E for ‘Eggcellence’
It is certainly rare to come across a combo of the indulgent and fancy when one thinks about eggs – let alone being the star of the dish. Yet Eggs Benedict has proven to be a true testament to quintessential American meals, since its existence in the 19th century. Think smoky, thick-cut Canadian bacon and a perfectly poached egg layered atop crispy, toasted English muffins, all slathered with silky hollandaise sauce – mouth-watering indeed.
There are myriads of versions to its ambiguous origin and history but most would be familiar with the famous interview conducted by The New Yorker back in 1942. The story suggests that Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street stock broker, purportedly wandered along the streets of New York after a boozy night – which was where he stumbled upon the renowned Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1894. Hungry and in need for a hangover cure, Benedict decided to take his brunch up a notch – requesting for buttered toast, poached eggs, crispy bacon, and a dollop of hollandaise sauce.
Fascinated by his ingenious invention, Maison’s maître d’hôtel Oscar Tschirky took his idea and made simple alterations to it by switching ham for the bacon and a toasted English muffins for the toast. Little did they expect, Eggs Benedict flourished and has been a huge success among patrons ever since.
Another story claims that Commodore E.C. Benedict, a banker and yachtsman, who lived during the late 18th century created the recipe before he died in 1920 at the age of 86. In a letter written to the New York Times Magazine, Edward P. Montgomery – an acquaintance of the Commodore – stated that the recipe had been given to him by his mother, who had received it from her brother.
Despite its twisted history, one thing is for certain: We know that it came from one of the Big Apple’s more glamorous eras, enjoyed by the rich and distinguished New Yorkers.
Though both the muffins and hollandaise sauce originate from Europe (England and France, respectively), Eggs Benedict has earned its spot as New York’s iconic brunch classic. This posh dish can also be found in most of the luxurious cafés and restaurants all around the globe and it is usually prepped by established chefs.
Today, Eggs Benedict is a springboard for all kinds of variety. Lemuel or the Commodore may disagree on this but the dish has inspired various cooking methods (with different names as well) including Eggs Blanchard (substitutes béchamel for the hollandaise); Eggs Florentine (substitutes spinach for ham or adding spinach to baked eggs); and even a Mexican twist: Huevos Benedictos (substitute with sliced avocado or Mexican chorizo for the ham and is topped with both salsa and hollandaise sauce).
So the next time you plan to treat yourself with a fancy, indulgent brunch, be sure to save your date for the next National Eggs Benedict Day (April 16) – or perhaps use it a good excuse for an Instagram post.