Ode to My Pantry: Eggs Benny

Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?

With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.

OdetoBenny

Happy almost Eggs Benny Day! Is there anything better than a soft-poached egg served up with a thick coating of sunshine? Of course not. Based solely on the fact that brunch gives you an excuse to eat said Bennys, it scores the top spot in portmanteauxed meals ahead of lupper, supfast and dineatingnutellawithaspoon. That is, unless you’re eating in instead of eating out.

No matter how much I love eating Eggs Benedict, I’ll go on record to say that I fucking hate serving them. I don’t know what you look like on a Saturday morning, but I’m a grungry zombie, with hardly enough mental capacity to operate a French press nevermind make a multi-step dish. (Sometimes I forget to grind the beans.) Herein lies the Benny Challenge, you may be lucid enough to deal with the caffeine problem, but can you juggle eight more problems? Are the English muffin toasted? Eggs soft poached? Hollandaise sauce still Hollandaisey? It’s a complex balancing act that starts with consuming enough caffeine to stay lucid, enough Caesars to stay happy but still holding back so you aren’t a jittery, sloppy mess. How good are you at titrations in the morning? Shitty? Me too.

Much like everything else I do without a proper instruction manual, learn from my mistakes well-thought out life lessons. Or in reality, learn from my friends’ mistakes well-thought out life lessons because I’ll always cop out if someone asks me to make a Hollandaise.

If you calculate and purchase the exact number of eggs you need, you will be fucked. Given that this is such an egg heavy dish, you gotta make sure you have spare soldiers around. Yolks breaks, sauces break and your sanity and patience will too if you have to do a mid-prep grocery run. If you needed another reason to run to the supermarket, fresher eggs have thicker whites and yolks, making them easier to poach and separate. It’s best to get a fresh carton and keep your old eggs as backup.

No matter what, eggs are hard to poach. There are a billion “tried and true” methods for perfect poached eggs ranging from vinegared water to salted water to Mason Jar lids to magical egg vortexes, but there’s no consensus. I used to like the Saran Wrap trick, but boiling plastic sketches me out. I prefer to dump my egg into a ladle, submerge said ladle in the simmering water and tip out the egg once the outside has set (about 30 seconds), but that’s just me. You Chew You.

Poach

Poaching pans really like eggs. Even though its name implies it’ll poach your eggs, your pan isn’t a miracle worker. You will get a perfect poach if you just plop in an egg and set it on your pan of boiling water , but whether you can actually extract that egg is a different question. No matter how “non-stick” you pan says it is, albumin on metal is a clingy beast, on par with crazy glue and your crazy ex that still hasn’t gotten the message after four years. Grease the divots for an easier release and soak the entire deal in a bit of vinegar for an easier clean up. You can also go the silicone route with muffin cups or egg poachers.

If you serve someone a hard poached egg they will cry. I should know, I am that person.

Soft poached eggs will not stay soft poached forever. If you’re overly ambitious and hosting a gigantor brunch, you will soon realize that you don’t have enough stove real estate to simultaneously poach a dozen eggs. If you cook round after round and just hope for the best, you’ll end up with cold eggs or tear-inducing hard yolks. Take a cue from my roomie The Professional Bruncher and parboil those suckers. Poach to set the egg whites into a cohesive blob before vacating into a bowl of ice water. When the rest of your brunch is prepped, reintroduce them to your pan of simmering water to reheat and finish cooking.

Slippery food slips. Make sure your brunch abides by the laws of gravity as well as food safety. There’s a reason you don’t play Jenga with Jell-O Jigglers. Give everything a decent pat down to ensure your creation makes it to the table in all of its towering glory. Shake your eggs free of vinegar water, drain your spinach if you’re going the Florentine route and keep your tomato or smoked salmon slices dry.

