My glorious and well-fed Citizens – it is with a languid sense of Tryptophan-laden lethargy that I greet you all this aprés-Thanksgiving, but even in My epic dreaming I still hunger to share My superlative and unmatched recipes with TFD Nation! As such, I have dragged Myself from the arms of Morpheus and doggedly shaken off My post-feed coma to share a variant on a classic hangover breakfast of Eggs Benedict – but this is the Eggs Royale version made with smoked salmon in place of Canadian bacon!
I have previously posted what (to My historian senses) is the TRUE original recipe for the Gilded Age classic that is Eggs Benedict, as exemplified by the Delmonico restaurant version (not the Waldorf’s plagiarism!) – but the Delmonico original is slightly different from the version accepted today as canonical. Delmonico’s uses toasted brioche rounds in place of English Muffins and thin slices of prosciutto cotto in place of the now-classic Canadian Bacon – both of which I strongly prefer.
Since I was born a Brooklyn Jew, I consider smoked salmon on a bagel to be worthy of “final meal status” – as such, I wanted to share the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) uptown version of that meal – and trust Me, Eggs Royale REALLY lives up to the monicker of being a Gilded Age recipe! It is supremely decadent, rich and yet elegant with the smoked salmon in a way that Canadian Bacon can only aspire to! THIS is the seminal and ultimate recipe for this dish, IMHO!
First, the convoluted history and controversy surrounding the origins of Eggs Benedict – and no origin story is more shrouded in mystery than this recipe, trust Me!
As noted in this (excerpted and lightly-edited) well-researched article I found on myrecipes.com:
Delmonico’s claims to be the first restaurant to serve eggs Benedict, which, quite frankly, seems like a pedestrian milestone for a place that pioneered the concept of using fancy linens to wipe food off of people’s faces. After all, eggs Benedict is a fairly simple dish, with only four components: eggs, bacon, English muffin, and hollandaise sauce.
However, the origin of the eggs Benedict is steeped in the lore of New York City’s Gilded Age, when robber barons ran the town and fine dining consisted of multi-course meals and bespoke menu cards. The true history of the eggs Benedict is as murky as the identity of the human who created the eggs Benedict in the first place.
According to Delmonico’s legend, eggs Benedict was created for and named after restaurant regulars Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict in the 1860s. “What I know is simply that Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict came all the time,” chef Olivia said. “They had eaten everything on the menu, they were tired of the menu, and they asked the brothers to create something new.” So the Delmonico brothers, along with their chef, Charles Ranhofer, created the eggs Benedict as we know it.
We know what was in Ranhofer’s original eggs Benedict because he included the recipe in The Epicurean, his 1,200-page encyclopedic cookbook that was published in 1894. It was meant to provide future chefs with everything they need to know about starting and running their own fine-dining restaurant. It includes thousands of recipes, many of which were created by Ranhofer and served at Delmonico’s. (Lobster Newberg, for instance, was another Ranhofer original. Much like eggs Benedict, it was also named after a Delmonico’s regular.)
Ranhofer’s original recipe for eggs Benedict, then called Eggs à la Benedick, stands the test of time. The dish, as described in the book over 120 years ago, is basically what’s still served at restaurants today:
Cut some muffins in halves crosswise, toast them without allowing to brown, then place a round of cooked ham an eighth of an inch thick and of the same diameter as the muffins on each half. Heat in a moderate oven and put a poached egg on each toast. Cover the whole with Hollandaise sauce (No. 501).
Now this seems like a straightforward enough origin story, and one that’s ostensibly hard to dispute, given that the first published recipe for eggs Benedict appeared in Ranhofer’s book. However, Delmonico’s isn’t the only New York City institution to lay claim to the dish.
“We like to think that the eggs Benedict was really invented at the Waldorf, the original Waldorf-Astoria by the great Oscar of the Waldorf,” said Marc Ehrler, the corporate chef of the Americas for Hilton Worldwide, former owners of the New York City hotel.
“Oscar of the Waldorf” is Oscar Tschirky, who was working at the Waldorf-Astoria when it opened and served as its maître d’ for decades. Tschirky’s presence became so synonymous with the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel that, according to his obituary in the New York Times, there’s at least one occasion when “he had forgotten his own name” since he was so used to being referred to as “of the Waldorf.”
In the Waldorf version of the story, eggs Benedict was created by a so-called “young blade named Lemuel Benedict.” A short article from the December 19, 1942 issue of the New Yorker traced the origins of the eggs Benedict to the dining room of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel 48 years earlier—coincidentally, the same year Ranhofer’s “The Epicurean” was published. As the story goes, Benedict arrived at the hotel for a late breakfast, slightly incapacitated:
He had a hangover (the statute of limitations permits the publication of this libel), but his brain was clicking away in high gear. He ordered some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise sauce, and then and there proceeded to put together the dish that has, ever since, borne his name.
