The many faces of Eggs Benedict
The hedonistic history, the love and the renditions
Top chefs Raymond Blanc, Michael Caines, Roy Ner, Brian Landry and more turn our favourite brunch into an art form thanks to unusual twists you can poach
Caution: Contains eggs in all their holy glory
The true origins of eggs Benedict is a mystery from America’s corrupt and glittering Gilded Age. While there are many theories around its history and the very name, it’s a dish that has stayed on menus since the late the late 1800s – and only continues to rise in popularity with breakfast and brunch culture across the globe.
Growing up in India, I had my share of excellent breakfast dishes and many involved the humble egg combined with a heady concoction of spices and served with buttery local bread. My mother, who lived in the USA for a decade in the 1970s, often binge-watched a TV show from that era called Three’s Company. I still remember actor John Ritter’s brilliant depiction of the protagonist Jack Tripper, a chef who mentions eggs Benedict in the early seasons. This is where my tryst with the dish began. I wondered why it wasn’t very common in 1990s India, as we had many culinary spots that served scrambled eggs, sausages, pancakes and hash browns.
As a teenager, I remember trying to make an eggs Benedict and failed terribly at poaching the eggs. I first got my hands on it at The Wolseley when I moved to London in my 20s. It exceeded my expectations – gloriously rich eggs in a generous amount of sharp hollandaise. Striking a conversation with the staff there, to my delight, I was told that it was available to order all day – until, yes, midnight.
Most theories point to the fact that the eggs Benedict hails from New York, mainly from two establishments. Reports vary on whether it was invented at the legendary Delmonico’s or the Waldorf Astoria (formerly the Waldorf Hotel). It’s said that Wall Street Broker Lemuel Benedict asked for the dish at the Waldorf Hotel to cure his hangover, but also that Waldorf Chef Charles Ranhofer named the elegant brioche dish with proscuitto cotto and Osetra caviar after a regular patron called Mrs. LeGrand Benedict. Oh, and that that Pope Benedict XII loved it so much that he inspired its name.
Either which way, it’s been around so long you would think more eateries could serve a good one, but either the muffins are too dry or the hollandaise doesn’t pack a sharp zesty kick. So I went on a quest from London to New Orleans to trace some of this dish’s popular and creative versions. We’re talking dill, Creole mustard and bubble and squeak.
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To Neptune and back
The basic elements of a classic Benedict involve poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, Canadian bacon, English muffins and butter. But there is a plethora of playful takes, where the streaky bacon or ham is replaced with local ingredients.
You have eggs Florentine with spinach and, just sometimes, a mornay sauce replacing the hollandaise. Then there’s eggs Royale, also known as eggs Halifax in Canada, which has taken the internet by storm. It even has its own thread on Reddit thanks to a chef on Bravo’s Below Deck creating a rabbit hole after confusing a yacht guest by serving a “Bene with smoked salmon”.
New Orleans – often called the “Eggs Benedict capital of the world” – have a stellar version called eggs Sardou with uses artichokes and anchovies. Also from the Pelican State is a Cajun influenced eggs Trivette, a crawfish boil and a splash of Tabasco sauce, and the Spanish influenced eggs Cochon that is loaded with succulent pulled pork. The USA’s coastal regions also serve a special breakfast on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day called eggs Neptune with crab meat and sometimes shrimp or oysters. Across the pond in Scotland is the eggs Hebridean where the bacon is swapped for black pudding.
Eggs are taken seriously in France and if my friends from there are to be believed, party guests sometimes bring a dozen eggs from their own chickens instead of a bottle of wine. While eggs Benedict may not be as popular as the country’s Oeufs Cocotte (Baked Eggs), there is a restaurant in Paris that serves eight different types of eggs Benedict – ranging from roasted aubergines and potatoes to a truffle hollandaise with sauteed mushrooms. Its nom? Benedict.
Spicy saucy secrets
French chef Raymond Blanc prefers a lighter breakfast than the eggs Benedict but takes pride in serving it at the Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire with his lemon sabayon. He tells me, “It has an interesting history, Oeufs Benedict is a hybrid of an English muffin, a French hollandaise sauce and created in the USA. Normally, a hollandaise is made with four egg yolks, 250g butter, vinegar or lemon, salt and pepper. However, mine is made with four egg yolks and 80ml of water, whipped to create the lightest sabayon enriched with lemon juice along with 50g of melted butter, a small pinch of salt – and a tiny sprinkling of cayenne pepper to make the flavour last, so it’s not a punishment!”
