When I was young, I used to stay with my cousin over the weekends and his mother would offer to make sunny side up (which she so adorably called “bullseye”,) and to be honest, I was really icked by the idea of a runny egg. Sure, I’d eat fish and chicken, but a runny egg was gross! And now? I’ll put a sunny side/poached egg on everything and take great pleasure in cutting through and watching the yolk flow.
I’m not one for breakfasts and it’s not because I’m rushing off to work and have no time, I’m just not a big fan of eating early in the morning. Unless it’s eggs Benedict. Bennys, I can do in the morning, or at any point of the day, actually. I remember the first time I had Bennys in a local diner called 4Aces, I was hungover after a party we’d thrown for something or someone (as if graduate students need a reason to drink themselves silly,) and could barely get out of bed when someone suggested food. We all crawled into the car just to go and wait in line outside the diner. Turns out, half of Dartmouth were in the same hungover state, craving the same breakfast food. After half hour, we were seated inside the loud and bustling diner and I ordered my first ever eggs Benedict. And my life got divided into two parts. One before I tasted poached eggs and one after.
So, I don’t pay much of attention to breakfasts, but when I do, I make a big fuss; poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, stuffed tomatoes and mushrooms, crispy bacon, sliced avocados, fruits, the whole shabang.
I won’t lie, I was seriously intimidated by eggs Benedict. I’m not sure what scared me more, the fussy hollandaise or the fragile poaching of eggs. But here’s the thing I’ve noticed about intimidating recipes, as long as you understand the process and follow the recipe (hah! Look at what I’m saying, the queen of using fingers for measurements,) it really isn’t a big deal. Besides, if you don’t try the things that intimidate you, how’ll you ever know what your limits are?
So one Sunday morning, I shoved down my insecurities and tried eggs Benedict. Eggs Benedict are perfectly poached eggs sitting atop an English muffin, with a slice of thick cut ham, drizzled with thick, buttery hollandaise sauce. If you don’t dine on swine, you can try Eggs Florentine, in which the ham is switched out for spinach. Personally, I also switch out the English muffin for buttermilk biscuits.
Coming to poaching eggs, there are a hundred million suggestions out there on how to perfectly poach an egg and I’ve tried my fair share of them. Here’s what I found works best. This involves no vinegar and no complicated swirling, but take notes, as these are important things to remember.
We use the freshest eggs as the older an egg is, the weaker the membrane surrounding the egg becomes, making it easier to fall apart when you lower it into the water. When the egg is in the water, the less it is agitated, the better. So, no swirling and more importantly, no letting the water come to a rolling boil. It should just be hot enough to form the small bubbles at the bottom of the pan.
The next is tackling the problem of the egg whites separating while in water. Now while it may not separate completely, there will be little wisps that come out and cloud your water. To prevent this, we are going to use a strainer.
If you’ve cracked open an egg and really look it, you’ll see that the egg yolk is first surrounded by a thick circle of egg white and then there is the thinner membrane. This is the part we want to get rid of before we lower our eggs into the water. So, crack open your eggs into a small cup and gently pour it into a strainer. Allow whatever loose egg white to strain through, don’t shake vigorously.
Now, lower the strainer into the water. The hot water will start cooking the egg, forming a white layer over the egg. Gently, slide the egg out of the strainer and ta-da! No fuss, no muss poached eggs! Let this cook for about four - five minutes, until the egg whites are set.
Every once in a while, move the egg around a bit by slightly nudging it with your spoon. Once you feel your eggs are done, remove it carefully with a slotted spoon and place it in a ice bath. This will make sure your eggs don’t cook anymore and will preserve it until it is time to serve.
I apologise for going all geeky on you, but I’m afraid there is more as we talk about hollandaise sauce. Just like mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce is also an emulsion of water and fat, with an egg in the middle to help the process. The egg and water is whisked constantly as the melted butter is added to it, making the perfect emulsion. Making hollandaise sauce is like a balancing act. If you let your sauce get too cool, the fat in the butter will break the emulsion and the sauce will turn grainy. If, on the other hand, the sauce is too hot, the egg will coagulate and you’ll be left with scrambled eggs. So the sauce is all about incorporating the butter into the liquid at the right temperature, a balancing act.
So how do we do this? One, don’t use plain butter, but clarified butter instead, the reason being plain butter has about 15% water which will dilute the sauce and throw off the proportions. Melt the clarified butter to about 200F. You can do this either on stove top or in a microwave, basically till it starts bubbling. We are going to use this hot butter to cook the eggs and nothing else.
Place the egg yolks in a blender, add a splash of lime juice (the acidity in this minimises curdling of the yolks,) and a tsp of water to prevent the sauce from sticking to the sides. Run the blender and slowly pour in the melted butter. Add a touch of salt and cayenne pepper and there you go, the perfect hollandaise sauce. You can also do this with an immersion blender.
It’s best to use hollandaise sauce immediately after it is prepared, but if you do have to let it sit for few minutes or hours, use a cling wrap and close the bowl. Press the wrap to the surface of the sauce so that it prevents a skin from forming and don’t let it sit for more than two hours.
To arrange an eggs Benedict, cut open an English muffin in half and roast it on the pan until it gets a nice brown edge. Move this to a plate and place a piece of thick cut ham on top. Remove the eggs from the ice bath with a slotted spoon and drain as much water as you can. Sometimes, if I’m feeling confident, I place it on a piece of tissue and remove any excess water. Gently place the egg on the slice of ham/spinach bed and drizzle hollandaise sauce generously on top. If you want to do the veggie option, heat a bit of oil in a pan and saute minced garlic for a minute, until they get a bit brown. Add tomatoes and cook until soft, then add the spinach and two tablespoons of water. Cook till all the water has evaporated and the spinach is wilted. Season this with salt and pepper and place it on the muffin instead of the ham.
Enjoy your eggs Benedict with a side of crispy bacon rashers or some stuffed mushrooms/tomatoes! You can find the complete recipes for eggs Benedict here.