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Eggs Benedict

 

Most people only know eggs Benedict in its poorly done, half-assed form. Here I go back to the basic components: English muffin, Canadian bacon, poached egg, hollandaise. The goal is to make each component from scratch and make it properly. When you taste homemade English muffins, you’ll understand why they are far and away better than anything that comes out of a package. When you try real Canadian bacon (see Sources, page 326), you’ll know that it’s nothing like what Hormel sells. Canadian bacon is a wet-cured pork loin coated in cornmeal. As for the hollandaise, it’s just amazing. If you don’t like classic hollandaise prepared from scratch, you might have a screw loose. All of these components add up to one of the most perfectly designed dishes that has ever existed. That’s why it has lasted so long. The dish takes a little advance planning (you can make the English muffins ahead), but the payoff is well worth it. Highly recommended for brunch.

 

Makes enough for

4 plates

 

Apple cider vinegar

½ cup

 

Eggs

8 large

 

Clarified butter

3 tablespoons

 

Canadian bacon

8 slices

 

English muffins (recipe follows)

4

 

Hollandaise sauce (recipe follows)

about 1 cup, warmed

 

  1. Pour the vinegar into a medium mixing bowl. Carefully break the eggs one at a time into the vinegar, making sure the yolks stay whole. Fill a Dutch oven about three-quarters full with water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir the boiling water vigorously with a wooden spoon to create a whirlpool. Gently slide the eggs and vinegar into the whirlpool. Cut the heat down to medium and bring the water back to a gentle simmer. The eggs will magically separate into single eggs. Cook for 4 minutes for a warm, runny yolk; 6 minutes for a firm, moist yolk; and 7 minutes for a firm, dry yolk that is completely cooked through. Line a shallow bowl with a double layer of paper towels. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the eggs to the paper towels to drain.

 

  1. Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 teaspoons of the clarified butter. Pat the Canadian bacon dry and pan-fry the bacon just until the edges start to brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer the bacon to the paper towels to drain. Heat a little of the remaining clarified butter in the same skillet, add the fork-split muffins, split side down, and pan-fry until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. You will need to do this in batches.

 

  1. For each plate, set 2 muffin halves, browned side up, in the center. Top each with a slice of Canadian bacon, an egg, and a generous spoonful of warm hollandaise.

 

 

English Muffins

Makes 6

 

Bread flour

4 cups + enough to dust your work surface

 

Active dry yeast

0.25-ounce packet, or 2 ¼ teaspoons

 

Baking soda

½ teaspoon

 

Sugar

a reasonable pinch

 

Water

1 ¼ cups, at 110°F

 

Egg whites

2

 

Salt

1 ½ teaspoons

 

Canola oil

about 1 tablespoon

 

Cornmeal

about 2 tablespoons

 

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the flour, the yeast, baking soda, and sugar. Add the warm water and whisk until smooth. Let rest until the yeast has proofed or bubbles up and forms a layer of foam on the surface, about 10 minutes.

 

  1. In a mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form when the whip is lifted. Remove the mixer bowl and, using a rubber spatula, scrape the flour mixture into the whipped egg whites. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and return the bowl to the mixer. On low speed, gently mix the egg whites and flour mixture just until combined and no more clouds of white remain, about a minute.

With the mixer set to medium-low, add the remaining 3 cups of flour and the salt and knead until smooth, about 4 minutes. The dough will go through several stages: it starts out as a scrappy mess, then gathers into a wobbly ball, then separates into 3 or 4 balls. After about 3 minutes, you will hear a whop, whop, whopping sound as the dough comes together and turns around the sides of the bowl. When you hear that sound, mix for 1 minute more, and then remove the bowl from the mixer and remove the dough ball from the bowl.

 

  1. Pour the canola oil into the mixer bowl and, using a piece of plastic wrap, rub the oil around the bowl. Place the dough ball back in the bowl and roll around to coat the ball with oil. This will prevent the dough from sticking to the bowl as it rises. Cover the dough ball with the oily plastic wrap and set in a warm place (about 90ºF) until the dough doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.

