Eggs Benedict requires a steady hand

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By Greg Summers

Sometimes, we look for an excuse to start another holiday; take today, for instance. While April 16 is the day that all tax preparers look forward to, it’s National Eggs Benedict Day, too.I wonder if there is a correlation between the two. Sleep late, eat late and play golf later. I know that’s what my accountant – Dennis Nichols – will probably do after burning the midnight oil last night.Eggs Benedict is a dish that consists of two halves of a toasted English muffin, topped with ham or bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.Now, accounts differ as to the origin of eggs Benedict.You can rest assured it wasn’t invented by Benedictine monks or Benedict Arnold.Benedict Arnold had little interest in butter and egg money. He was after a bigger payday.A decorated soldier and brilliant military leader, Arnold ended up betraying his country in 1780 during the Revolutionary War. It seems that Arnold didn’t like the idea that the Continental Congress wouldn’t pay his wartime expenses. They “fell out,” so Arnold (who in his opinion had been passed over one too many times for promotion) offered to give West Point – which was under his command to the British. However, Arnold’s deal “fell out” when a courier carrying the paperwork for it was caught. The courier was hung and a disgraced Arnold was eventually court-martialed, found guilty of malfeasance and went to England where he died unknown and penniless.While French versions of eggs Benedict dish, oeuf’s benedictine (a puree of salt cod and potatoes, a poached egg and hollandaise on triangles of fried bread) date back to the Renaissance, no one is sure how it ended up on New York City restaurant menus in the late 1800’s. One legend has it that the dish was created by retired Wall Street stockbroker Lemuel Benedict. In a 1942 interview with The New Yorker, Lemuel Benedict claimed that he staggered into the Waldorf Hotel one morning in 1894 in search of a hangover cure. He ordered “buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon and a hooker of hollandaise.”Hotel maitre d’ (headwaiter) Oscar Tschirky was so impressed with the dish that he had it added to the menus, but substituted ham and a toasted English muffin for the bacon and toast.Another story is that Mrs. Le Grand Benedict created the dish in 1893. Mrs. Benedict, who dined each Saturday at Delmonicos in New York City with her husband, asked the maitre d’ there for something new or different.The headwaiter’s reply – according to a November 1967 letter printed in The New York Times – was he would like to hear an idea on something new and original from her.She suggested poached eggs, a thin slice of ham, hollandaise sauce on a toasted English muffin topped by a truffle.

Hollandaise sauceThe key to making great eggs Benedict is hollandaise. Made from butter and lemon juice, hollandaise uses egg yolks as a binding agent. It is considered as one the five basic sauces in French cuisine.It does take some skill and knowledge to prepare, but it isn’t quite as hard to make as you think. When it is properly made, it should be smooth, creamy, rich and buttery with a mild tang. When over-heated or under-heated, the ingredients will separate. The main thing is to take your time.The sauce that appears here is my own creation. Rather than using the egg yolks, I used the egg whites to cut the amount of fat and cholesterol. I also boosted the flavor by using freshly-squeezed orange juice, lemon juice and lemon zest. It may not have the yellow color of most hollandaise sauces, but it is packed with flavor.Once you master the hollandaise, you have to learn how to poach an egg.

Poaching an eggPoaching an egg isn’t as hard as we make it out to be. It’s fairly easy, said former news editor turned food editor and author Elaine Corn. A Julia Child and James Beard culinary award winner, Corn came up with a foolproof method that she said makes “poaching eggs a joy.”–First, lose the big pot of water. All you need is a medium-sized skillet with a lid. If your skillet doesn’t have a matching lid, try one that’s close to it in size, or use a baking sheet or large dinner plate instead.–Fill the skillet with about three inches of water and turn it on high heat (covering it will speed up the heating time).–Meanwhile, crack each egg to be poached into a small cup or bowl. Put the cups onto a plate and have them convenient to the stove. When the water in the skillet starts to boil, remove the cover and add one teaspoon of plain vinegar to the water and some salt (the vinegar will help the egg hold its shape). If you are worried about the vinegary taste, Corn said the eggs can be place in a bowl of water once they are done to stop the cooking and wash away the vinegary taste.–Lower the lip of each cup about 1/2 inch below the surface of the water and let the eggs flow out. Immediately return the cover to the pan and turn off the heat.–Set the timer for three minutes and let them cook exactly three minutes for medium-firm yolks. You can adjust the time up or down for runnier or firmer yolks.–When the timer goes off, remove the cover. Lift each egg out with a slotted spoon, but hold it over the skillet briefly to let any water clinging to the egg drain off. Gently lay an egg on each piece of toast or English muffin.

Sources: Wikepedia, Recipe Doctor: The Lighter side of eggs Benedict, whatscookingamerica.net, and reluctantgourmet.com

Light Hollandaise SauceIngredients2 egg yolks (or whites, to cut out fat and cholesterol)1 /4 teaspoon salt1/2 teaspoon pepper (black or cayenne)2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice1 teaspoon lemon zest3 tablespoons whipped butter (or margarine)2 tablespoons flour, sifted3/4 cup fat-free half-and-half (or low-fat milk), plus more if a thinner consistency is desired

Directions– Combine egg whites, salt, pepper, lemon zest, lemon and orange juices in a food processor or blender, pulsing for 10-20 seconds.– In a small double boiler, over medium heat, melt whipped butter. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of fat-free half-and-half and flour.– Whisk in the remaining half-and-half a little at a time. Whisk in the egg yolk-mixture and continue to cook over medium heat. Whisk constantly until sauce is nicely thickened. Set sauce aside until needed. Properly made, it should be smooth and creamy and served warm, not hot.

– Adapted by Gregory A. Summers Eggs BenedictIngredients2 multigrain or whole-wheat English muffins, spilt into halves4 medium eggsHam slices or baconHollandaise sauce

Directions– Cook ham or bacon until done and set aside. – Toast English muffins and poach eggs.– To assemble each eggs Benedict, place a toasted English muffin on a plate. Place the ham, then the poached eggs in the center of the two halves. Top with Hollandaise sauce and garnish plate with fresh fruit.

– Adapted by Gregory A. Summers