I had a few friends in town from New York City a few weeks ago and they really only requested two things in the meal department:
1) A good Tex-Mex dish. (post coming soon)
2) A great brunch dish.
I don’t think I disappointed on either, but I thought the brunch dish was especially good. Granted, I’m biased because eggs benedict happens to be one of my favorite things ever.
I rarely order it at restaurants though because I become irrationally irate if it isn’t perfect. Luckily, when I make them at home, I can normally pull off a pretty solid version.
For this version, instead of switching up the middle layer between the egg and the bread, I switched up the bread by using a really crispy layer of hash browns!
It was a huge hit.
1) Lay out bacon on a wire rack over a sheet pan. Cook at 350 degrees in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the bacon is really crispy. Remove and turn the oven down to 250 degrees.
2) Grate potatoes and dunk them in ice cold water. Keeping them in water will keep them from discoloring.
3) When ready to cook potatoes, dry them off on a few paper towels. Add to a hot skillet or griddle over medium-high heat with a few Tablespoons of oil. Cook potatoes in batches and as they cook, shape them into 8 bundles. They will take probably 10-12 minutes to get really crispy.
4) Add cooked bundles of hash browns to a sheet pan and store in the warm oven until ready to use.
5) For sauce, mix yolk, water, lemon, salt, and vinegar in a large bowl. Place bowl over simmering water bath. Be sure bowl doesn't touch water.
6) Whisk until egg mixture is frothy and hot. It should at least double in volume and be slightly steaming.
7) Slowly whisk in clarified butter until it forms a smooth sauce. If the sauce gets to thick, add a bit more water and whisk.
8) Poach eggs in water with added vinegar. Cook them for 90-120 seconds.
9) Plate hash browns topped with bacon while eggs cook. Then immediately top with eggs and sauce and serve right away!
Prepping the Base
The thing that can really go wrong with hash browns is discoloration. Potatoes will oxidize really quickly when they are grated and turn this horrible dark purple brown color that is in no way appetizing.
The only way I know of to prevent this is to dunk the hash browns in cold water as soon as you grate them. This will keep them looking nice and fresh.
When you’re ready to cook the hash browns, pull out a few handfuls from the water and press them on some paper towels to dry them out. Then add them to a large skillet with a good amount of oil over medium-high heat. They’ll hiss and complain for a bit, but that’s good.
While the hash browns cook, use a spatula to kind of portion them out into small segments. Ideally, you are looking for eight hash brown chunks if you are serving four people. The hash browns will probably take 10 minutes total to get nice and crispy.
Once they are done, you can put them all on a sheet pan and keep them in a warm (250 degree) oven until you’re ready to use them.
In my opinion, there are three tricky parts to making a good benedict: timing, eggs, and sauce. We’ll get to the first two in a second, but let’s handle the sauce first since I think that’s the trickiest of the three.
Hollandaise sauce is a lot like homemade mayo, except instead of oil, we’ll use clarified butter. It’s also a warm sauce which makes it a bit easier to mix actually, but you run the risk of over-cooking the eggs which isn’t good.
There are lots of ways to make this sauce and I’m sure there’s an official cooking school way that I don’t know. What I do know is that my way works… so whatever.
Start with two egg yolks in a bowl. To this bowl add all your other ingredients except the butter.
Whisk everything together and then put the bowl over a pan with simmering water. You want to be sure that the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water. You just want it to steam.
Whisk the bowl pretty continuously as the yolk mixture starts to heat up. It’ll be a bit runny at this point, but that’s fine. Keep whisking for about 3 minutes and eventually your mixture will at least double in size and turn really frothy. This should also be hot to the touch at this point and very lightly steaming.
One common mistake that I’ve seen people make when they try to make hollandaise is just to melt butter and whisk it in. This might work, but you won’t get a great sauce with it because butter is about 20% solids which is going to mess up your sauce.
So, even though it’s kind of a pain, if you want to make a really good sauce, you need to clarify your butter before mixing it in with the sauce. I did an entire post on how to clarify butter a year or so ago, so just check that out.
My clarified butter was far from perfect for this version, but it’s still way better than just melted butter. I got about 12 ounces of clarified butter out of 1 pound of butter and I used it all for this sauce.
Once your egg mixture is frothy and hot, start slowly whisking in the clarified butter. Start slowly and whisk furiously!
As your butter incorporates, the sauce should get really nice and thick.
It’ll be a delicious thing.
You wouldn’t want to make hollandaise sauce way before you serve the meal, but it will keep fine for 15-20 minutes. If it cools down, just put it back over the heat and add a few drops of water. It should loosen up and return to a nice hot sauce without a problem.
More than any one ingredient, the timing of eggs benedict can throw some people off. This is the general schedule I used for these:
1) Make bacon in oven
2) Cook hash browns (and hold in hot oven)
3) Put large pot of water on to boil for eggs later
4) Make Hollandaise sauce
5) Poach eggs
6) While eggs poach, lay out each plate and make sure your sauce is hot.
7) Plate and serve right away!
Doing this schedule means that the things that are most time sensitive (the eggs and the sauce) are the very last to be prepared.
If you wait more than about five minutes between when the eggs are done and you eat the darn thing, the eggs will be cold and the sauce won’t be great. This is why it’s a hard dish to pull of in a restaurant.
I haven’t talked about poaching eggs yet and that’s because I find them to be pretty easy to do honestly. Using this method, I can poach four eggs at a time and have about a 95% success rate with the eggs. (You’re bound to lose one occasionally though so have extras ready.)
Get a large pot of water simmering and add about 1/2 cup of plain white vinegar to the water. The acid in the vinegar will make the eggs stick together really nicely.
Give the water a stir with a slotted spoon to create a small whirlpool. Crack the egg in a bowl. Don’t crack it straight into the water. Gently pour the egg into the simmering water from the bowl. Do as many as you feel comfortable with. I used to do two at a time, but these days I can handle four. How many also depends on your pot size.
Set a timer for 90 seconds. Once 90 seconds is up, start checking the eggs. Use a slotted spoon to carefully scoop one out and gently poke it. It should feel firm in the white sections and liquid in the yolk. As the eggs finish, move them to a plate with a paper towel to drain slightly.
Top each hash brown and bacon stack with one egg and a good drizzle of sauce.
To be honest, I’m not sure I would recommend the hash brown method if this is your first benedict ever. Stick with the english muffin just because it removes an element of cooking.
But if you’re feeling ambitious or an eggs benedict expert, this was a freakin’ awesome variation. The potatoes do a great job of sopping up all that delicious sauce and egg mixture. Obviously, if the bacon is too heavy for you, you could use something lighter like tomatoes, spinach, or even crab cakes!