It’s funny to look back and see just how many of my clearer memories are tied to food in one way or another. One in particular is of a morning my grandmother made eggs benedict for us on one of our trips down to the house. It think it sticks out because, if I remember correctly, it’s the first time I remember being fully introduced to the concept of brunch. Being a growing child of somewhere around the age of ten, I liked breakfast. The first thing I’d do in the morning is eat. Breakfast used to be my favorite meal of the day. Anyway, on this particular morning I went to make breakfast, and grandma was up by then, and told me not to, because we were having brunch. She proceeded to explain to me what brunch was, and when I asked what we were having for brunch, she explained eggs benedict to me. Having no idea what “poached” meant, or what “holidays” sauce was, I just set to watching and trying to help where I could.
I don’t remember much of the actual cooking, though it was probably because I was getting antsy for food. I do remember my first taste of it once it was done. The sauce was really good, I loved the combo of eggs and ham, and english muffins were of course very yummy.
Since then, my appetite for breakfast in the morning has waned quite a bit (coffee is my breakfast, and I have a hard time drinking my first and second cups with any kind of food at this point), but I do enjoy a good brunch whenever I can get it together to make one. I was going to save this and surprise Mikal next Sunday as a special V-Day weekend brunchy thing, but I have no patience.
This was my first time making eggs benedict, so I looked at a couple of sources, mostly my favorite French cookbook.
ham slices (I used Jennie-O Turkey Ham, which works very well)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp cold water
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
Clarify the butter by melting it in a small pan over low heat; do not boil. Skim off any foam. (I avoided having to skim off foam by simply heating the butter on the lowest setting on the stove top. Took a few minutes, but it worked nicely.)
In a small heavy pan or in the top of a double broiler, combine the eggs yolks, water, 1 tbsp of the lemon juice, and salt and pepper and whisk for 1 minute.
Place the pan over a very low heat or place the double boiler top over barely simmering water and whisk constantly until the egg yolk mixture begins to thicken and the whisk begins to leave tracks on the base of the pan; remove from heat.
I believe I may have whisked a bit too much – I wanted to make sure that the tracks made my the whisk were visible. But I think by doing that, I changed the texture of the sauce, because it came out much more solid than I remember my grandmother’s being.
Whisk in the clarified butter, drop by drop until the sauce begins to thicken, then pour in the butter a little more quickly, making sure the butter is absorbed before adding more.
When you reach the milky solids at the bottom of the clarified butter, stop pouring. Season to taste with salt and cayenne and a little more lemon juice if wished. Cover and set aside.
I added a bit more lemon juice, which helped a bit with the viscosity, but not enough. Also added way too much cayenne.
Place ham pieces in skillet on stove – heat until desired brownness. (I opted to heat on low heat while I poached the eggs, then kept on lowest heat because the poaching was taking a lot longer than I expected.)
At the same time, start poaching the eggs. (I don’t know if I was poaching correctly, but I followed what Martha Rose Shulman explained in Culinary Boot Camp: “Success in poaching is all a matter of temperature. The water should be between 140°F and 185°F…. If the temperature goes too high, meat will toughen and become too dry…” Good information! I would assume to simmer, but the target heat range is a bit below that. I decided to crack the eggs into my two ladles, rather than letting the egg go all over the place in the pan. It mostly worked: the first one took a looooong time to cook, second one about the same amount and for some reason had much less egg white, and the third came out perfectly. Throughout the first and second, my temperature hovered around 160°F or so, but it was starting to creep up to 185°F once I put the third one in. I turned the heat down a smidge, and it stayed level, but that one cooked up the best. My pan a not-terribly-cheap Cuisinart, so it’s about medium thickness. It probably took 7-8 minutes or so for the first two, then about 5 for the last.
When the eggs are mostly done, stick the english muffins in to toast. (You don’t want to do this too soon: I stuck mine in when I started the poaching, not realize how long it would take. I ended up with sad toasted english muffins. Very hard to cut through D:) I assembled mine with the toast on bottom, some Hollandaise sauce (I find them a bit too dry without this extra bit), the ham, the egg, and more sauce on top.
So this is the finished product. Probably a sad approximating of what Grandma makes, but it’ll do. Beware, this is much heavier food than one would imagine it being – start off with one half of the open-faced sandwich. It’s rich and heavy and a lot of protein.