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What follows are decent beginners’ recipes for poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce.  From this point you can use toast or English muffins and ham or Canadian bacon to create your own Eggs Benedict.  Whilst the sauce and eggs are cooking, cook or reheat your ham and toast your bread or muffin.

I’ve adapted the bain-marie (double boiler) method from several recipes and highly recommend Michelin-starred chef Richard Corrigan‘s poached egg recipe, which he demonstrated on his recent Channel 4 television show in the UK, Cookery School.

Apologies for being a bit covered in flour in the photo, snapped by Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod.

For these recipes, you will need the following kitchen utensils:

– a large pot which you would use for pasta

– a large heat-resistant mixing bowl, preferably Pyrex

– a small bowl or teacup, adequate to hold an egg

– a slotted spoon

– a solid whisk (I use a double whisk with a large ball bearing in the centre for quick and reliable mixing)

Ingredients —

For the Hollandaise (2 – 4 portions) — total cooking time 15-20 minutes:

2 large egg yolks (put the whites into a separate jar with lid and refrigerate)

1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar (white, malt or cider vinegar is perfect)

1 tbsp cold water

2 oz (50 – 60 g) soft (not melted) butter

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 – 1/2 tsp white pepper (otherwise, black pepper will do)

1 large pot of boiling water (can be reused for the poached eggs)

For the poached eggs — total cooking time 2 1/2 – 5 minutes:

2 large whole eggs (for two people — one egg per person)

1 – 2 tbsp vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

Method – Hollandaise sauce (four good servings):

1/ Let’s start with the Hollandaise. Put the pan of water — 2/3 full — on to heat to a rolling but not too rapid a boil. Use medium to medium-high heat. The water should move but not bubble when hot.  This takes 5 – 10 minutes over medium-high heat.

2/ Place the Pyrex bowl over the pan.  The bottom should barely touch the water.

3/ Assemble all the ingredients before you start cooking — the separated egg yolks (put the remaining whites into a clean jar, seal tightly with the lid and put in your refrigerator — more on this in a separate recipe), divide the butter into four equal cubes.  Place the water and vinegar into the Pyrex bowl, add the salt and white pepper.

4/ Place in the Pyrex bowl the two egg yolks and one cube (1/4) of the butter.  Begin whisking immediately and don’t stop.  When the first cube of butter is melted, continue whisking until the sauce starts to thicken.

Churchmouse says: This might take a few minutes.  Don’t lose patience, but keep the mixture moving, especially on the bottom of the bowl.  Also, you cannot take a short cut by melting the butter in advance.  The chemistry just won’t work.  Nor can you try to put cold butter into the mix, because it will fragment and resist mixing with the egg.  Sorry!

5/ When the mixture starts to come together — emulsify and thicken a little — add the second cube of butter.  Keep whisking, especially on the sides and bottom of the bowl.  If the mixture begins to solidify, turn down the heat to low or turn off entirely.

6/ Add the third cube of butter.  Again, don’t stop whisking!  When the third cube of butter melts and emulsifies into the sauce, add the fourth and — you’ve got it — keep whisking.  Continue to whisk the sides and the bottom of the bowl, otherwise the mix might curdle.

7/ Have a little taste with a clean teaspoon.  If the mixture tastes tangy and seasoned, you won’t need to add any additional lemon juice or vinegar.  If the sauce looks like a Hollandaise — one that you’d be happy to pour over asparagus or eggs right now, take the bowl off the heat and leave to rest on a chopping board or trivet.  You don’t want the bottom of the bowl to burn or discolour your countertop!

Method — poached eggs (one per person):

8/ Use the same water as you did for the Hollandaise.  Add the vinegar and, if necessary, bring back up to a rolling boil.

9/ Break one whole egg into the small bowl or teacup.

10/ When the water is back up to a rolling boil, add the salt and stir briskly with a knife for a few seconds.  Whilst you may not generate a whirlpool, you should see the water move and rise a bit.

11/ Add one egg by getting the teacup or small bowl as close as you can to the water’s surface and tip the egg in as quickly as you can.  If you are preparing four eggs, you can add two at a time — one after the other — but that’s really the limit.

12/ The edges of the whites might swirl a bit.  Don’t worry.  Leave them as they are.

13/ Leave to boil for 2 1/2 minutes.

Churchmouse says: This is optimum cooking time — any longer and your egg yolks will be semi-solid and claggy, sticking to the roof of your mouth.

14/ Meanwhile, if you have prepared toast and ham for Eggs Benedict, you can start dishing up.  Lightly butter your toast or English muffins and put them on the plates.  Layer your cooked ham or Canadian bacon on top.

15/ Remove the one (or two) egg(s) from the pot using the slotted spoon to drain off ALL liquid.  After all that effort, the last thing you want is a watery egg.

16/ Place the eggs neatly in the centre of the ham or Canadian bacon portions — unless you are serving asparagus, which should go on the ham first, followed by the egg.

17/ If you are serving asparagus, place the cooked spears neatly together, tips facing in one direction.

18/ Carefully spoon one tablespoon of the Hollandaise sauce over the egg and asparagus.

19/ If you have more eggs to poach, start now and repeat the above process.  Spoon over any excess Hollandaise on each of the plates.

Churchmouse says: If your Hollandaise starts to form a light film whilst it is resting, whisk it vigorously for a few seconds until it comes together again.

And there you have a delightful Sunday brunch!  Practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if a minor detail goes wrong.  However, after struggling with Hollandaise and poached eggs for a lifetime, I have been pleased with this method each time.

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