 

  1. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Using your hands, gently transfer the dough to the work surface. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour. Work gently; if you mash the dough, you’ll deflate the bubbles that bake up into all those delicious nooks and crannies. Using a rolling pin, start at the center of the dough ball and, gently and minimally, roll the pin away from you. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and, gently and minimally, roll the pin away from you again. Repeat the rotating and rolling two more times until you have a ½-inch-thick dough round. You don’t need roll back and forth; in fact, you shouldn’t; just use soft little rolls from center to edge to get the dough to a ½-inch thick circle. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

 

  1. Lightly sprinkle a rimmed baking sheet with cornmeal. Using a 3¼-inch round cutter, press straight down without twisting and stamp the dough out into 6 rounds. You’ll have to punch the circles very close together, as this dough will not stand up to re-rolling. Set the rounds on the cornmeal and gently turn each one over so both sides are lightly dusted with cornmeal. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 45 minutes.

 

  1. Heat a large, dry skillet over medium heat for 1 minute. Carefully set the dough rounds in the pan so there is plenty of room between them. Four muffins in a 10-inch skillet is perfect. Cook until the muffins are golden brown and cooked through, gently turning every 4 minutes, for a total cooking time of 18 to 20 minutes. Each turn should reveal a little added color; you turn them often because otherwise they would brown too quickly on the outside before the centers cook through. When they are cooked through, most of the moisture will have evaporated and the muffins will feel pretty light.

 

  1. Transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. This cooling time allows the muffins to finish cooking all the way through. Insert a fork in even intervals all the way around the circumference of each muffin, poking the fork through to the center of the muffin. Using your fingers, gently split each muffin into halves. Using a fork and your fingers will preserve all those delicious nooks and crannies you’ve worked so hard to create.

Scotch Eggs

 

My grandmother made Scotch eggs every Christmas morning. I looked forward to them every year, but I have to admit, I popped out the yolk and tossed it in the trash. It was too hardcooked. That’s the knock against Scotch eggs. They’re too dry. You start with hard-cooked eggs, wrap them in sausage, bread them, and drop them in the deep fryer, where the hardcooked eggs get even harder and drier. Plus, the fat runs out of the sausage, making that part dry too. I didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel with this dish. I just wanted to plug the hole in the tire. I start with soft-boiled eggs; they have fully cooked whites but only partially cooked yolks. I also add bacon to the sausage so it stays nice and moist even after it’s breaded and fried. You won’t need any sauce here. The runny yolk gives this well-made Scotch egg built-in saucing technology. Although I do like to season the yolk with some pickled horseradish, salt, and black pepper.

 

Makes 4

 

Eggs

5 large

 

Bacon

3 fatty slices

 

Country sausage

8 ounces

 

Canola oil for frying

 

All-purpose flour

about ¼ cup

 

Panko bread crumbs

about ½ cup finely ground and sifted

 

Pickled horseradish

about 1 tablespoon

 

Salt and ground black pepper

 

  1. Place 4 of the whole eggs in a bowl of warm water to take off the chill. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Using a slotted spoon, gently slide the eggs into the boiling water and cook for 6 minutes at a full boil.

 

  1. Meanwhile, fill a 2-quart bowl three-quarters full with ice water. Using the same slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to the ice bath. Gently tap the eggs with the back of a spoon until they crack. This will let some cold water into the eggs, stopping the cooking process and making the eggs easier to peel. Swirl the cracked eggs in the ice bath until they are cooled, about 2 minutes. Carefully (remember, these eggs are soft-boiled) peel the eggs and pat dry. Reserve the ice bath.

