|Photo courtesy The Pioneer Woman|
My absolute favorite breakfast dish is a Heart Attack on a Plate, which in some circles is referred to as Eggs Benedict. The origins of this heart-stopping dish are unclear, but all trace back to famous eateries in New York City in the late 1800's. Was it Mrs. LeGrand Benedict's desire to try something entirely new at Delmonico's one day that led her to try some ham and poached eggs on an English Muffin with Hollandaise, or was it Lemuel Benedict seeking a hangover cure at the Waldorf-Astoria which consisted of toast, bacon, poached eggs and a pitcher of Hollandaise? In any case, I'd like to thank all parties involved in its creation! You've put a smile on my face (and perhaps a lining of fat in my arteries)!
Let's take a look at all the great variations in creating this classic dish!
The Base (so important as it soaks up all the gooey egg and buttery sauce):
English Muffin: This is the traditional base for Eggs Benedict. Most restaurants will stick to this ideal as the bread element for the dish.
Toast: Mr. Benedict's version of the dish was served on toast, as opposed to an English Muffin.
Brioche: A fancier version of toast. This sweet egg bread has sopped up yummy egg and Hollandaise at some of the fancier breakfast joints I've tried. It is a happy substitute for the traditional English Muffin. Try cutting it out in a circle to mimic the shape of an English Muffin.
Biscuit: A country-style version can be served over a split biscuit, using a sausage patty as the meat and substituting gravy for the Hollandaise. Also, try a Southwest version also using a biscuit but spike the Hollandaise with a little Chipotle for a spicy kick!
Scone: Yes, much like a biscuit, a savory scone can be split and used as the base for this delicious dish!
Potato Cakes: Another starchy variation. A cool idea would be to incorporate a filling such as lobster into the mashed potato cakes themselves and then top immediately with a poached egg. You could also try making latkes with grated potato instead.
Fried Potato Skins: One of my favorite discoveries was at The Griddle Cafe in West Hollywood, California where they serve their variation over three fried potato skins and a huge slab of ham. You can only imagine how great this is! I suggest you try this immediately. It can easily be recreated at home, since frying potato skins doesn't require the greatest culinary skills imaginable.
The Filling (this can change the whole perspective--and name--of the dish):
Ham: Oh so traditional, but always yummy.
Canadian Bacon: Kind of like a circle-shaped ham, perfect for layering this "round" breakfast dish.
Bacon: Yes, bacon. It's like what pigs were born to create.
Prosciutto: It's the other thing that pigs were born to create. Don't cook it like you would with the other meats, or you'll dry it out. Use thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma--it's the best and will melt in your mouth!
Pancetta: Can you say "round bacon?" A perfect fit!
Spinach: This makes it Eggs Florentine, which is usually served with a cheesy Mornay sauce as opposed to Hollandaise. I once had a great version served over brioche with ham and spinach, with a traditional Hollandaise at the Farm of Beverly Hills. It was definitely a winner!
Smoked Salmon: One of the great upgrades to this dish, many restaurants now offer this version, but you can easily try it yourself at home with a slice of your favorite smoked salmon.
Crab Cakes: As if it couldn't get any better! The only thing better than a crab cake, is Crab Cakes Benedict! The cakes are obviously smaller so they can fit on the the English Muffin (or in the case of the photo to the left, on round slices of brioche), but what's lacking in size is not lacking in flavor. Yum!
Lobster: The King of all seafood. You can't get much fancier than this. Cook yourself a lobster tail and just slice it into medallions. One or two slices should be more than enough to transform this dish into one fit for royalty.
Avocado and Tomato: Yup, vegetarians can take part in this sumptuous dish. Try freshly sliced or mashed avocado and a slice of tomato. You can even call this Eggs Tomavo if you want to be clever ;-)
Asparagus: You can easily add some steamed asparagus on it's own or with a meat filling, such as ham or lobster. You get the picture!
The Eggs (it wouldn't be Eggs Benedict without them!):
The Eggs: Poached. That's all.
The Sauce (what makes this dish so bad for you, but also taste so good):
Hollandaise: The classic emulsion of egg yolks, lemon juice, melted butter and seasonings. There are many variations on this sauce that can enhance the dish, like spicier versions with chilis or enhanced with orange making it a Maltaise Sauce instead. You can even do a tomato spiked Hollandaise or Bearnaise (called a Choron sauce) depending on what goes with the filling you've chosen.
Mornay: This is basically a Bechamel sauce (or white sauce) with grated cheese (usually Gruyere) melted into it. This is traditionally served over Eggs Florentine.
Alas, I think this is a pretty good foray into the world of Eggs Benedict. Finally, check out the egg song, which will not only get stuck in your head, but I promise it will change your life forever!
I will leave you with a simple recipe to get you over your craving...
Eggs Benedict with Blender Hollandaise Sauce
2 English Muffins, halved, toasted and buttered
4 slices ham or Canadian bacon (or filling of your choice)
3 egg yolks
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
A dash of cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
1. Prepare the sauce. Place the egg yolks, lemon juice and seasonings in the jar of a blender and blend on high speed for a minute. With the machine running, slowly add the melted butter in a steady stream. When all the butter has been added (about a minute later), the sauce should be thick. If not, process on high speed for about 20 seconds more. Keep the sauce warm by placing the blender jar in warm water.
2. Next poach the eggs. Boil some water in a skillet with a couple teaspoons of vinegar. This will help the eggs hold their shape. When the water comes to a simmer, crack each egg into a bowl and one by one, slip them into the simmering water. Cook for about 4-5 minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon and let "dry off" momentarily on a paper towel.
3. While the eggs are cooking, toast your English Muffins (using a broiler will get it done faster), butter them, and cook your ham or Canadian bacon and layer the slices onto your English Muffins, which you can keep warm in the oven until the eggs are ready.
4. Top each English Muffin and ham with a poached egg and then blanket with a generous drizzle of Hollandaise. Enjoy!