Gentleman's Portion

A good helping of life, love and whisky


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IN SEARCH OF EGGS BENNY

Peccavi leaves the island behind

Peccavi leaves Toronto behind

If every crisis overcome deserves a reward, then we have earned one on this trip. We planned to sail across Lake Ontario from Toronto to Port Dalhousie, which should have been a pleasant 25 mile cruise. The wind was light and fluky at the beginning and then died to nothing. The 35-year-old eight horsepower single-cylinder diesel is a noisy beast, which I normally use only for getting on and off the dock and out of harbour. Determined to make our destination, there was no alternative but to motor across the lake. However, a slight engine coolant problem led to us pumping water into the boat’s bilges when the engine ran. Drifting in the middle of the lake, out of sight of land and even the omnipresent CN Tower, there was no alternative but to get the engine cover off and delve into the engine’s bowels. A mechanic I’m not, but with encouragement from club Fleet Captain Matt on the VHF, the fault was isolated and fixed and so began a long motor into safe harbour. A dinner with a pirate theme awaited us and we had a very pleasant visit with the folks at the Dalhousie Yacht Club.

Rozie's serves a perfect eggs benny

Rozie’s serves a perfect eggs Florentine

The reward came the next morning in the shape of my favourite breakfast – eggs Benedict. One of DYC’s very kind members drove seven of us over to Rozie’s Breakfast Café on Main Street. A companionable meal followed and the eggs Benedict were perfect, with perhaps the best and freshest Hollandaise sauce I’ve tasted in a while, tangy and lemony flavoured, along with really good home fries, tasty and not at all greasy. Complimenting our young lady server, it turns out most of the staff are related, and there really is a Rozie, back there in the kitchen churning out superb breakfasts between 0630 and 1400 hours seven days a week. Our splendid meal set us up for a long motor back to Toronto, with a glassy lake and not a breath of air. Well, if one goes cruising, one has to expect the motoring part of the experience, unless one has the luxury of waiting for beneficial winds.

Preparing eggs benny under sail near St. Maarten

Preparing eggs benny under sail near St. Maarten

I’ve enjoyed many splendid eggs benny brunch experiences. On our first ever Sunday brunch date, Diane and I enjoyed a superb version at Le Select Bistro in Toronto. Œufs Bénédicte, as they spell it on their resolutely French bistro menu, comes with two poached eggs on a croissant, Hollandaise with ham and asparagus. The eggs are from free range Mennonite raised chickens. You can taste the difference and we enjoy knowing the hens are happy birds, not confined in battery cages, but running around in the outdoors.

Joy Bistro is another of our favourite brunch spots in Toronto. They offer several unique takes on the traditional dish, including Hogtown with a cheddar mornay sauce replacing the Hollandaise and smoked cheddar and a jalapeño biscuit as a base for the eggs and ham. Their Leslieville version has peameal bacon, sautéed spinach, Yukon gold rösti potatoes and lemon Hollandaise. My favourite is what they used to call Norwentine and have now simplified to Norwegian: a traditional and delicious offering with both smoked salmon and spinach.

Further afield we enjoy simply scrumptious eggs benny in the Oak Long Bar at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston. I’m not entirely sure of the renovations to this classic hotel dining room, but it was packed with the local crowd for cocktails and dinner. At breakfast it’s a casual affair, served at the lounges down the side of the room. My notes from the trip record “an outstanding eggs benny with shaved ham and tiny roasted tomatoes.” We offer our comments to the 72-year-old waiter, who promises to pass our praises to the chef. Their more unusual offering is styled Jonah Crab Benedict with poached eggs, local Jonah crab cake, mustard aioli and lemon hollandaise.

L to R: Eggs Royale, Benedict and Florentine

L to R: Eggs Royale, Benedict and Florentine

On the subject of sailing, I’ve also prepared eggs benny while at sea, cruising in the Caribbean. This is more difficult than it sounds as wave action can play havoc down below with a pan of boiling water. Usually, I ask one of the crew to shout “wave” when a big one is sighted, so I can lift the pan off the burners and avoid slopping boiling water and half-poached eggs on the floor. Boat stoves, you see, are gimballed from side to side, but not for fore and aft action. My culinary trick is to smuggle a pack of English muffins in my luggage (as they are simply not available down south), along with a good quality instant Hollandaise mix. Whatever comes out of the kitchen is usually consumed voraciously as sailors at sea seem to be continuously hungry. It’s something to do with all that fresh salty air.

