This quintessential brunch dish has made its way from America to our weekend menu, but its history dates back to the 19th century. Élodie Noel looks into the origins of the glorious Eggs Benedict – or, more accurately, the heated debate around it.
An English muffin topped with cooked ham, two poached eggs and a generous portion of hollandaise sauce: this is the classic recipe for the Eggs Benedict, a ubiquitous savoury dish that can be found on brunch menus all around the world, and often enjoyed alongside a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa.
What makes the Benedict truly unique is the audacious combination of the humble eggs, ham and bread with a fancy hollandaise, one of the five mother sauces in traditional French cuisine, consisting in an emulsion of egg yolk, melted butter and lemon juice, seasoned with salt, pepper and Cayenne pepper. Slightly tricky to master; this silky, creamy sauce gives a luscious feel to the otherwise simple list of ingredients - and that’s the beauty of it.
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The origin of the indulgent dish is somewhat unclear, as several claims for its paternity have been made by different “Benedicts”, without historians agreeing on a particular one. They all, however, place the birth of 'eggs benny' in the United States, more precisely in New York, between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
The restaurant Delmonico's, located 56 Beaver St, in Manhattan, New York, since 1837, states on their menu that the Eggs Benedict were created “at [their] stove”: “In the 1860’s, a regular patron of the restaurant, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, finding nothing to her liking and wanting something new to eat for lunch, discussed this with Delmonico’s Chef Charles Ranhofer (1836-1899), Ranhofer came up with Eggs Benedict. He has a recipe called Eggs à la Benedick (sic) in his cookbook called The Epicurean published in 1894.”
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Another version of the story attributes the birth of the dish to a bad hangover, a destiny it hasn't escaped since, as brunch-loving millennials still enjoy it as post-alcohol soakage. In an interview recorded in the "Talk of the Town" column of The New Yorker in 1942, Lemuel C. Benedict, a retired Wall Street broker, recalled wandering into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1894, hoping to find a cure for his morning hangover. Benedict said that he ordered "buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of hollandaise". Oscar Tschirky, the maître d'hôtel, was said to have been so impressed with the dish that he put it on the breakfast and lunch menus, after swapping ham for bacon and a toasted English muffin for the toast.
A later, slightly far-fetched claim to the conception of the Eggs Benedict was made by Edward P. Montgomery on behalf of Commodore E. C. Benedict, a prominent banker and yachtsman. In 1967, Montgomery wrote a letter to The New York Times food columnist Craig Claiborne which included a recipe he said he had received through his uncle, a friend of the Commodore. The recipe for the dish, which Claiborne described as “conceivably the most sophisticated” ever created in America, differs greatly from what is considered the classic version, calling for the addition of a "hot, hard-cooked egg and ham mixture” in the hollandaise.
The Best Produce Makes The Best Eggs Benedict
Like every iconic, long-standing dish, the Eggs Benedicts have been reinvented through the years with chefs giving it their own spin, leading to the creation of hybrid versions like Eggs Florentine, a vegetarian alternative where the ham has been replaced by cooked spinach. In Ireland, ham is often replaced by bacon or even smoked salmon for the Royale version.
Because of its simplicity, this classic dish is a great indicator of the skills of a kitchen and the attention given to sourcing good produce. When there is only bread, ham, eggs and sauce in a plate, there is nowhere to hide:
- Pot Bellied Pig in Rathmines uses O’Neills pulled ham and sourdough bread from Firehouse bakery for their Benedict, serving it on a bed of watercress.
- In Wuff, on Benburb St in Dublin 7, the Eggs Florentine are served on a brioche instead of English muffins. The Smithfield eatery also has a particular take on the classic with a Chorizo Eggs Benedicts, combining free-range poached eggs, wilted baby spinach, chorizo and tomato relish, served on toasted sourdough and smothered in rich hollandaise sauce - kind of a Benedict under Spanish steroids.
- Dillingers in Ranelagh goes full fusion with their Mexican style Eggs Benedict, combining the traditional English muffin and poached eggs with chorizo, red onion, fresh avocado and habanero hollandaise.
Roberta’s in Temple Bar uses organic eggs and Iberico ham and serves them alongside some house potatoes - an interesting addition that pairs well with the hollandaise.
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Where did you have the best Benedict in the city? Let us know in the comments.
Author: Élodie Noël
Élodie is a French journalist who relocated to Dublin about three years ago. She immediately fell in love with the island and its amazing food and has been writing about it on her blog Lemon Lipstick.