- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The staff at the famous Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., pays attention to every detail. The food presentations of executive chef Peter Timmons are breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly delicious, but it is the absolute perfection of one of his everyday dishes — eggs Benedict — that I adore.

In many versions of eggs Benedict, the English muffin is wimpy pale and maybe even soggy from a poorly drained egg. Not in this one. At the Greenbrier, the muffin is bone dry and well browned, with crispy, deeply browned edges.

In many incarnations of eggs Benedict, diners must deal with a tough, thick slab of Canadian bacon that can’t be cut without disassembling the dish. Mr. Timmons’ creation has thin-shaved Canadian bacon with crispy, lightly browned edges that curl up to form a nest for that perfectly poached egg.

The egg white is totally cooked and firm but tender. The yolk is runny except for about a 1/16-inch firm edge. The egg has been drained dry (possibly on a paper towel) so nothing is watered down. The hollandaise is perfect: mildly lemony, rich and smooth.

Eggs Benedict is a great special occasion dish. This could be a wonderful thing for the family to prepare on Mother’s Day.

Let’s look at each of the four parts: muffins, Canadian bacon, eggs and sauce.

Buy good English muffins, such as the Thomas brand. The main thing in cooking is to toast the muffins dry until well browned, then to brush them with good-quality melted butter.

For the Canadian bacon, go to the delicatessen counter of the market and ask to have the meat sliced thin.

For poaching, buy the freshest eggs possible. Fresh eggs have thick whites that cling to the yolks and strong yolk sacks that do not break easily. Fresh eggs can solve the problems of feathering whites and broken yolks.

Places like the Greenbrier probably have access to farm-fresh eggs. To make the best of supermarket eggs, check the dates on the carton and pick the latest date. If you have a market that has Grade AA eggs, by all means buy them.

Now, to the actual poaching. You need boiling water to set the egg whites fast, but then you need to turn down the heat and cook the eggs gently to ensure tenderness. Also, to set the whites fast, you want to add vinegar and salt to the cooking water. Acids and salt make proteins in egg whites unwind (denature) and cook faster.

Water temperature and cooking time control the texture and tenderness of the egg. With gentle heating, the proteins unwind (denature) and join together loosely with their neighboring unwound proteins. Water is trapped between the proteins and held in a moist, tender network.

If the water is too hot or the cooking time too long, the protein mesh tightens, squeezing out the water, and the proteins become tough and leathery.

You can poach the eggs a day ahead, place them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, cover and refrigerate. The poaching recipe that follows includes directions for preparing the poached eggs ahead and reheating.

Where the sauce is concerned, you need a good recipe, such as the one that follows. Here’s why. Emulsions such as hollandaise are a combination of two liquids that don’t mix well, such as oil and water.

To get the two to combine, you must break one liquid into tiny droplets and break up the other liquid so that it can run between the droplets and combine. In the case of hollandaise, we break the butter fat into tiny droplets with the blender and break up the lemon juice with emulsifiers in the egg yolks.

The emulsifiers break the water-type liquid’s surface tension, allowing it to run between the fat droplets and combine.

The two most common problems associated with hollandaise making are:

• Heating it too hot so that it becomes scrambled eggs.

• Not having enough water-type liquid to run between the droplets, which can cause the sauce to separate. In the recipe that follows, there is plenty of water-type liquid but you must be careful that it is not heated to too high a temperature.

I have included a careful heating technique to kill salmonella. Bacteria are killed by a combination of time and heat, as well as with high heat. Salmonella is instantly killed at 160 degrees, and eggs are pasteurized by holding at 140 degrees for 31/2 minutes.

In the heating process described in the recipe that follows, the yolks are at a relatively high heat for several minutes, so you do not have to heat them all the way to 160 degrees. (The yolks don’t become scrambled until about 180 degrees.) Also, diluting the yolks with lemon juice and water makes them cook at a slightly higher temperature.

After you heat the yolk and lemon juice mixture, you need to cool it down before drizzling in the hot melted butter. Just make sure the butter is just melted, not very hot. Although it may sound a bit complicated, this is actually an easy way to make an excellent hollandaise.

Great eggs Benedict

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1/3 pound thinly sliced Canadian bacon

4 English muffins, split in half

8 poached eggs (recipe follows; can be prepared ahead and reheated as described)

1 batch quick blender hollandaise (recipe follows)

Warm 5 plates and set aside.

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter on high heat, add Canadian bacon and lightly brown. Remove to one of the warmed dishes. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the skillet to melt for the English muffins.

Place English muffins, cut side up, on a baking sheet in the oven under the broiler to toast. Toast until browned. Watch carefully. Brush muffins with melted butter and place 2 on each plate. Divide Canadian bacon among the muffins, placing slices on top of each. Place an egg on each muffin. Spoon hollandaise on top of each and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

GREAT POACHED EGGS:

Water

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt (my favorite is sea salt)

8 fresh eggs

Have ready a bowl of hot water to rinse cooked eggs before serving.

Fill a large nonstick frying pan a little over halfway with water. Add vinegar and salt and bring to a slow boil. Break an egg into a saucer and slip it into the water.

Continue in this manner, adding eggs to the water, arranging them in a clockwise pattern so you will know which you put in first. Just as the water comes back to a boil, reduce to below simmer.

When eggs begin to set, take a spatula and gently run it under each one to release it from the bottom. If a yolk breaks, do not disturb it; it will seal by itself. Cook on low until whites are firm. Lift eggs out with a slotted spoon, starting with the first one in.

Rinse them by dipping in a bowl of hot water to remove the vinegar. Trim away any straggly pieces with scissors, if needed. Drain on a paper towel and serve. Makes 8 poached eggs.

If preparing ahead to reheat later, place them in ice water, cover and refrigerate. Reheat 3 or 4 at a time in a strainer by lowering into simmering water for 45 seconds. Drain on a paper towel and serve.

QUICK BLENDER HOLLANDAISE:

Note: Careful heating is necessary to kill salmonella yet not scramble the egg yolks. Cooling is also vital before adding the melted butter or scrambling can occur.

4 large egg yolks

3½ tablespoons lemon juice

Water

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch cayenne

½ pound butter, melted but not very hot

Heat egg yolks, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon water in an 8-inch skillet over very low heat, constantly scraping bottom with a spatula until you see wisps of steam or bubbles around the edge or yolks begin to thicken. Remove instantly and stir rapidly to cool down.

Allow mixture to cool about 3 minutes. Pour into blender and add salt and cayenne. Blend for a few seconds and allow to cool another 2 minutes. (It must be cool enough so that you will not have scrambled eggs when you add the melted butter.) With blender running, slowly drizzle in melted butter. If butter was not too hot, sauce will be perfect; too hot and eggs will scramble. Makes about 1½ cups.

Food scientist Shirley O. Corriher is author of “CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking” (William Morrow).

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