Discerning Diner...with Elan Head
Eggs Benedict...light, lemony, luscious
Last Christmas, my oh-so-romantic husband presented me with…an egg poacher.
No kidding. Obviously, he still has a thing or two to learn about sentimental gift-giving. But Judah is dearly fond of eggs Benedict, and because this classic dish is so often poorly executed in restaurants, he figured the obvious solution was to make it more often at home.
Not to mention that the egg poacher was on sale.
Believe me, I was thinking of him last week, when, on a solo trip to Carmel Valley, I enjoyed perhaps the best eggs Benedict I’ve ever eaten out.
The revelation came at Wickets, the casual sister restaurant to Marinus at Bernardus Lodge. Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report recently named Marinus as the best hotel restaurant in the world, and the man does not exaggerate.
I had a truly extraordinary meal at Marinus: oysters, a lobster-white corn bisque, red abalone risotto and prime-grade filet mignon, all beautifully paired with wines from its award-winning cellar.
Still, it was the eggs Benedict that Judah really envied. And well he should have — this was a perfectly smashing rendition, with quivery poached eggs and a Hollandaise sauce so light and lemony you could almost believe it wasn’t bad for you.
In its classic form, eggs Benedict is comprised of split, toasted English muffins covered with ham, perhaps Canadian bacon. A poached egg is perched atop each, and the whole is judiciously smothered with Hollandaise, a divine emulsion of egg yolks and butter conceived in a less health-conscious era.
It’s no small undertaking to make it at home. But with the memory of such a fine eggs Benedict newly lodged in my mind, well, I may be breaking out that egg poacher more often.
If you’d like to tackle the dish yourself, start with the muffins. For these, I recommend venturing out of the Kyrene Corridor to La Grande Orange, at 4410 N. 40th Street in Phoenix.
This gourmet grocery, deli and pizzeria puts out big, freshly griddled English muffins every morning. They’re delectable, and well worth the 15- to 20-minute drive.
When you’re ready to assemble your meal, split the muffins with the tines of two forks and toast them under the broiler.
For the ham, choose thickish slices of Canadian bacon, or try my personal favorite, paper-thin sheets of domestic prosciutto. They crumple into the perfect nest for the delicate eggs.
Wrap the ham in foil and warm it gently in the oven. Don’t let it get too hot, or the prosciutto in particular with turn greasy.
The Hollandaise sauce is probably the dish’s most daunting component (and in fact, in our household, Judah makes it). If you’ve never made it before, I recommend the detailed instructions in the late, great Julia Child’s The Way to Cook.
If you only need a refresher course, here’s the basic idea: whisk two egg yolks in a saucepan with a teaspoon of lemon juice. Whisking constantly, cook over low heat with a tablespoon of cold butter until the butter is melted and the egg yolks have thickened.
Remove from heat and beat in another tablespoon of cold butter to stop the cooking. Now beat in four or five tablespoons of warm melted butter by driblets to make a thick sauce.
Season with lemon juice and salt to taste, and keep it warm over a pan of hot water while you prepare the eggs.
Yes, the eggs. This is where the poacher, preferably one with nonstick cups, earns its keep.
Following your poacher’s instructions, cook one egg per muffin half in gently simmering water until the whites are set and the yolks are runny. (If you’re anxious about salmonella, eggs Benedict is not your dish.)
What? Your husband didn’t buy you an egg poacher for Christmas?
You can poach eggs by slipping them gently into a pan of simmering water. Be warned, though: unless your eggs are impeccably fresh and/or you’re a real pro, you’ll lose streamers of whites in the cooking process.
Layer the ham on the muffins, carefully lay the eggs on top, drizzle with Hollandaise and enjoy immediately.
And start composing this year’s very explicit Christmas list.