August 30, 2009

Eggs Benedict

For some reason, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce have both challenged my technical skills in the kitchen. Which has put home preparation of one of my favorite breakfasts out of my reach. Until this morning, that is. This morning, I woke up and said, "Eggs Benedict, you are my bitch today."

My egg poaching was aided by two silicone pods. Spray the silicone pods with some non-stick spray, pour a single egg in each, and drop the whole thing into a pot of boiling water. Cover the pot. The pods will float all by themselves.

My first poach was marred by some water leaking into the pod because I wimped out and tried to put the pod in with a long-handled slotted spoon, and awkwardly let about two ounces of water into the egg. After that, I knew I had to cowboy up, deal with the heat and the steam, and put the pods in the boiling water by hand. That kept the eggs dry, with the only water in the resulting pods being steam condensate, which I drained out before serving the eggs.

The slotted spoon is essential to removing the pods. Again, my first attempt at using these things was the learning curve -- the cooked egg needed to be separated with a spoon from the silicone despite the non-stick spray; just turning the pod inside out ripped the cooked albumen and let the still-liquid portion of the yolk run out everywhere. I'd have eaten this myself but The Wife was impatient and she disregarded the texture problem, pronouncing the egg "delicious."

She also did not want to put my hollandaise sauce on her Benedicts. Which, if you ask me, sort of defeats the purpose of Eggs Benedict. And I'd finished my learning curve on this batch of hollandaise sauce, so this turned out to be pretty good.

A couple of notes on hollandaise sauce. First, you can't keep it. Its primary ingredients are butter (that is, dairy fat) and egg yolks. A better breeding ground for bacteria is difficult to even imagine. Trying to store it or even keep it in an open container for any significant length of time is pretty much asking for it.

Second, not only can't you keep it to store for later, you can't even make it and set it to one side for use after you're done with other stuff. With a brown sauce, white sauce, tomato sauce, or a wine sauce, that's generally a pretty easy thing to do; you make the sauce and either keep it simmering or set it aside to reheat when the rest of the food is ready to be sauced. Hollandaise is different. Its ingredients want to separate rather than stay suspended together.

This means that when you make it, it should be close to the last thing you do. Hollandaise sauce is "just-in-time" sauce -- pour it directly from the double boiler onto the plate and serve immediately.

Now, here is my lesson in hollandaise sauce making. You need to whip up the egg yolks first, then add the water, and then sherry, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper mix, just a bit at a time, then take it off the heat and add the melted butter just a bit at a time, stirring constantly. No problem for the amateur cook of middling skill, right? Well, here's the deal. Whip the egg yolks in a cold double boiler, then put it on the heat and keep stirring them, vigorously, as you add the water one tablespoon at a time, and that water needs to be boiling when you add it.

I let the double boiler heat, because I was nervous about getting everything ready in advance. So the egg yolks cooked and solidified somewhat in themselves before any liquid got added, resulting in a granular texture to the sauce. Good hollandaise sauce should be smooth, creamy, and uniform.

The good news for today's breakfast was that despite the textural imperfection of the sauce it tasted great. (Well, it's made from egg yolks and butter, how could it not taste great?) The better-looking product is as illustrated above.

It's the just-in-time requirement for the hollandaise sauce and the just-in-time requirement for serving the eggs that makes Eggs Benedict a challenge. You need to time the egg poaching with the creation of the sauce so that both are ready within seconds of one another, and both right before service. If you're reading all this carefully, you will initially that you need five hands working at once to do the job properly. That's why, if you're beginning this challenge as I was before graduating this morning, you will probably need several attempts before you get the timing right.

This, by the way, is why the Egg McMuffin sandwich at McDonald's is the way it is. An Egg McMuffin is a poor man's Eggs Benedict. McDonald's can't do this kind of precision cooking in a fast food setting -- my work this morning took about an hour of setup and cooking before delivery of breakfast, although with experience that time will decrease. At McDonald's they fry the egg in a special ring made for the job, poking a hole to let the yolk run out during the cooking process, and they slap a piece of cheese on the final product instead of using hollandaise sauce. The grease you sometimes see on the egg is left over from heating the ham on the same grill; a well-prepared Egg McMuffin will not have grease on its egg.

The real Eggs Benedict that I prepared this morning have about a gazillion calories, so I wouldn't suggest this as an everyday breakfast. You also might want to consider serving some fruit -- melons or berries -- alongside the main dish, to cut the richness. But mmm-boy is this stuff good.

Hollandaise sauce

3 egg yolks
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
3 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
dash of cayenne pepper
chives to taste

Prepare two pots of boiling water, one for use with a double boiler and the other as a reservoir for cooking (see narration above). Mix sherry, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chives (if desired). Slowly melt butter. In cold double boiler pan (see narration above) whisk egg yolks until they begin to firm up. Place double boiler over heat, and continue stirring vigorously as you add one tablespoon of boiling water. When mixture begins to firm, repeat with second tablespoon of boiling water, then repeat for third. Then, while continuing to stir, add sherry-lemon juice blend. Remove double boiler from heat. While stirring sauce continuously, slowly pour in melted butter. Resulting sauce should be smooth and golden in color. Serve immediately.

Eggs Benedict

English muffin
Smaller slices of Canadian bacon, ham, or American bacon
2 eggs
Hollandaise sauce (see above)

Prepare meat in the typical fashion. Toast English muffin in halves, place meat on bottom. Poach eggs in boiling water (see narrative above for technique notes) for six minutes, then place atop meat. Drizzle hollandaise sauce atop and serve immediately.


DaveBuck said...

That's cooking with love right there.

S said...

I love, love, love eggs benedict, but I don't think I have the patience to pull it off at home. Kudos to you for managing it.