For an easy Hollandaise recipe see my blog (THE SUBLIME EGGS BENEDICT on January 7, 2013) with my versions of eggs Florentine (spinach) and eggs royale (smoked salmon or gravlax).


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THE SUBLIME EGGS BENEDICT

L to R: Eggs Royale, Benedict and Florentine

L to R: Eggs Royale, Benedict and Florentine

There are two famous New York eateries, which each say their version of eggs Benedict is the real one.I prefer the claim of Delmonico’s Restaurant, the very first public dining room ever opened in the US, since theirs is clearly the oldest. In the 1860’s, a regular patron of the restaurant, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, wanted something different to eat and asked Chef Charles Ranhofer (1836-1899) for his ideas. He offered her a dish which he named eggs Benedict and published the recipe in his cookbook, The Epicurean in 1894.

Coincidentally, that same year, 1894, Mr. Lemuel Benedict, a Wall Street broker, who was suffering from a hangover, apparently ordered “some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise sauce” at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. The Waldorf’s legendary chef, Oscar Tschirky, was so impressed that he put the dish on his menu and named it after the banker.

Whatever the story, eggs “Benny” and a couple of variations seen here, are one of my favourite Sunday brunch foods.

I serve them with a few lightly steamed asparagus spears on the side and either a bloody Mary or a crisp prosecco, cava or dry sparkling wine.

EGGS BENEDICT

Serves: per person
Preparation time: 5 min
Cooking time: 10 min

INGREDIENTS
2 fresh large room temperature eggs
1 English muffin
5 or 6 slices thinly cut ham to cover the muffins
2 tbsp HOLLANDAISE SAUCE
6 asparagus spears
White vinegar
Paprika

WEAPONS
Deep sided 10 or 12 in frying pan
Asparagus steamer, or vegetable steamer
Saucepan
Wooden spoon
Slotted spoon
Chef’s tongs

1. Prepare the HOLLANDAISE SAUCE and set to one side over a very low heat.
2. Fill a deep sided 10 in frying pan with water, add a good splash of white vinegar, and bring to the boil. The vinegar will help the albumen in the eggs hold together. Salt will substitute.
3. Wash the asparagus, and break off the tough ends. The spear should break exactly where the tender part ends and the tough part starts. Make sure the flower end is washed clear of sand.
4. Put just 1 in of water in the bottom of the steamer and set to boil. Add the asparagus and steam for 5 min.
5. At the last minute, add the carefully broken eggs to the boiling water and turn off the heat. Let the eggs sit for 3 min for soft and 5 min for medium.
6. Break, do not cut, the muffins in half and toast.
7. Plate the muffins, arrange the slices of ham on top of the muffins, using a slotted spoon, gently lift each egg out of the water, drain excess water on a paper towel and then carefully slide the egg onto the ham. Top with a couple of spoonfuls of sauce and finish with a touch of paprika for colour. Decorate with the asparagus spears and serve immediately.
TIP: Up to 8 eggs can be poached at once in a 12 in pan. Break them into opposite sides of the pan as you go, to avoid the whites mingling, and remember where you started so you can lift the most cooked egg first.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE
If you are in a panic about this, use a packet mix. But the taste is infinitely superior if you make it from scratch. It only takes 5 min and can then rest while you prepare the remainder of the ingredients.

INGREDIENTS
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp lemon (or less!)
1/4 lb melted butter
1 tbsp hot water
pinch cayenne pepper

WEAPONS
Double steamer, or a bowl over a pan of boiling water
Whisk

PREPARATION AND COOKING
(See my blog of December 26, 2012, for an easy way to separate eggs.)
1. Beat the egg yolks in a pan over hot water so they start to thicken.
2. Add a few drops of lemon juice and keep beating.
3. Add melted butter slowly to form an emulsion.
4. If at any time it starts to separate, add a little very hot water and beat in gently.
5. Taste and add more lemon juice if necessary. Season with a pinch of cayenne pepper for colour and bite.
TIP: Keep a kettle or pan of boiling water going on the side for emulsion separation emergencies. Just a drop at a time will rescue most sauces that look as though they are curdling.

EGGS FLORENTINE
Replace the ham with lightly steamed spinach for a vegetarian version. The spinach can steam along with the asparagus.

EGGS ROYALE
Replace the ham with smoked salmon or gravad lax for another delicious alternative.

PS: Please leave a comment, if you found something useful or interesting in this recipe. Or please add your own variations for others to share.