 

  1. Using kitchen scissors, snip the bacon lengthwise into very thin strips. Chop the strips crosswise so you end up with a very fine dice. You want the bacon pieces to be just as fine as the sausage. The bacon gets added to the sausage mostly for the fat, but it will also add a little flavor. Put the sausage in a bowl and place the bowl in the ice bath to keep the sausage cold while you are working. If you have kitchen gloves, this is the perfect time to use them; if you don’t have them, thoroughly wash and dry your hands. Using your hands, mix the bacon and sausage to combine. You want to mix it kind of aggressively but not so much that the mixture gets hot from the heat of your hands. Divide the sausage mixture into 4 equal portions and roll quickly into balls. One at a time, pat each ball into a flat disk in your hand, 5 to 6 inches in diameter. Wrap each disk carefully around an egg (be gentle with the soft eggs). Make sure that you completely encase the eggs in the sausage mixture. As each egg is wrapped, transfer it to a plate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the sausage firms up, at least an hour. You can certainly refrigerate the eggs overnight to make for an easy breakfast or brunch the next morning.

 

  1. Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 350°F or heat a pot with 2 inches of oil to 350°F. Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels.

 

  1. Bread the cooked eggs using the 3-step fry prep with the flour, remaining raw egg, and panko. Fry the eggs until GBD, about 4 minutes. Keep in mind that you only need to cook the thin coating of sausage, but you should leave the egg yolk runny. If you are pan-frying, fry the egg for 4 minutes, then turn and fry for another 4 minutes. Using a spider strainer or slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to the paper towels to drain.

 

  1. For each plate, pierce an egg with the tip of a knife and gently cut in half lengthwise. Arrange both halves yolk side up on the plate, and spoon a little of the horseradish on the yolk. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Serve hot.

 

Hollandaise Sauce

 

I learned this recipe on day three of culinary school. It’s one of the French mother sauces along with mayonnaise (page 297), béchamel (milk thickened with flour and butter), velouté (chicken, veal, or fish stock thickened with flour and butter), and espagnole (veal stock flavored with various seasonings and thickened with browned butter and flour). In the world of packets and highly processed food, people forget that there is a clearly defined historical origin for hollandaise. I didn’t invent it, but I do advocate that you make the sauce properly. This is my best translation of classic hollandaise made on the stovetop. Béarnaise is very similar (you boil down vinegar with shallots and garlic and add herbs), but in that recipe I use a more contemporary food processor method. You can use either method with each sauce. Either way, the recipes are meant to be building blocks. If you think a couple flavors would go well together, try them together in hollandaise.

 

Makes about 1 1/4 cups

 

Egg yolks

3

 

Water

1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons

 

Clarified butter

1 cup, warm

 

Lemon juice

2 teaspoons

 

Salt

1 teaspoon

 

Cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon

 

 

  1. Pour 2 cups water into a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cut the heat down to medium so that the liquid maintains a low simmer.

 

  1. In a large stainless-steel mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of the water. Pull the saucepan from the hot burner and set the mixing bowl of egg yolks over the top so the steam gently heats the bowl. Whisk the egg yolks nonstop over the steaming pan until they are thick, fluffy, and lemon colored, about 2 minutes. Getting a nice thick egg yolk mixture to start is very important. Return the pan-bowl combination to the heat. Leaving the bowl on the pan, rapidly whisk the yolks while very slowly drizzling in ¼ cup of the clarified butter. Remove the bowl from the pan and, using a rubber spatula, scrape the sides down. Whisk in 1 teaspoon hot tap water and repeat the process, moving the bowl back and forth from the steaming pan, slowly whisking in the remaining clarified butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl and whisking in 1 teaspoon hot tap water each time, until all of the butter is incorporated. You’ll need to move your bowl to and from the steam to maintain a sauce-like consistency. If the mixture cools down, it will thicken up too much and get clumpy; to solve the problem, just move the bowl back to the steam and whisk to warm the butter and thin the sauce. It’s a lot of back and forth because too much steam will scramble the eggs but not enough will make the hollandaise too thick. You’ll quickly figure out the process. When all of the butter is incorporated, finish the sauce by whisking in the lemon juice, salt, and cayenne. Serve immediately.

 

  1. To rewarm the sauce, place it in a large stainless-steel bowl and whisk over a pan of steaming water, which will gradually warm and thin the sauce to the proper consistency.