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Water Cooler: Impress with from-scratch eggs Benedict

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 18, 2020

Eggs Benedict is the quintessential Sunday brunch dish. It’s a diner staple, probably because it’s so labor-intensive and time-consuming to make. Only a foodie will spend that much of their day poaching eggs and preparing a fickle hollandaise sauce from scratch, but actually, that’s probably why it’s best made at home.

Anthony Bourdain testified against eating hollandaise from a restaurant in “Kitchen Confidential.” “Not for me. Bacteria love hollandaise.” The finicky emulsion of egg yolk, butter and lemon juice must be held at the right, lukewarm temperature. Too hot or too cold and the texture will be ruined, but it will be the last thing from a shining example of food safety.

For further assurance Bourdain adds, “And nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order.”

To be food safe with integrity maintained, from-scratch hollandaise would have to be made every few hours. Anyone who has ever worked a brunch rush at a busy greasy spoon (or even an upscale, hip breakfast spot for that matter) will probably not bet on that possibility.

Will you enjoy your afternoon unscathed after consuming eggs Benedict out? Many of us have before. Will a fresh, high-quality, poached egg and scratch-made hollandaise sauce taste worlds better? Guaranteed – if you can pull it off. Given the new COVID-19 restrictions on dining out, it seems to be the perfect opportunity to make an attempt. It’s a delicate process – but not impossible.

Begin with clarifying butter. This renders the milk fat, which allows the butterfat to separate from the milk solids and water because of differences in density and the evaporation of water. High-quality butter will make for a more flavorful and rich clarified butter. Heat 250 grams of unsalted butter on low heat. If heated too quickly, it will brown and if it boils the milk solids won’t separate. Skim off the foamy milk solids that rise to the top. Ladle the butter fat from the top, leaving the water and other milk fat at the bottom. You can also strain it through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Separate four eggs, keeping the yolks for the sauce.

Create a double broiler by placing a heat-proof bowl on top of a pot of simmering water. Don’t let the boil become too vigorous. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl.

Place the egg yolks in the bowl and whisk rapidly. If they get too hot, they will scramble. Slowly drizzle the melted butter in the mixture while whisking continuously. If it gets too hot or you stop whisking, the egg yolks and butter will not emulsify, leaving you with small egg chunks in butter. Not desirable. Once the mixture has thickened and become fluffy and voluminous, it is ready for a squeeze of lemon juice – about a tablespoon. Keep warm while you poach the eggs, toast the English muffin, and brown the Canadian bacon in a skillet.

That method is classic but tricky. Thanks to the modern culinary technological gadget we all know and love – the blender – there exists a fail-proof and time-saving cheat. Add the egg yolks, lemon juice and a pinch of salt and begin blending at a high speed. Slowly pour in hot, clarified butter (some recipes even just call for hot, unclarified butter) and the sauce will thicken almost immediately. Keep it warm by housing the blender in a pot of hot water. Defiant of the traditional mother sauce technique? Sure, but many swear by this method.

To poach eggs, simmer water, a teaspoon of kosher salt and two teaspoons of white vinegar over medium heat. Crack a cold egg in a small dish. Quickly stir the water to create a whirlpool in the pan, then drop in the egg (or two). This helps to prevent the white from spreading out in the water. Turn off the heat and let sit covered for five minutes. Gently lift out the egg and move to an ice bath. It can be refrigerated for up to eight hours and reheated in warm water prior to serving.

Assemble. Muffin, then bacon, then egg, then hollandaise sauce. Garnish with a pinch of cayenne pepper and chopped chive. Proceed to bask in the beauty of your freshly homemade eggs Benedict (and probably brag on social media a bit, too).

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