Jul 11, 2010

Build A Better Benedict

Maggie: "Benedict"
Ike: "Arnold?"
Maggie: "I love Eggs Benedict. I hate every other kind...I hate big weddings with everybody staring......"

One of my most favorite movie quotes/scenes. Remember it? (bonus points for naming the movie AND the actors ;) ) It was during the course of this scene that I realized how picky I was about my eggs and that I really only ate them either scrambled (only at home) or over easy (only when dining out). It took some nerve, but I finally broke down and ordered "eggs benedict". Wow, boy was I missing out. "I LOVE EGGS BENEDICT". I have all of my favorite breakfast items married together; A fluffy biscuit, a caramelized piece of thick ham or canadian bacon, topped with a perfectly poached egg with it's firm white and runny yolk, all smothered in a lemony hollandaise sauce and topped off with melted cheese.

I just HAD to attempt this at home. There are only two problems...the construction and the execution. I know what you're thinking, "the construction DD?".  Now it may sound silly to you (too late, right? LOL) but I hate when I have to eat the traditionally built benedict and by using a fork and a knife trying to get a little bit of each thing in every bite. It just doesn't happen, ok, well, it does, but it ain't pretty. Eventually, and inevitably (despite my etiquette and fine dining skills) I end up with my egg flying off the ham, the ham slip sliding off the biscuit and not enough Hollandaise sauce to go around. This is where "building a better benedict" comes into play. Just look at that! Merely by re-arranging the traditional components and using chopped pieces of ham instead of sliced, placing the cheese UNDER the ham (ok, well, there's cheese IN the biscuit also), I find it just as esthetically appealing and I can actually even eat it with just a fork and yet, still, no slippy slide. A perfect bite...every time! ;)

But before I get ahead of myself, I want to cover the actual execution of this dish. Organization is key. The first attempts at making it were almost disastrous. I mean, I had poached eggs before, but man, making hollandaise sauce, poaching the eggs, cooking ham, baking biscuits....really? Eventually, and with a little planning, I found a better way. I've learned to do what I can ahead of time or things that I can do in tandem.  Since I had poached eggs under my belt, the next task was tackling the sauce. I have to give props to my foodie friend Shane over on Culinary Alchemy, for the inspiration and encouragement for me trying this on my own. (thanks buddy and thanks to Julia for inspiring him). Check out Shane's version on his blog for Hollandaise Sauce.

Here's my own version along with the steps and (hopefully) some tips to help things run smoothly:

Hollandaise Sauce 

4 large egg yolks (or 5 medium)
1 tablespoon fresh or bottled lemon juice
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Pinch salt
Pinch white pepper
Pinch tarragon

I use a medium sized sauce pan filled at least half way up with water. Add in 1 Tbsp of white vinegar to the water and bring to a simmer on the stove. I use the pot of hot water to cook the sauce, then afterwards, to poach the eggs. While the water is heating up, I use a glass bowl that just fits over the pot to separate my egg yolks into for the sauce. I separate the egg yolks from the whites then I put the yolks in the bowl, the egg whites go into an ice cube tray. It's easier if you separate it over a small dish first, then pour it into the ice cube compartment.

That white stringy thing often found attached to the egg yolk is called a "chalaza" [kuh-LEY-zuh] which helps keep the yolk centered in the egg for protection. As an egg ages, it often disappears. It's harmless, and (obviously) can be eaten, however, in a smooth sauce or pudding, it's not so appealing. You can remove it by straining your yolks or strain the whole mixture after it is cooked, or do what I do which is remove it with a piece of the egg shell and call it a day.

As for the egg whites? Well, they'll be used another day...for baking pies or cakes. So I have a system where I'll keep this ice tray in the freezer, fill it up with egg whites (keeping it covered with plastic wrap) then when it gets full, I transfer them into a bag. This way, I can pull out however many egg whites I need at a time for baking. I also have a separate tray that I use for leftover coffee. Comes in handy when I'm craving iced mocha java ;)

On to making the sauce. Place the bowl over the saucepan of hot (not boiling) water. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Pour in the lemon juice and vigorously whisk continuously  Be careful not to let the eggs get too hot or they will scramble. The hardest part is keeping the whisk moving so that you also don't have lumps. Notice how I have the bowl tilted? This is to keep all the egg at one side which helps while whisking.

