The classic brunch staple has been around for ages, so we examine its history and how to make the perfect vers …Much like so many other iconic dishes with muddled histories, the origins of eggs Benedict are subject to some debate. There are several theories surrounding where, when, how, and - most importantly - by whom the classic dish was created, and in honor of National Eggs Benedict Day, we decided to give it a careful look.
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Of all of the theories that are thrown around, some of which involve chefs, commodores, the term "benedict" meaning bachelor, and traditional French cookbooks, there are two prominent ones that seek to explain the creation of eggs Benedict. The first theory dates back to the 1860s, at the historic Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City. Supposedly, a frequent patron, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, was bored with the usual menu and wanted something new and exciting to try for lunch. After discussing her options with the chef at the time, Charles Ranhofer, they decided on a version of eggs Benedict, and the dish soon became a fixture on the iconic restaurant's menu.
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The other possible origin of eggs Benedict is said to have happened a few years later in 1894 at another New York City institution, the Waldorf Astoria. Another regular by the name of Lemuel Benedict was suffering from a hangover and he placed a special order of poached eggs on toast with bacon and a side of hollandaise sauce. The maître d' at the time, Oscar Tschirky, liked the order so much that he put it on the menu, with a few substitutions of his own. This theory has been strongly argued for by a distant relative of Benedict, and thoroughly chronicled in a New York Times piece several years later. While we won't participate in the detailed debate about the two theories, it should be said that the year Benedict ordered his hangover breakfast was coincidentally the same year Delmonico's chef Ranhofer published the recipe in his cookbook The Epicurean.
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As you can see, when you try to dissect the several stories around the dish, the age-old question of whether the chicken or the egg came first starts to surface, and you can find yourself running in quite a frustrating circle. As one culinary expert from the Art Institute of New York City told a Times reporter, eggs Benedict is "an evolution, not a creation," and so it's not so much about determining where it came from, but appreciating it for all of its deliciousness and glory.
Whether invented by a woman or a man, or in uptown or downtown Manhattan, there are a few things that you can derive from its creation theories. For one, Benedict will always start with a capital B, because no matter who it was, we can safely assume it was derived from someone's name. In one theory, we know that it was meant to excite the patron at Delmonico's, and it still does today, especially with all of the new and creative ways to serve it. In another theory, it was meant as a hangover cure for that gentleman at the Waldorf, and so it is no surprise that the filling and indulgent dish continues to show up on brunch menus today. And from both theories we can gather that it was a dish for the genteel, the high-society and privileged diners of New York City, and we continue to serve it as an elegant and impressive dish.
Whatever origin story you choose to believe, the only important thing in the end is that you continue to enjoy the dish. There's a reason it was created and has stuck along for so long, so to help you make your eggs Benedict perfectly, every time, we've outlined some building blocks for the dish that you can use to help you craft the most delicious one, or devise your own recipe. Whatever you do, remember that hollandaise sauce is king, and to always spell your recipe with a capital B.
Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphotoThe Vessel
No matter what theory you choose to follow, we all know that the eggs (usually two) are served on a bed of some sort of bread. The most traditional type used today is English muffins, but if you choose to go with something else, just remember that the bread should be toasted long enough for a strong texture that adds bite and is able to soak in the hollandaise sauce, but not too much so that it's difficult to cut through with a fork and knife.
Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphotoThe Egg
The egg is almost always poached, and if you ever wonder why, then picture your eggs Benedict without that silky yolk dripping out of the egg, into the sauce, and onto the meat and bread. Get our point? If you're going to go for another type of egg, just make sure its yolk is breakable. The key to a perfect poached egg is to have the water at the exact right temperature, and Chef David Burke explains this to us in detail.
Credit: Shutterstock.comThe Meat
Out of all of the theories, one thing remains clear, that the eggs are served on top of some meat. While Lemuel Benedict supposedly chose bacon for his dish, legend has it that the chef switched it out for the Canadian kind. Why? We like to think it was because it fits perfectly with the shape of an English muffin, and because its skin crisps up but still remains pliable under a knife. If you're going with the traditional Canadian bacon, always throw it on the griddle for a few minutes per side so that it gets hot and crispy. For any other type of topping, whether it be shellfish, bacon, or even something vegetarian, remember to cook it but not to the point where it's too tough to cut through.
Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphotoThe Sauce
The king of all sauces, some would say, is hollandaise. It's delicious, but often scary to make. A classic sauce (and one of the mother's), hollandaise sauce is the emulsification of eggs and butter. It's a tricky one, because you have to manage egg yolks with heat and emulsify them perfectly with fat. If anything is done incorrectly, your hollandaise will break, resulting in a runny, yellowy mess. As Martha Holmberg, our sauce aficionado, tells us, with hollandaise sauce you want billows, and they should be as voluptuous as possible. Creating hollandaise sauce is alchemy: managing heat and yolks, properly emulsifying, and seasoning it well with salt, pepper, and acid.
Click here to learn how to master your hollandaise sauce.
Credit: Thinkstock/iStockphotoThe Garnish
Just yellow on white is so, well, boring, which is why we usually see eggs Benedict garnished with specks of paprika. Don't just stop there, though, and garnish your eggs with whatever ingredient will add a fresh and textured bite to your dish.
Credit: Thinkstock/StockbyteThe Perfect Eggs Benedict
- Anne Dolce, The Daily Meal
While the dish's history is muddled, it doesn't take away from the fact that it's delicious. To make the perfect one, you have to remember the four components of the dish: the bread, the meat, the egg, and the sauce. As long as you follow the basic principles behind each of these, you can create any type of eggs Benedict you crave - just make sure it has hollandaise.
For the hollandaise sauce:
• 1/2 cup unsalted butter
• 2 egg yolks
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• Pinch of salt
For the eggs Benedict:
• 2 lemon juice or vinegar
• 2 eggs
• 2 pieces Canadian bacon
• 1 English muffin, halved, toasted, and buttered
• Paprika, for garnish
• Chopped chives, for garnish
For the hollandaise sauce:
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Don't stir as it melts. You want the milky solids to fall to the bottom and the butter fat to float to the top. Keep warm.
Pour water to a depth of 1-2 inches into a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Rest a medium stainless-steel bowl in the pan over (not touching) the water. Put the egg yolks, lemon juice, water, and ¼ teaspoon salt in the bowl and start whisking. As the bowl heats up, the yolks will begin to thicken. Whisk vigorously, scraping around the bowl with a heat-resistant rubber spatula from time to time so that bits of yolk don't get stuck and overcook. Beat until thick and frothy but not quite fluffy, 3-4 minutes. The whisk will start leaving a clear space on the bottom of the bowl. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk for another 30 seconds or so to stabilize the sauce and let the bowl cool down.
Continue whisking as you slowly drizzle in the warm melted butter, taking care not to add the milky-watery layer from the bottom of the pan. As you pour and whisk, make sure the yolks are accepting the butter and the yolks and butter are emulsifying. If the sauce looks at all broken or "curdly," stop adding butter and just whisk for a few seconds. Only resume adding butter once you've whisked the sauce into creaminess again.
For the eggs Benedict:
Bring a large deep pot of water to a rolling boil. Add 1-2 tablespoons of acid to the water. As soon as the water reaches a rolling boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Crack the eggs, 1 at a time, into a bowl and then add to the simmering water. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until the eggs are cooked through and white all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat and fry the Canadian bacon, about 2 minutes per side, until heated through and crisp and brown on both sides. Place a piece of bacon on each of the muffin halves, then top with the poached eggs and a drizzle of hollandaise sauce. Garnish with paprika and chives.
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- Anne Dolce, The Daily Meal