Benny

Putting all of the butter into the bowl at once doesn’t mean it’ll all become part of the sauce at once.  I am sure your over-caffeinated self has had the brilliant idea to just dump in all of the ingredients. Even though there are some theories that support it, you might be serving up egg chunks doused in butter. Hollandaise has all of the anxiety of mayo emulsions with the added stress of heat and water! Use a double boiler to prevent your sauce from slipping into the 160-170°F (70-77°C) danger zone, clarify your butter to get rid of the water and acidify your yolks to keep ‘em in line. Oh and cross your fingers.

A spoon is not a fork is not a whisk is not a blender. Practically every recipe asks for you to use a whisk instead of a spoon or dull wooden paddle. It totally seems like a scam to Buy More Stuff since the implements you already have are perfectly capable of combining ingredients! But unless one of your arms is a propellor, you won’t be able to create enough magical little vacuum streams to suck in air to lighten and emulsify your sauce with a fork. If you aren’t used to doing fifty bicep curls at dawn, wield a whisk with a shitton of wires, rubberband a bunch of forks together or use an immersion blender.

Much like your last relationship, breaking up is almost inevitable. Maybe you sauce got too hot, maybe you added your butter too quickly or maybe you did nothing wrong. Just like that last breakup, you will cry. (Please note, tears lack magical emulsive powers.) Go back to the beginning and restart with new yolks. If the emulsion starts to hold melted butter, you can slowly whisk in your curdled mixture.

Cooled Hollandaise sets up like butter. Keep your Hollandaise wet and warm by stashing it in a Thermos or set over a bowl of steaming water. Even though it’s happy and silky now, if it gets too warm it’ll split before it hits you plate.

Now get to it! And good luck on pulling off Eggs Benny on a weekday.

Avatar of Kristen

Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

11 Comments

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    i cannot believe anyone ever attempts to make eggs benedict at home. i’m SO impressed by you mythical humans right now. my love of eggs benny (eggs norweigan, actually — i don’t like ham but i adore smoked salmon) is the #1 reason i insist on going to brunch so frequently…i think of this dish as one of those things one simply Cannot Make By Oneself. my mind is now blown (but i may pretend i never read this so i can continue lying to myself / paying outrageous brooklyn brunch prices to have someone else cook this for me…)

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    Ok, so this is a little creepy. My mom just called me yesterday and told me that she bought hollandaise sauce at the farmer’s market (because apparently they sell it there) and it was really good and she made two breakfasts just so that she could have an excuse to put it on things. Autostraddle, sometimes you read my mind.

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    I made Eggs Benedict exactly once. Turned out perfectly (I think I must have sacrificed something to the Culinary Goddess the night before) but it’s not something I could do every weekend. Maybe I’ll give it another shot sometime. (Also, I am loving this series hard. Thank you Kristen!)

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    I don’t know if I’m just not picky enough about my eggs, but I actually find them pretty easy to poach. Then again, basically all of my cooking aptitude has been directed toward learning to make breakfast/brunch dishes. I bought myself a container of pre-prepared hollandaise at Trader Joe’s (and yes, it’s very good!) and have made myself eggs benedict the last three days in a row.

    So y’all please pray for my cholesterol levels!

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    Oh god I went through an eggs benedict/ bacon/ hollandaise on everything phase in grad school which contributed to gaining like 30 pounds in a year. I’m not even kidding. I realized I could make hollandaise sauce and then use the egg whites to make meringue cookies. It was bad. I think I need to stop by the store on the way home to get some fresh eggs and butter now.

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    I’ve mastered the art of hollandaise (OK, let’s be honest and say four times out of five it works), but my attempts to poach eggs weren’t that successful. So that’s something I have to work on. Or team up with somebody who can poach eggs, but not whisk hollandaise…

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    i used to be able to make perfect hollandaise every time. then i moved and switched from an electric stove to a gas one, and let me tell you, that fucks up your mojo. so i figured out the gas stove, finally, and then i moved again and couldn’t remember the original magic, and now my hollandaise is all sad and curdled.

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