Eggs Benedict is a glorified version of poached eggs on toast, though some would bristle at the comparison. Though it’s a simple dish, skill is required at two things which appear simple but are not: poaching eggs, and making Hollandaise sauce. The sauce is the most difficult part of the dish.
It is generally served for breakfast or brunch.
Generally, in Eggs Benedict most people would expect:
- One English muffin split in half, toasted;
- On top of each muffin half, 1 thin slice of a hamlike meat – either ham or a backbacon known in America as “Canadian bacon;”
- On top of each slice of ham, 1 poached egg;
- The whole dish is covered with a few scoops of hollandaise sauce and shoved under the broiler (aka grill in the UK) for a few minutes to bring it all back up to heat and get it bubbling.
People differ on how much they will let you vary from this standard before they start grumbling that you should call your dish something else. There are debates on:
whether to use ham or backbacon;
whether to use toast or English muffins;
whether meat has to be used at all.
Some people, for instance, might want to swap in turkey bacon and you might get the jury thinking on that for a moment or two. But, if you were to suggest going a step further and just plain swapping in slices of turkey breast, you might get your “no” faster. Some people will protest that a kosher version should be allowed with smoked salmon.
Many people at home resort to the packaged Hollandaise sauce mix, because they don’t want to fuss first thing in the morning with a sauce that has such a difficult reputation.
Some restaurants use a generic cheese sauce instead. They do this because it’s safer, less perishable than Hollandaise, and because they can use the same sauce for other dishes.
Eggs Benedict is not the same as “Eggs Benedictine.”
Make sauce first, keep it warm;
- Cook bacon;
- While bacon is cooking, toast English muffins;
- Poach eggs when bacon is just about ready;
- Pop under broiler (aka grill in the UK.)
Every so often, you will hear of people getting sick from eating Eggs Benedict, caused by the egg in the Hollandaise sauce.
Eggs Benedict appears to have become popular in the 1920s. The original base may have been toast instead of English muffins.
Most of the myths around its creation seem to centre on New York, and seem to agree on someone whose last name is “Benedict.”
- A Mr and Mrs LeGrand Benedict (he was a stockbroker) asked for something different at Delmonico’s restaurant in 1893 (some say 1860s). Charles Ranhofer, chef there, created the dish for them;
- A Lionel Benedict (who was a stockbroker) asked for bacon, toast, poached eggs with a side order of Hollandaise sauce at the Waldorf Astoria in 1894. Benedict’s request inspired Oscar Tschirky to create a dish containing those things for the menu;
- A Lionel Benedict (who was a stockbroker) asked for something different at Delmonico’s;
- A Lemuel C. Benedict asked for crisp bacon, buttered toast, 2 poached eggs with a side order of Hollandaise sauce in a small pitcher at the Waldorf Astoria in 1894. Benedict’s request inspired Oscar Tschirky to create a dish containing those things for the menu.
Lemuel C. Benedict did actually exist. In 1930, the New York Social Blue Book listed him as living at 1349 Lexington Avenue. In 1934, he sent an indignant telegram to President Franklin Roosevelt about tax increases and government spending, signing it as “Lemuel C. Benedict, Stanford Connecticut.” Lemuel was interviewed for the “Talk of the Town” column in the 19 December 1942 issue of the New Yorker. In the interview, he’s recorded as saying he went into the Waldorf Astoria one morning in 1894, with a hangover, and ordered “buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon and a hooker of hollandaise.” He said in the interview that he felt that the Waldorf based the Eggs Benedict recipe on what he’d ordered that morning, and on his name. Lemuel died in 1943.
All that being said, and whatever the New Yorker documented in its interview with Lemuel Benedict, recipes for Eggs Benedict, named Eggs Benedict, existed from as early as 1914. This shows that Eggs Benedict was not named after him, not did his breakfast preferences inspire it.
Some people erroneously report that Fanny Farmer mentions Eggs Benedict in her 1896 Boston Cooking School cookbook. She does not.
Others report (based on what other people have reported) that Charles Ranhofer provided a recipe for Eggs Benedict. He did not. He gave a recipe for Ham à la Benedict, which bears no resemblance at all to anything remotely like Eggs Benedict:
Ham à la Benedict (Recipe 1787)
Steep the smoked ham in cold water for twenty-four hours; wash, pare and remove the hip bone; put it in an earthen dish, pour over some Madeira wine and season with whole peppers, cloves, thyme, bay leaf, mace, garlic, sliced carrots and onions and lemon juice; keep it in a cool place for twelve hours turning the ham round several times in this marinade. Five hours before serving, wrap the ham up with its strained marinade fried in butter and moistened and reduced with white wine and the moistening of the marinade, in sheets of strong oiled paper; cover the paper with a flour and water paste so that the ham is hermetically enclosed, then cover this paste with another sheet of very thin oiled paper; lay it either on the spit or in the oven, pour oil over and roast for three hours; remove from the fire and make a small hole on the top to penetrate the paste and papers, set a funnel into this, and pour in a gill of good Madeira, the same quantity of malaga and half a gill of brandy. Cover the hole with a round piece of paper, and paste it over to concentrate all the steam which is essential to obtain success. An hour after, take the ham from the oven or spit, unwrap, pare carefully and glaze with meat glaze (No. 402); dress and garnish around with escalops of foies-gras, cocks’-combs and kidneys, and slices of red beef tongue three-sixteenths of an inch thick, and one inch and a quarter in diameter, quenelles and channeled mushrooms; cover the whole with a well-buttered suprême sauce (No. 547), and trim the handle with a paper frill (No. 10), insert a few skewers in the top garnished with cocks’-combs and channeled mushrooms (No. 118). The Epicurean. A Complete Treatise of Analytical and Practical Studies on The Culinary Art . Ranhofer. 1894. Page 574.
Literature & Lore
Eggs Benedict: Place a slightly fried piece of ham on a piece of toast, place poached egg on ham, and pour over all a Hollandaise sauce.
— The Council of Jewish Women. The Neighborhood Cook Book. Portland, Oregon. [Press Of Bushong & Co.] 1914, page 62.
“Eggs Benedict. Cut an English muffin in two, toast, and put on platter. Put a slice of broiled ham on top of each half, a poached egg on top of the ham, cover all with Hollandaise, and lay a slice of truffle on top of the sauce.”
— Hirtzler, Victor. The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book. Chicago Illinois. The Hotel Monthly Press [c1919]. Page 34.
Eggs Benedict XVI: In April 2005, a Mary Gunderson of Yankton, South Dakota, invented a variation of the dish to honour Pope Benedict XVI. In it, she swapped German rye for the English muffin, and sauerbraten for the Canadian bacon.
Some speculate that because Eggs Benedict uses Canadian bacon and English muffins, it is a traitorous dish for Americans, and therefore was named after the American Revolutionary War traitor, Benedict Arnold.