Ok, so today isn’t Sunday. Technically, you don’t have to eat Eggs Benedict only on a Sunday, but it does make it all a bit more magical. For those who don’t know what Eggs Benedict are, here’s a quick stacked description, starting from the bottom and working up: a slice of bread, warm or toasted (English muffins are best, but crumpets work just as well and normal bread is yummy, too); a slice of cooked ham (prosciutto cotto, the Italian version, is my favourite; a classic is canadian bacon and a new suggestion from moi is mortadella); a perfectly poached egg (…) and creamy Hollandaise sauce. Here are the ingredients:
My mother has always made us Eggs Benedict and I have always been their number one fan. I am a natural egg-addict, but Eggs Benedict are simply the best. I used to sit and wait for my one, perfect egg on those Sundays in which, surrounded by chaos and frustration, my mother used to dedicate her whole morning to these little mouthfuls of…well, yes. Magic. And as I grew older and went to live alone I never once thought “ah, I’ll make myself some Eggs Benedict” because no, they’re too difficult. They’re impossible. They’re the best of the best. I wasn’t ready.
And then, in April this year, I went to a cooking lesson, courtesy of Maurizio, my boyfriend. Well. The lesson was incredible (I had never been to a cooking lesson before) and I learnt many new things (apple pancakes were definitely the highlight of the lesson) but when our teacher started working on the Eggs Benedict I knew, in a moment, that all those years I hadn’t been wrong. The poached eggs were a stroll in the park, the homemade bread (to go with the eggs) practically made itself, but the Hollandaise sauce…that was another matter. Hollandaise sauce, allegedly documented for the first time in 1593, is a smooth, rich, creamy yellow sauce made with butter, egg yolks, salt and some acidifying agent (vinegar or lemon are the most commonly used. I am partial to lemon, as my mother uses it for her sauce). So during the cooking lesson our teacher first showed us how to do the sauce, clarifying the butter, heating a spoonful of water with some vinegar bain marie, adding the yolks, then stirring in the butter, salt and pepper. Something went wrong and the sauce came out looking curdled and dense, our teacher a bit frazzled. With feigned calmness she admitted her mistake and asked a student to go help her. This time the sauce became too hot too fast, the yolks cooked and the result was the following (i.e. not good enough):
There was no third attempt.
Convinced that my mother’s recipe was the safest and having learnt how to successfully poach an egg, I headed home, high on the culinary knowledge I had gained that morning. The next day (or a few days later) I attempted the feat with my mother’s recipe for the sauce, which turned out to be none other than The Joy of Cooking‘s never fail recipe. Confident of my skills and of this recipe, whose name boded nothing but success and happiness for uncountable Sundays to come, I poached my eggs beautifully and tackled the sauce. Everything was going perfectly when suddenly, while adding the lemon (the last part of the procedure), the sauce curdled. Just like that, my previously creamy, smooth, liquid pot of joy was separated into a thin lemony part and specks of cooked yolk. Maybe the lemon juice was too hot, maybe the butter was too cold…who knows. The taste was good; the aesthetics….less.
Today was my second attempt at Eggs Benedict. And I am proud to announce that finally, finally finally the sauce was made. I woke up and, notwithstanding the fact that I had many other things to do I decided to treat us to a Sunday lunch on a Saturday. So I thawed two slices of bread, chucked them in the oven, got two slivers of mortadella (not conventional but very, very good), put some water to boil and thought that I’d invent my own procedure for the sauce, seeing as a) I didn’t have time to look for the previous two and b) they hadn’t worked, anyway. So I prepared my bain marie, putting a smaller pot in the boiling water and melted a random amount of butter. Then I got the boyfriend to squeeze half a lemon and poured only about half that amount (total: the juice of one quarter of a lemon) into the heated butter, stirring continuously. Then, slowly, keeping the pot raised over (i.e. not touching) the boiling water underneath but still receiving the heat, Maurizio (the afore-mentioned boyfriend) added the beaten yolks of two eggs. I stirred. And stirred. And stirred. And watched, in apprehension over my recklessness. Thinking it looked thin I didn’t add water, as all recipes want, but lowered the pot back into the boiling water, hoping it would become denser as the yolk absorbed heat. It did and, probably just in the nick of time I removed the pot and tasted. Perfect. Incredible. Magic. This is the result, of which I am very proud (the poached eggs came out not bad, worse. Terrible. Atrocious. But they tasted fine and were covered by the sauce, so I guess I can skip the self-criticism and continue being proud of the sauce).
My conclusion? Hollandaise sauce needs nonchalance, improvisation, personality and a pinch of magic. Poached eggs on the other hand…..are like risotto: they need time, patience and love, but that will have to be another post.