Sunday brunch: eggs Benedict
Few things I cook for breakfast strew destruction all around the kitchen quite like eggs Benedict. It’s all in the timing, this; poaching eggs, making sauce, toasting muffins, frying bacon (I was out of ham); all of them requiring careful timing, and even more so to bring the together at the same time. It causes extra special bonus devastation when (ahem) I completely screw up the first batch of hollandaise sauce and have to start over with the last two eggs in the house and no fallback if it went wrong a second time. Tightrope walking time!
First time around, I tried this method described by Felicity Cloake and based on the writings of God Amongst Cooks, Harold McGee. Cloake calls for you to put water, egg yolk, and butter in a pan and gently heat while whisking. Endearingly, this makes a minimum of mess. Rather less good, though, is that even a small amount too much heat and it splits. The line between “enough heat” and “too much heat” is too narrow a path for me to walk successfully. This recipe has only ever been a one-way ticket to splitsville for me. I think I’ve tried it three times now…
So I gave up, consigned the first batch to the bin, and did it my usual way instead: two egg yolks and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice in a bowl set in a saucepan over simmering water, apply gentle heat until it reaches 60 deg C, whisk in cubes of cold butter (125 g / 4.5 oz / 1 stick in total) one at a time, keep whisking until it reaches the desired thickness, season. Hold briefly in a just-about-warm oven or for a longer period in a pre-warmed vacuum flask.
More mess, but it always works for me, and has the advantage that if you’re careful you can pasteurise the egg yolks by heating them to 60 deg C and holding them for five minutes at that temperature, before adding the butter. This can sate any concerns you may have about salmonella from eating raw egg, particularly if you are going to hold the sauce in a flask for long-ish periods (as I have done before now when making béarnaise sauce to accompany steak). The addition of the acid — lemon juice in hollandaise, vinegar in béarnaise — allows you to reach these temperatures without the egg yolks starting to cook, although you’ll want to use a digital thermometer and not take it any higher than necessary.