egg on the lip of the pot, then hold it over the sink as I crack it the rest of the way open with my hands. The shell is really useful here. You're trying to keep the yolk in one half of the shell while sort of coaxing the egg white into the sink. Once you've isolated the yolk as much as you can, drop it in.
4. Squeeze a little lemon juice into the bowl, and season it with some salt and pepper.
5. This is when we emulsify the yolks and butter.
Get your cup of melted butter in your non-dominant hand, set the bowl on top of the pot, and start whisking the yolks with a fork. You'll be whisking for a solid two or three minutes here. After a bit, you'll see the subtle heat from the water affect the mixture. Once it starts thickening up just a little, pour in a little of the butter.
In order for this to properly emulsify, you need to feed it butter just a little at a time: every time you notice it thickening up, drip in a little more butter. If it's going too quickly, feel free to remove the bowl from the heat entirely. Just don't stop whisking.
Once all the butter is in, transfer every bit of it to the 1-cup measuring cup. I'd recommend grabbing a spoon for this. (If you're using a metal bowl, I'd also recommend hand-washing it immediately in hot water, because egg can be a living hell to get out of metal if you let it sit around.)
Your hollandaise might not look quite like hollandaise to you just yet. It's probably a little too thick. We will fix this later.
6. Fill the pot about two-thirds full of water, add a splash of your vinegar, and bring it to a modest boil.
7. Crack an egg into the 1/2-cup measuring cup. We'll be poaching this one, so you need the white and everything. Make sure not to break the yolk.
8. With your slotted spoon, stir the water in a circular motion. We're trying to get a whirlpool going. Doing this will help your egg stay together in the water.
9. Gently dip the egg into the middle of the pot. You definitely don't want to drop or pour it in. When I do this, I put about half the cup underwater.
Let the egg sit in there and cook for about three minutes. You could go for four if you'd prefer a more solid yolk, but then again, you could do a lot of tasteless things. I refuse to be the boss of you, no matter how much you beg.
10. Go ahead and get your last egg ready. Crack it into that measuring cup, same as you did with the first.
11. Now is a good time to start toasting your English muffin. Heat your skillet, coat it with just a little butter, and let each half sit there face-down for a bit. If your cured meat is something you'd prefer to cook, slap that on there first. You can use its fat to toast the muffins instead of butter.
12. Place your towel on the counter. After your egg's been cooking three minutes, gently take it out with your slotted spoon and place it on the towel. This will dry it out a little.
13. Now poach your second egg, same as you did with the first. The stirring to create a whirlpool, the three minutes, the towel, the whole deal. Make sure you're not over-toasting your muffin.
14. Time to build. Plate, muffin, meat, poached egg. Season that egg with a little salt and pepper while you're at it.
15. Spoon just a little bit of hot water out of the pot and into the hollandaise sauce, and stir. Repeat, just a little at a time, until the consistency is to your liking. (You'll probably only need a spoonful or two here.) Now pour it all over your eggs.
16. Mince some of those chives and sprinkle it on top.
You now have eggs Benedict. In our single digits, there was the two-wheel bicycle. In our teens, figuring out when people actually want us to kiss them. In our 20s, for some of us, the necktie. And in our 30s, eggs Benedict. In the next decade, we will discuss pleats, and it will be a much shorter conversation.