“It is not just for breakfast, an eggs Benedict is a brilliant brunch alternative that many prefer over a cooked English,” says British chef Michael Caines, who worked in the acclaimed French chef Raymond Blanc’s kitchen. He finds eggs Benedict comforting and sees it as a huge hit in Lympstone Manor in Exmouth. “Though it is seen as a New York thing, it is equally popular here in the UK,” he says. “We have many guests from across the pond here. While you can get adventurous by using cayenne pepper or smoked paprika, I look for quality of the ingredients. My menu serves the traditional version, but I personally prefer my Benedict with smoked ham. I have also seen people put it on bubble and squeak!”
Israeli-born, award-winning Australian chef Roy Ner says that being a big island, Australians are very connected to their seafood. So the Aussies favour eggs Royale, but with a wider variety of smoked fish rather than the traditional salmon. “In Australia, it is common to have swordfish ham, pastrami kingfish, smoked ocean trout or smoked albacore white tuna, all as supplements for the traditional smoked salmon on breakfast menus across the country.”
Roy also mentions the growing popularity of cultured butter that leads into quite a unique hollandaise sauce as it adds a tanginess that really works with the fish. As he has roots stemming from both North Africa and Israel, his personal favourite is to add a little bit of sumac on the cure of the fish and pickled oregano in the hollandaise. He truly believes that this elevates the dish and adds a zing to the tastebuds. He serves kingfish pastrami at Jeru restaurant in Mayfair, London and trusts that this would make an amazing eggs Royale too.
Eggs over Big Easy
The French Quarter in New Orleans has enticed epicureans over decades. One of its oldest culinary establishments, Antoine’s, is responsible for the creation of its star dish – eggs Sardou. Along with combining the classic poached eggs with a muffin and hollandaise, it takes it up a notch with anchovies, spinach and artichoke bottoms.
While many New Orleans restaurants feature eggs Sardou on jazz brunch menus, the family-run Arnaud’s, which has been a dining institution since 1918 also offers an eggs Fauteaux, in which poached eggs are accompanied by a smoked pompano fish on English muffins and a generous dollop of dill-infused hollandaise sauce. Archie Casbarian Jr (pictured below) is one of the co-owners. He says, “Eggs Benedict is not a fancy dish per se, but those ingredients work so beautifully together – whether that’s for brunch or a hangover cure or even otherwise. With our eggs Fauteaux, we smoke our pompano in-house.” Adding more fat content and smoky flavour to an eggs Bene? Genius.
Arnaud’s also offers an eggs Pipérade with a creole influence where it’s a dish of shirred eggs in a sauce made with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and andouille sausage and this is topped with crumbled goat’s cheese and jalapenos.
Chef Brian Landry grew up in New Orleans. He started QED Hospitality in 2018, which oversees restaurants in New Orleans and Nashville and is the chef and owner of the hip hat tricks of Jack Rose, Bayou Bar and Hot Tin in New Orleans, as well as Marsh House, L.A. Jackson and Killebrew in Nashville. I asked the ‘King of Louisana Seafood’ to share his tips for the perfect eggs Bene accompaniment with TOPIA.
Brian Landry’s Creole hollandaise recipe
– 6 egg yolks
– 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
– 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
– 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
– ½ teaspoon kosher salt
– ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
– 2 cups warm clarified butter
– 2 tablespoons Creole mustard
“In the top of a double boiler, combine egg yolks, cold butter, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne, lemon juice, and vinegar. Cook over simmering water, whisking constantly, until mixture has increased in volume and achieved a consistency that coats whisk. Using a ladle, drizzle clarified butter into sauce, whisking constantly and slowly. (If the sauce appears too thick, add a few drops of cold water to achieve sauce consistency.) Whisk in mustard. Voila!
As much as I love the classic Benedict, I’m keen on trying every possible take on the dish in this lifetime. Even with the likes of smashed avocado and poached eggs on sourdough toast being popular in the brunch revolution, the eggs Benedict (and its many versions) is here to stay. There’s even National Eggs Benedict Day celebrated every year on 16 April.
How will you take your Bene?
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What’s so good about this?
In an age where food consumption has gained a conscience, more and more renowned chefs across the globe are working with seasonal ingredients and adding local touches to breakfast dishes like the epic eggs Benedict. Because, with a world in flux, sometimes you just need a good brunch.
Meet the writer
Rashmi Narayan is a travel journalist and a constant learner that turns her curiosity into exploring the world through food. She writes features for a wide range of publications. She lives in London with an ever-growing collection of books, batmobiles and a (usually) well-stocked cabinet of whisky. Follow @Rashmi_Narayan9.