Do this for about 5-7 minutes or so or until the mixture is thickened, lighter in color, and doubled in volume. Once it reaches this stage, remove the bowl from the pan and onto a counter. Continue whisking and slowly drizzle in the melted butter and continue to whisk until all of the butter is incorporated. Next, add in the salt, pepper and tarragon to taste. Cover with plastic wrap touching the sauce to prevent a skin forming and place in a warm spot until ready to use. If the sauce thickens too much upon sitting, just add a drizzle of warm water and re-whisk, it will loosen right up.

Ok, so now it's time to poach the eggs. I still have my pan of water that I used to cook the sauce simmering on the stove. I turn up the heat just a notch so that the water is just under a gentle boil. Now some will prefer even a lower temp (simmering) and that's fine, if you want your egg to cook slower or you want your yolk to cook more. I prefer firm whites and runny yolks, so I want the outside of the egg to cook a little faster than the inside. Crack the egg into a small dish first, then, holding the dish close to the surface of the water, let the egg gently slide in.

Also, remember the vinegar? Well I add that so when you drop the egg into the water, the egg actually "holds" together and doesn't spread out everywhere. You can use a slotted spoon to gently move the whites closer to the egg yolk too if need be. Now just let them "float", maybe 3 minutes?

There's really no set time because it's going to vary according to what temperature your water is and also, the size of the egg. The best advice I can give here is to practice. When I think it's just about ready, I use the slotted spoon and lift it up out of the water and gently touch it with my finger. It should have a little give where the yolk is, but will feel firmer on the white. This of course is easier done than said, meaning, do this this every time and you'll get the hang of it and know exactly what the "feel" is for your liking.

Once it "feels" ready, I lay it over a couple of paper towels. I actually fold the top of the paper towels over the egg and gently blot off any excess water. It's now ready for plating! Oh, and just FYI...the poached egg should be the last thing that you cook for this dish. They will cool down very quickly and as you can probably guess, there's no way of keeping them safe and warm. 

If I'm making everything the day of, I usually cook my meat between making the sauce and poaching the egg.  Also, while I'm cooking the meat, I will go ahead and get the plate assembled, laying the biscuit down first, then cheese and finally the chopped up meat. This way, it's ready for the eggs.
Lastly, spoon over the Hollandaise sauce and sprinkle with a touch more tarragon.

Here are a few more time saving tips:
1) Make the Hollandaise sauce ahead of time. Place it in a small container and place plastic wrap touching the whole surface to prevent a skin from forming. Put on a tight lid and store in the fridge for up to 2 days.
2) To Reheat: When you are heating your water for the poached eggs, remove the lid and wrap, place the container in the water as it is heating up. Stir a few times with a spoon until it's loosened back up and heated through. Then, just keep it in a warm place until ready to use.
3) I save some time too by using bottled lemon juice instead of "freshly squeezed". [ducking from Shane] Honestly, I can't tell the difference, that is provided of course you pay attention to the date on the bottle. (there IS an expiration date ya know)
4) Also, you can use any bread you have on hand...toast, english muffin, bagel, baguette slices, even leftover french toast. I used my favorite Garlic Cheddar Biscuits leftover from the last night's supper this go around with the cheese actually being IN the bread layer. This way, you can skip the step of having to add the cheese slices all together. Of course, I ended up adding more cheese anyway LOL
5) You can use any leftover breakfast meat too...ham, Canadian Bacon, sausage or even crumbled bacon. Just warm it up slightly in the microwave, the hot eggs will do the rest.

Now for my favorite part....EATING IT!!!!  Look ma, no MESS! I can actually get through the eating of the whole dish with all of the flavors in every single bite. No knife needed, and best of all...look....I have HAM left (I always run out with the traditional build) May sound silly to you, but hey, if I'm going to go through all this effort for the perfect breakfast I want the PERFECT eating experience too!
(ok, I'm off to my therapist session......)


Michele said...

I love eggs benedict! I never had melted cheese on mine though but that would just make it better!!! Your eggs turned out so perfect!

PS - I have no clue what movie that is from.

DDpie said...

thanks Shels...and Joy answered the trivia on fb LOL

Spryte said...

I LOVE eggs benny!! Jon makes it and it's awesome!! (so I'll probably never try... at least he makes me ONE meal at least once a year!!)

That looks soooo good!!!

Bob said...

Looks awesome, it's totally one of the best breakfasts ever. I've never tried making it myself, for some reason making Hollandaise makes me nervous.