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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Eggs Benedict with Low(ish)-Fat Hollandaise

So, today I'm going to explain how to make an easy, but still pretty awesome Eggs Benedict; my singularly favourite Brunch dish.

In fact, I greatly enjoy going to new kitchens for brunch/breakfast and trying out their versions of it.  I've tried dozens and believe I've started to become quite a connoisseur of the dish.

It's not super healthy... but in the rankings of breakfast or brunch dishes, it's not too bad.  Poaching is arguably the healthiest way to cook an egg, but that is unfortunately mitigated by the copious slathering of hollandaise... which is probably one the unhealthiest things you could put in your body.  Mmmmmmm... egg yolks and butter...

So, when I make an hollandaise here at home, sometimes I will opt for a lower-fat alternative.  It's a little bit trickier, but the way I do it you can't even taste the difference.  It's good.


The first thing we're going to do is get a relatively large amount of lemon juice ready.
This juice will eventually have three separate, equally important, uses today.

Bottled lemon juice would work, but a huge, shit-tonne bag of fresh organic lemons is unbelievably cheap (like less than $2.00), so why not just do that, right?  I've not had a bottle of lemon juice around in my kitchen for some time.

Anyway, I juiced about one and a half lemons, and ended up with maybe 200ml, maybe a little less, but it should be enough.

Get a large pot of water boiling.  Add a pinch of salt, and about 50ml of the lemon juice, or like 3-4 tablespoons.

While that is heating up, get started on a bunch of other stuff.  

Now, technically eggs benedict is served on an english muffin, but I've used everything from multigrain toast to crumpets, with great success.  

Today I'm using some rosemary focaccia I had leftover from the middle of the week.

Depending on how many servings you're looking to make, because these serve as the 'open-faced' platforms upon which the eggs are laid, just make sure you have one per egg.  Shortly before plating/serving, toast these lightly, just in a toaster is fine.

Now, really you don't have to add much to an hollandaise sauce.  It's basically butter, egg yolk, lemon juice, and white pepper.  There is, of course, (as with all sauces -- YAY SAUCES!!!) :) room for creativity.

Today, I'm opting for some fresh Italian parsley and some fresh chives.  Yum!

Because timing is relatively important in this sauce, get all of these ingredients prepped and ready to go beforehand.

Lemon juice is ready, so grind up those peppercorns.

You can always throw these in a pepper mill if you'd prefer, but I like super finely ground white pepper.  Sometimes I like coarse, but not in an hollandaise sauce.  This sauce is almost as much about texture as it is about flavour... so we want it velvety smooooot.

So, line them all up, ready to be just dunked in.

Now that that's ready, it's time to get crackin'.  Heh heh heh... <wipes tear>.

Yup, it's that many eggs.  Just for the two of us... Eggtastic.

Bear in mind that the hollandaise is going to take 4 yolks by itself!

So... separate the yolks and dump them in a medium mixing bowl, or small saucepan.  Because this needs to cook.  Now... The method I'm about to show you involves using a metal mixing bowl, but if you don't have one of these, follow the steps exactly just using a small metal saucepan instead and it will work out just fine.

Next comes the fat.  Normally this is butter.  I've used butter and it's awesome.  However, I've used margarine before also, with no worries and equal amounts of awesome.  I've even -- just like today -- used vegetable oil.  Yup.  I know it sounds crazy, but trust me.

So, I've got about 2/3 of a cup of oil here.  It is a mixture of approximately 75% canola oil and 25% extra virgin olive oil which I blended myself (not a pre-processed, manufactured blend) using both types of oil.

Now that that is ready, check on your big vat of boiling water.  It should be pretty darned warm by now, if not boiling.  If it is not boiling, wait for it, but once it does start to boil, turn it down to medium-high only.  Basically a low boil.  No big raucous bubbles or unsteady environment, because - as you'll see in a minute - we're wanting a uniform temperature there.

If you have, and want to use, a double-boiler here by my guest.  Again with the 'technically'... technically the safest method is to bring any sort of egg-based sauce up to heat slowly and as uniformly as possible - hence the double-boiler recommendation.

I don't ever use my double boiler.  While I do tend to have some pretty even heat from my gas range, and while I do tend to use pretty high-quality aluminum or copper-bottomed cookware, what it comes down to (for me, at any rate) is just diligence.  I believe that if you're present, and watchful, you can manage this sort of thing no problems.

So, I will say there have been a few times I've made a béarnaise, hollandaise, or other egg-based sauce just in a saucepan directly on the stove, with no problems, what I'm going to do today is sort of a little cheat, and kind of like emulating a double-boiler.

I have a metal cagey kind of insert thing which originally came with my slow-cooker, but I find I use it for many other things.  In fact I don't think I've ever actually used it for its intended use in the slow cooker.  :)  Anyway, it fits nicely in many things, including a large pot of boiling water:

The water level is just barely higher than this insert, which will work perfectly.  If you haven't guessed it, I'm going to just stick my metal mixing bowl right on that.  Now, I have been known to do this just by hand (literally just holding on to the bowl as it rests just on top of the water) but having this cage insert makes it hands-free, which is nice.

