Sometimes I can be a real Calvinist. Sometimes I do things not because I want to do them, but because I feel I should do them. For instance, that time I struggled through all of Crime and Punishment, and hated most of it, but wouldn’t put it down, just because I felt I ought to have read at least one of the Russians. In the same vain, I sometimes feel I should cook the classic difficult dishes, just to prove that I can. Prove to whom? I don’t know, myself, I guess. The other weekend I made some eggs benedict just to see if I could. It’s meant to be one of those difficult dishes, up there with soufflé and macarons, so I wanted to have a go and, hopefully, tick one more dish off the cooking bucket list.
Why are eggs benedict so difficult? Mostly because the recipe includes making Hollandaise sauce, which is one of those whimsy emulsions that apparently feel like going tits-up most of the time. As a bonus difficulty you have to poach eggs, which I always find slightly tricky to get right. Bonus-bonus difficulty for us, Europeans: none of the recipes agree on what meat actually goes between the egg and the English muffin – some say ham, some say bacon, but then apparently in some parts of Northern America, bacon is called ham. (Tom Green explained it quite well, back when he was still allowed on TV.)
So here’s some beginner’s luck for you: everything went right on my first try. Which is why I will never make this again. The Hollandaise came out nice and creamy, the eggs had a beautiful, runny yolk. The muffins didn’t burn, the bacon was bacony. Sure, it went right once, but that doesn’t mean you can go around tempting fate. On top of that, I’ve got a confession to make: it was good, really – but it wasn’t “30 minutes worth of beating egg yolks in my pyjamas whilst I’m still seeing double” good. I’d order it if I went out for breakfast, definitely. But in my own house, I think I’d sooner just have an extra half hour’s sleeping off my hangover, and settle for a fry up. But here, just in case you guys want to have a go, eggs benedict!
For two breakfast punters, use the following:
For the Hollandaise sauce:
- 2 egg yolks
- 125 gr butter
- 1/2 tsp vinegar
- some ice water
- a pinch of salt
- a squeeze of lemon juice
This will make you more than enough for two people, but I don’t know how to make less.
For the benedict:
- 2 English muffins
- a few slices of bacon – enough to cover your English muffins with
- 4 eggs
- some pepper (although this is entirely optional and almost certainly unorthodox)
I started with the Hollandaise because the dish stands or falls with that, doesn’t it!
On low, low heat, start melting your butter in a saucepan.
Now set up a bain marie: grab a pot, pan, saucepan, whatever, put in a layer of water. Find a bowl (or as in my case, slightly smaller pan) that will fit in the larger pan without falling into it completely – it should hover over the water, but not touch it.
Heat your water. In the meantime, pop the egg yolks into the pan, add the vinegar and ice water, a pinch of salt, and start beating like a basket case. You want a nice and foamy mixture before you even take it near the bain marie. Is it nice and foamy? OK, put her on the simmering water. Keep beating – in a minute or so it’ll go funny and it’lll start looking like, I don’t know, some kind of thick mayonnaise. That’s good!
When it’s looking pretty thick and creamy, take it off the heat (shouldn’t be more than about 3 minutes, really). Now start whisking in the butter, bit by bit. If it’s still kinda thick when all the butter’s been incorporated into the mixture, add a little bit more ice water. Finishing touch, suqeeze in that little bit of lemon juice. You want to try and keep the sauce warm, so turn down the heat on the bain marie, put the sauce on, and stir every time you possibly can.
Now, cut your muffins in half and toast them. Throw your bacon into a frying pan and leave it to its own devices.
Poach your eggs! Know how to poach eggs? Skip this. If not, grab a pan full of water and bring it to a boil. Add some vinegar, it’s meant to help the eggs poach better or something. A lot of people say you really don’t need to add vinegar, that it doesn’t actually help at all, but I secretly love the taste of it so fuck those people. Now, break one egg, but don’t chuck it in the water straight away, chuck it in your favourite tea cup. Grab yourself a spoon, and start swirling the water in the pan so that you get a tiny little whirlpool in the middle. Take the egg and slowly, gently let it slide in there. Now leave it alone for 2 – 3 minutes. Scoop it out with a skimmer or something, gently shake off a little bit of water and put it on a wee plate until you need it. Repeat with the other eggs.
Assemble! Muffins, bacon, eggs, sauce, freshly ground black pepper.