Two weeks ago the Pie and I decided to head downtown for a late Saturday breakfast and we ended up at the Bagel Cafe, which is consistently voted as having the best breakfast in town almost every year. We’d never been before, so it was an interesting experience — the place is pretty cozy so I wouldn’t recommend going in a big group — but the menu was massive and I had the best breakfast I have ever had. It was eggs Benedict served with a sliver of smoked salmon and a dreamy, creamy Hollandaise, but instead of the standard English muffin, this poached beauty was perched atop a genuine Newfoundland cod fish cake. It was truly one of the more divine things I have eaten in recent memory.
And I can’t stop thinking about it. So I had to recreate it. I mean, who did I think I was? This, then, is what I did the following weekend.
So first, for the man I married who refuses to eat fish, I whipped up another batch of English muffins. And then I learned that he has never had eggs Benedict before. I was shocked. I order them pretty much every time we go out for breakfast, but it never occurred to me to find out if he had ever done the same. And then I made the fish cakes, which conveniently store well in the refrigerator.
For the Hollandaise, you want to get your whisking arm limbered up. Set a large pot of water to simmer on your stove and find a metal bowl that fits snugly over the opening but that does not touch the water (if you’re poaching eggs you probably have a large pot of water already on the simmer so this makes things easy). While that’s heating up melt as well 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and set that somewhere convenient.
Into the metal bowl goes 3 egg yolks and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Whisk that until it’s frothy.
Set the bowl over the pot and keep whisking. Lift the bowl away from the heat every once in a while to make sure that it doesn’t get too hot and curdle.
Keep whisking until you produce a thick creamy substance that forms strings when you lift the whisk away. This is called a sabayon, and that’s basically the structure of your Hollandaise base right there.
Away from the heat, and whisking all the while, trickle in your nice hot melted butter and mix until fully incorporated.
Season with salt and pepper.
And maybe a little Tabasco sauce. Taste it and season again accordingly.
Keep the Hollandaise warm (but not hot) while the rest of your chaotic morning is going on. I did this by putting it a bowl of hot water. This is enough sauce for 4-6 eggs, by the way.
You should also be toasting your English muffins (if you’re using them) and frying up your fish cakes (which you should be eating because they’re awesome). And if you’re using peameal bacon, fry that up as well.
Now everything else is a matter of timing. Everyone has their own methods for poaching eggs, and how long they take will depend on the size of the egg, how many you are cooking, water temperature, blah blah blah. Gordon Ramsay had a neat tip, though: swirl the water into a vortex before sliding in your egg. The circular direction of the water will ensure that all those little tendrils of egg will end up stuck to the egg itself, making the finished product nice and round. I also tried the Julia Child method here, where you poke a small hole in the fat end of the egg with a pin.
Then you get your water simmering and you dunk each egg for 10-15 seconds and then you haul them out. This pre-cooks the whites a little bit so the egg stays in shape a bit better.
THEN you add a bit of vinegar to the water.
And crack your eggs into the barely simmering stuff, one by one. Let them do their thing for 3-4 minutes, depending on how hard you like ’em poached. When they were done I plopped them in a bowl of hot water to stay warm while I set everything up. This also washes the vinegar off the eggs. Drain them on a clean towel before you put them on your muffins or they’ll get soggy.
Smear a dab of Hollandaise on your toasted muffin, layer on a piece of peameal bacon, follow that with the egg and more Hollandaise and a sprinkle of parsley or chives and salt and pepper.
Alternately, plop a dollop of sauce on your crispy fish cake, ladle on the egg, more sauce, and a flake of smoked salmon.
Eat it while it’s hot!