So... everything is ready to go!

First, gently whisk up the egg yolks with just a teaspoon of water.

Then, the fun begins.

Making sure to check one more time that your water is relatively calm, basically just under boiling, go ahead and place the bowl in the pot.  Make sure your whisking hand is at-the-ready.  Remember: present and diligent.  Heh heh heh.

So, over the course of the next 5 or so minutes, we're adding the oil in a very slow drizzle, while whisking constantly.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with pausing every few seconds to make sure you're incorporating the oil well.

In any event, it is not going to take long before the yolks begin to coagulate, so don't dally too long.  It is far easier to just add more oil (if needed) than to correct the sauce from having too much oil -- although it can be done, so that is why we add the oil (or butter or whatever) gradually and slowly.

Anyway, I've gotten fairly good at judging how much oil to add to how much yolk.  Honestly this sauce could have held more oil probably, but I didn't need more sauce, so I just capped it off early so-to-speak.  But if you're worried about the oil-to-yolk ratio, feel free to look up a recipe, or just free-style it but go slowly. :)

So, once the whisk begins to leave 'peaks' behind, rather than 'drops', it's cooked and thickened, and ready to go pretty much.

I still have a couple of things I need to add though, remember?  About 100ml of the lemon juice, and all those herbs and spices we prepped.

They can all get whisked in all at once, and just keep the sauce on the heat for a bit longer to let it completely, and finally, thicken up.

Oh man this stuff is so good.  And I challenge most of you to notice much difference between this vegetable oil version and an authentic butter version.  I've tried both, and this one is still rich, smooth, and extravagantly delectable!

Anyway, this is ready to go, but we still need to poach some eggs, so set it aside.  This means remove the sauce from all heat, and place in a safe spot at room temperature.  It's fine to cool, but not fine to keep warm.  :)  This isn't the kind of sauce which needs to be served up piping-hot, after all.

So that gets set aside for now.

Meanwhile, and just before going on those eggs, I'm going to just whip up a quick bowl of greens.  I love greens with eggs benedict.  In a very light vinaigrette, they provide an excellent counter-balance to the richness of the eggs-in-egg-sauce next to it. ;)

I love baby greens.


So, the remaining 50 - 100ml of lemon juice you have still set aside (this is now the third use for the juice, as promised earlier) will form the basis of the vinaigrette for these greens.

Take the lemon juice, and just add a small splash of balsamic.  Whisk.

To add a bit of awesome I also threw in a small pinch of both the parsley and the chives I had chopped up for the hollandaise.

Good to go... not too much, as you can see, this is a very small amount of 'dressing'.

Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and mix that up (toss) and then plate half of it on each serving.  See - not much vinaigrette.  Just a little spattering.

Also at this point, I'm going to take my toast, and -- you could put a little bit of margarine or butter on here, but why not just spread the hollandaise on???  C'mon!

So, now everything is literally ready to receive the eggs.  Time to get poaching.

OK, I've talked about free-poaching eggs before; I even made a video about it.  However, if reading along on my culinary spatterings has taught you anything, it is that this is a journey in the making, and that I am constantly learning new things.  :)

One such cool thing - which you may or may not consider all that integral, but I do - is this:  before plopping your egg into the water to cook, give the whole pot a nice, strong but stead, stir or five.  This creates a nice little vortex in the middle within which the plopped egg can stay 'together'.  

The spinning water keeps all the egg whites (my wife hates it when I call it albumin for some reason) very close together and neat and tidy!  Pretty freaking neat, right???

Anyway, so once your water has been brought back up to a slow boil, go ahead and start poaching those eggs.  If you're feeling adventurous, or if you've got to make a crapload, or if you're just tired/hungry and want to get out of the kitchen (and into eating) you can poach several at once.  Maybe no more than 3 at a time though.  However, my recommendation - and what I tend to do - is to just cook them one at a time.  Unlike many other forms of egg-cooking, free poaching really doesn't take that long.  Maybe 2 minutes per egg.  Not even.  So it's not a big deal to cook them one at a time in my opinion.

Once poached though, (using that slotted spoon remember) carefully place each egg on a piece of prepared toast/muffin/bread something.

I had three eggs this day.  Cause I'm awesome.

You could eat this as is, but then why did we make a freaking hollandaise sauce???

Heh heh heh.

As you can see, this dish is only completed after a generous pouring of hollandaise over the whole thing, and a nice dash of more fresh parsley and chives over top for some colour (and flavour).

So, this is by no means a healthy meal, but when we're talking about eggs benedict it is about as healthy as you can make it.  Oh sure, there are 'mock' hollandaise sauces, but then we venture far from the realm of the authentic, and enter some scary (and often scarily-processed) areas of town.  

In my aforementioned hunt for eggs benedict(s) all over the city, my wife always seems surprised when I can tell the difference between a real hollandaise and one that comes from a powder or package.  To me it is like night and day.

And with this sauce, even though it is as 'low-fat' as you could expect from a sauce made from egg yolks, it still very much tastes like the real thing.