Sunday, February 04, 2007

Les Oeufs à la Benedicte

The genesis of the original Eggs Benedict is shrouded in mystery, with at least two Benedicts offering competing claims to the dish's invention; but it is certain that it came out of a hotel restaurant in New York City in the late nineteenth century, and it seems probable that its ingredients were, among other things, intended to provide consolation to customers suffering from the after-effects of a night of debauchery. In the hundred years since its creation, Eggs Benedict has acquired any number of well-known variants, among them Lox Benedict, Eggs Florentine, and the New Orleans version Eggs Hussard.

We've always been fans of both the original version and the spinoffs. And the other day, in the depths of the rainy English winter, we were recalling a sunny summer breakfast we had with our families in Leland, Michigan at the idyllic Riverside Inn. Their Sunday brunch menu is essentially a list of riffs on Eggs Benedict: one eschews the traditional Canadian bacon in favor of a grilled-to-order Black Angus tenderloin; another not only replaces the bacon with smoked salmon but, in an inspired move, also substitutes crabcakes for the traditional English muffins.

Tam's brother Charley ordered a rugged Benedict that substitutes Applewood smoked bacon and sourdough bread for the typical pig and carb, and adds a side of fresh asparagus. In this case, the truly original turn was to smother the layers, not with hollandaise, but with a smoked Gouda cream sauce (henceforth known as SGCS). Around the table on that sunny day fans were easily won, and some became fiercely devoted to the sauce; indeed, Charley's many travels through the world since then have often embodied a long search for a culinary experience to equal his first encounter with SGCS.

This morning we took inspiration from the memory of that lovely summer brunch, and created our own, rather Francophile version of Eggs Benedict. This recipe features, with apologies to the Riverside Inn, a gruyere cream sauce spooned over poached eggs and smoked ham layered on a croissant. It's worthy of a special occasion and would go splendidly with a mimosa (or a Bloody Mary, if necessary), but will perk up any Sunday morning when accompanied by steaming coffee, orange juice and the Sunday paper.

Les Oeufs à la Benedicte

2 croissants, split lengthwise and toasted

4 slices smoked ham, warmed briefly in skillet

4 large eggs (as always, as fresh as possible, please)

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup grated Gruyere, packed

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat cream to just under boiling point. Add wine and mustard and stir for a few minutes. Add Gruyere and turn off heat. Stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Poach eggs in simmering water just until yolks are set. Layer ham on top of croissant halves, then top with eggs. Spoon sauce over the top and grind pepper over it.

Serves 2.

A postscript:

Another possibility for Sunday breakfast... Recently, looking for a way to use up some rapidly blackening bananas in our fruit bowl, we searched banana bread on Epicurious and came across a recipe whose more than 200 user reviews were not for the site's recipe but for the narrative instructions of one of the early commenters, a guy named John who gave an extremely simple recipe for banana bread that he claimed was the best ever. All the commenters agreed, so we tried it out and can verify that it's hands down the most fantastic banana bread we've ever eaten. So, kudos to John and check out his instructions and all the comments here. Yum.


Anonymous said...

Hi Laura and Tam, Mom gave me the site and it's just great. Just visited Phoenix and all is well. Came home to Yellow Gravy Town and temp. was 2. Sounds like you are having a ball. My favorite "Bene" was in Key West (actually I'm lucky I remember it!}It was served with a spicey sausage patty instead of ham. Yum. Don and I were in London in the fall, The only great meal we had was in an Iraqi establishment about three blocks from Herrod's. No headcover and brought our own bottle, but had a magnificent meal. I'll continue to follow this and wish you two loads of fun and food. Love, Lois Funk

Freya said...

Delicious looking blog you have! I adore eggs benedict but have a pathological fear of making poached eggs (I always end up with a greyish globe of yolk and a pan of cloudy water). I wish I wasn't just having cheerioes for breakfast now!

Tam & Laura said...

In preparation for this post, we spent some time learning to poach eggs. We add salt and vinegar to a shallow pan of water and bring it just below boiling, then lower the egg in very gently and cross our fingers! Happy poaching.

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