Introducing the history behind our favourite brunch dish and a few tasty twists and tips for making Eggs Benedict…
If you hadn’t heard, today is Eggs Benedict Day. Well, in my view every Sunday should be Eggs Benedict Day, but it’s worth taking a moment to consider this most beloved of dishes. The thought of it conjures images of lazy brunches, holidays and pure indulgence. It’s a creamy, dreamy dish that holds a fond spot in most people’s hearts and as such it’s a staple on most breakfast menus. But where did it come from? Turns out our dear old Benedict has a bit of shady past. In other words, no one really knows where the dish originated, but there are three strong contenders to the title. I suggest you pick your favourite from the below.
1. One of the strongest contenders to the creation of Eggs Benedict is attributed to Delmonico’s Restaurant. This was the first public dining rooms to ever open in the United States. According to the history books, during the 1860s, a regular patron of the restaurant, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, demanded something new to eat for lunch. She discussed her needs with Delmonico’s Chef Charles Ranhofer who came up with Eggs Benedict. He has a recipe called Eggs a’ la Benedick (Eufa a’ la Benedick) in his cookbook, The Epicurean, published in 1894. Eggs à la Benedick describes toasted halved muffins topped with a round of cooked ham an eighth of an inch thick and of the same diameter as the muffins one each half. A poached egg was to top each toast and then “cover whole with Hollandaise sauce”.
2. The second claim to the first Eggs Benedict comes from Commodore E.C. Benedict via a twisty tale that appeared in the New York Times in the 60s. In 1967 a man called Craig Claiborne wrote a column in for the magazine about a letter he had received from Edward P. Montgomery, an American then residing in France. In it, Montgomery claimed Eggs Benedict was created by Commodore E.C. Benedict, a banker and yachtsman, who died in 1920 at the age of 86. Montgomery included the original recipe, stating that he had been given it by his mother, who had received it from her brother, who was a friend of the Commodore.
3. The third claim lies within the pages of Elizabeth David’s 1950s book French Provincial Cooking she describes a traditional French dish named œufs bénédictine, consisting of brandade (a purée of refreshed salt cod and potatoes), spread on triangles of fried bread. A poached egg is then set on top and covered with Hollandaise. Some believe this is one of the original recipes.
Whatever its history; when it comes to Eggs Benedict it’s all about the perfect poach – here’s how to get that runny, creamy yolk with minimum fuss.
Two tried and tested methods to the perfect poached egg
There’s more than one to poach an egg, but whichever method you choose it’s really important to have the freshest eggs possible – this will have the biggest impact on the quality of the poach. A super easy method is to fill a saucepan of boiling water (really, no more than 2 to 3cm high). Just pour water from a kettle and then reduce the heat so you see tiny bubbles rising to the surface. Pop your eggs into a cup and then gently slide them into the water. Heat your eggs in the pan for two minutes, while carefully spooning some of the water over them while they cook. Then use a slotted spoon to gently remove. Another really quick and easy way to poach numerous eggs at once is the clingfilm method. You simply oil a bit of clingfilm and line a small cup with it. Crack your egg into the clingfilm and then tie it together at the top and drop into a pan of softly boiling water. If your eggs are at room temperature, cook them for two to three minutes. When you pull them out all you need to do is cut the string and serve – perfect!
Your alternative Benedicts
Vegetarian Eggs Benedict
There’s no way veggies are missing out on this staple brunch treat. Most eateries offer Eggs Florentine (substituting spinach for the ham) as a veggie alternative, but there are many ways you can re-make the Benedict to suit your vegetable preference. Perhaps use some grilled asparagus and a slice of beef tomato or a few roasted peppers before topping with your perfectly poached eggs and creamy Hollandaise. You could even go all out and slather creamy avocado on your toasted muffins with a sprinkling of chopped nuts.
Vegan Eggs Benedict
For a dish made predominantly from dairy and meat, you might think vegan Eggs Benedict an impossible task, but trust me it can be done. You only need a little imagination and to remember that anything is possible. If you can make Eggs Benedict vegan, the chances are you can transform any old favourite into a vegan-friendly dish. Start using the veggie option above for inspiration, and replace the ham with your favourite choice of vegetables from asparagus to peppers to mushrooms. You could even make use of the plethora of vegan faux bacon on the market instead. You could go for the traditional vegan egg substitute and plump for tofu topped muffins. There are plenty of recipes out there which bake, fry or scramble. However if you’re feeling more adventurous, this recipe by Keepin It Kind couple, Kristy and Chris, is sensational and soy-free. Huge fluffy chickpea patties replace the poached eggs, a creamy cashew-based sauce flavoured with mustard, turmeric, garlic and nutritional yeast is divine.