Tschirsky heard about Benedict’s creation, loved it, and wanted to put it on the Waldorf’s breakfast and lunch menus—but he put his own twist on it first. According to the New Yorker, “Oscar’s version of Eggs Benedict substituted ham for bacon and a toasted English muffin for toasted bread.” However, Benedict apparently wasn’t stoked about the change in carb.
While in retirement outside of Stamford, Connecticut, he told the writer of the 1942 article, “English muffins are unpalatable, no matter how much they are toasted or how they are served.” The Waldorf’s version of the eggs Benedict origin story has, over time, become the more popular of the two—in no small part, it seems, because of the New Yorker article, which has been cited by the New York Times, Smithsonian magazine, and Wikipedia.
At the end of the day, the Waldorf-Astoria seems to own the eggs Benedict, Ehrler explains, and gives full credit to Oscar of the Waldorf. “Without Oscar, the eggs Benedict would’ve been like too many other dishes. He made it timeless. He created something extraordinary on that dish. And he told the story,” that of a hungover man looking for a cure that was only available at the hotel.
Here’s the twist: Before he was Oscar of the Waldorf, Tschirsky worked at Delmonico’s as a waiter and likely overlapped in the kitchen with Ranhofer. While there’s no evidence that Tschirsky stole the recipe from Delmonico’s and brought it over to the then-new Waldorf-Astoria, it’s not totally out of the question, especially since the recipe for eggs Benedict was already in print by the time Lemuel Benedict showed up at the Waldorf after a long night of drinking.
“I think at this point, the only one who really knows the answer to this is Oscar and he took it with himself,” Ehrler said.
Regardless of who created this insanely-popular dish (screw it, I’m saying it – THE DELMONICO DID!), Eggs Benedict has captured the imagination of the brunch crowd all over the world as an epitome of luxury and decadence. There are at least a dozen variants of the recipe, but it is Eggs Royale that are the primogeniture survivors of the Gilded Age, continuing to this very day when so many other recipes of that era faded away. Eggs Royale are especially popular in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
In My (not-so-humble) opinion, Eggs Benedict are still somewhat pedestrian as they are made today in virtually all restaurants: hollandaise sauce out of a box, grocery store English Muffins, cheap Canadian bacon and eggs that are typically past their prime – this travesty MUST end and I shall restore the recipe to its rightful pedestal of epicurean glory by transforming it into the ultra-deluxe variant known as Eggs Royale!
Eggs Royale made with the best-quality smoked salmon, homemade english muffins and PROPERLY made béarnaise sauce (Hollandaise is the “mother sauce” from which béarnaise is derived – the antecedent sauce differs with the addition of tarragon, shallots and white wine, all of which are PERFECT complements to the smoked salmon!) is revelatory. I greatly prefer to use duck eggs in My Eggs Royale, as they are larger and richer – this is a Gilded Age affectation on My part, but a delicious one.
Use them if you want, or just stick with eggs from cage-free, heirloom breed chickens. Poaching the eggs properly is critical, and I heartily endorse Alton Brown’s clear methodology to make perfect ones – the technique is detailed in the recipe. Garnish with some snipped fresh dill and/or fresh tarragon leaves and a dusting of coarsely-cracked Kampot black peppercorns (the best in the world!), buy Kampot peppercorns from My preferred vendor here.
The pedigree for luxury in Eggs Royale continues with the béarnaise sauce, as interpreted by the unmatched Chef Thomas Keller of the 3 Michelin-starred restaurant The French Laundry! The English Muffins are cribbed from the website preppykitchen.com, and the smoked salmon MUST (IMHO) be the unmatched Gaspé Atlantic Salmon purveyed by the Doyenne of Smoked Fish Stores – Russ and Daughters! Buy it from here. Citizens, My assembled recipe for Eggs Royale is simply UNMATCHED!
While making the muffins and béarnaise sauce take time, they can both be made in advance (don’t make the sauce more than 30 minutes before assembly, please!) – this all comes together very quickly once you have made them. Eggs Royale will always be a true labor of love by a Chef, exemplified by supreme respect for their diners and pride in offering only the finest to their guests!
This is how good food should ALWAYS be prepared and served, and I am confident ALL of TFD Nation will enjoy serving this brunch classic in its ULTIMATE FORM!
Happy Holidays, My Citizens!!!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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