Usually when I see eggs Benedict on a menu my eye skips to the next anything. Brunch is where cliches go to molder, and this is one of the weariest: a dish allegedly invented to alleviate a hangover, inevitably hash-slung by cooks battling their own hangovers. At its most traditional it’s uninspiring; taken to poorly executed extremes it can induce what the French describe as crise de foie, that singular liver stress brought on by the likes of a stick of butter converted into hollandaise atop poached eggs on ham on a buttered English muffin. To put it more concisely: boring, with fries.
So when I saw the phrase “Irish Benedict” on a menu the other week, followed by “corned beef/Swiss/poached egg/Thousand Island hollandaise,” I had to order it. An obvious knockoff of a Reuben sandwich would surely involve not just creativity but acidity to counter the richness. And it convinced me that eggs Benedict is one classic made to be reinterpreted at home. Swap in chorizo and lime hollandaise, or cremini mushrooms and red pepper hollandaise, and it’s a whole new brunch.
(Deb Lindsey/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) - Chorizo Benedict
(Deb Lindsey/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) - Egg poacher
Since my happy encounter with the Irish, at a restaurant called Meat & Potatoes in Pittsburgh, I’ve been seeing all manner of variations. Richard Deshantz, the chef there, says he has developed no fewer than 30 of them, always taking “old familiar things people can relate to and reinventing them.” But his riff on a Reuben became the menu standby.
Another restaurant in the same city offered a slow-roasted pork Benedict, a smoked salmon Benedict and a soy sausage Benedict, covering every base for carnivores and vegetarians and anyone in between. I’ve since come across versions online made with crab cakes, with pork belly, with spinach and tomato, even with steak, and with hollandaise alternatives including sauce Choron and an over-the-top sausage gravy. The muffin is not even always a muffin, English or otherwise; a potato pancake might wander into the equation.
A recent Forbes.com listicle reminded me that you can go too far with eggs Benedict. Foie gras under hollandaise at the Whole Ox in Honolulu sounds like a recipe for crise de foie, while braised pork shoulder on a polenta patty with a ranch-and-goat cheese hollandaise at Sprout in Chicago would probably induce a Technicolor yawn.
This is where a home kitchen is superior at both inspiring and reining in a cook.
Eggs Benedict are definitely more fit for company than some overnight egg-and-bread casserole upgraded to “strata” and decidedly more impressive than store-bought croissants. Even if you only make enough for two, the trip from stove to table is so much faster than floundering in Yelp to decide where poached eggs and hollandaise are fit to eat.
Eggs Benedict is almost kitchen Legos; there are so many ways to put it together yourself. The hollandaise is crucial, but the only tricky part is making it and not breaking it. I’m the timid type, so I do it in an improvised double-boiler, with a stainless-steel bowl set over barely bubbling water in a saucepan. It’s just a matter of blending a room-temperature egg yolk with lemon or lime juice until the egg starts to cook, then whisking in melted butter off the heat until the sauce emulsifies.