15 January 2018
I’m not unusual in loving Eggs Benedict - my breakfast of choice if I happen to be having breakfast in an establishment that serves it. It’s an occasional treat, of course. The Hollandaise sauce is basically just butter and egg yolks, so something you shouldn’t even be thinking about so soon into your New Year Resolutions (what’s that? Oh, well never mind).
If you live on your own, it’s not really an option to cook for yourself. For one thing, it’s hard to make Hollandaise in small enough quantities to do anything but provide generously for two people. So you will end up wasting a lot of luscious sauce or (possibly even worse) forcing yourself to eat the lot and feeling completely wretched with it.
But for two or more, it’s a fine breakfast to make. Tricky, for sure. You need to be able to cook perfect poached eggs. And make a sauce that is notorious for its tendency to split. But otherwise easy peasy.
This is my approach. In this case, I used a wholemeal roll rather than the traditional English muffin. Whichever you use needs to be toasted, so get that started early on. Then make your Hollandaise.
I’ve made this two ways in the past. Once, in a glass bowl held over a pan of gently simmering water. You melt the butter in a separate pan. Then put the egg yolks in the glass bowl and break them up, whisk in the vinegar, and then gradually add the melted butter just a little at a time, whisking all the while. This will become all emulsified and creamy. At that point, you taste and whisk in any additional salt, and squeeze in some lemon juice. You can leave it for a few minutes in the bowl over the hot water, just to keep it warm.
The alternative way is to mix it in the food processor, having heated up bot the vinegar and the melted butter beforehand. This is more or less the same process, but the more robust shearing action of the blades on the fat in the butter helps it to emulsify with a greater degree of stability than the hand-whisked version.
I like to do the hand whisked one. I’ve only had the sauce split on me once (out of about ten times of doing it). I’ve never had a sauce split on me doing the blender version (which doesn’t mean it can’t, I expect, just that it hasn’t).
The other trick is to do with the poached eggs. My method for these (which is actually Heston Blumenthal’s method) is to bring the large pan of water to approximately 80ºC. Break your very fresh eggs into individual containers, and then one at a time ease them into a fine sieve. Roll them around the sieve briefly so that any thin bits of egg white will drop through (these are the bits that could get messy in the pan) and then gently lower the eggs into the hot water. After three to five minutes, when you can see that the whites have fully cooked and the yolks are still soft, life them from the water. Gently drop them onto some kitchen paper to drain them of any remaining liquid, and then use a slotted spoon to slide them onto your toasted bun, topped with ham. Spoon over a general portion of Hollandaise (look, this is not slimming food - you’ve made the sauce, you might as well luxuriate in it), sprinkle a few chopped chives if you have them, and serve.
Nothing is quite so satisfying as you cut into your Eggs Benedict and see the golden yellow yolk oozing into the thick, buttery Hollandaise.
Make sure you use very fresh eggs, and cook them at around 80ºC for the best results.
1 wholemeal roll (or English muffin) sliced lengthways into two
1 large slice of ham
2 very fresh eggs
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 pinch Sea salt
2 pinches finely chopped chives
Bring a large pan of water up to around 80ºC. Get another small pan with gently simmering water.
Gently melt the butter in a small pan and allow to stand. Skim off the slight froth of milk solids that will probably form on the top.
Toast the bread / muffin on both sides. Put on the plates, and cut the ham in two, folding to fit the size of the bread and placing a piece on each.
Take two ramekins (or similar) and break an egg into each. One by one, place them in a fine sieve and roll around for a few seconds so that any loose white can fall away. Then gently lower them into the hot water.
Place a glass bowl over the small pan of gently simmering water. Put in the egg yolks and whisk briefly until they’re nice and smooth. Then add the white wine vinegar and whisk some more until it’s fully mixed in and smooth. Now begin very, very gradually dribbling the melted butter in, whisking all the time. Gradually you can allow the butter to increase to a thin stream. Keep whisking until the butter is used up (ideally, you can miss out the milky white solids at the bottom of the pan, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t) and the sauce has thickened up nicely. Taste and add a little salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice, whisking again to fully incorporate. You should have lovely Hollandaise, and it should be just time to take the eggs out of the water.
If you don’t want that kind of fine timing, you can make the Hollandaise before poaching the eggs. Just be aware it won’t sit around for very long. If you’re leaving it for a while, leave it in the glass bowl over the hot water (but take the pan off the heat). And don’t come crying to me if you leave it too long and it splits.
Remove the poached eggs and gently put onto kitchen paper to drain, and then place them on top of the ham. Cover with a good couple of spoonfuls of glossy indulgent sauce, and sprinkle with the chopped chives.
You use yolks in this recipe, but not whites, so you will have them left over. You could melt some chocolate, whisk up the egg whites with sugar and make some simple-but-delicious chocolate mousse. Do it soon after breakfast and it will have set perfectly by the evening.
But if you’re not likely to use the whites that quickly (they’ll keep for a couple of days covered in the fridge) then freeze them. They’ll keep for several months, and you can use them perfectly well once defrosted.
You will probably also have half a lemon left. You know there’s all sorts of things that will be livened up by a squeeze of lemon juice - most sauces, for instance. But if you’re not likely to use the rest in the next day or two, then once again, squeeze as much of the juice out as you can and put it into ice cube trays. Once frozen, just put into a small freezer bag and you have some lemon juice ready for the next time you want that little extra citrus kick.