Happy National Eggs Benedict Day! Why is it celebrated on April 16? That, I cannot answer, but I can give some insight into the debate over this famous brunch dish’s origins.
This New York Times article frames up the story perfectly: “The story of eggs Benedict is a hard one to tell. The beginning is shady at best, the main character has a hangover, and there are decades when nothing much happens. But the genre is certain, and the setting clear: Eggs Benedict is a mystery rooted in a long-vanished version of New York. Despite the dish’s twisted history, it provides a link to one of the city’s more glamorous eras. Of eggs Benedict’s origins, much has been said, but little has been settled.”
Wikipedia, of course, details many possible origins, but it has never been determined which is the true start to the famous dish. The New York Times article above examines the two that are most commonly told.
The first story is of Lemuel Benedict, a New York stockbroker who stumbled into the old Waldorf Hotel on Fifth Avenue in 1894, hungover from the night before, and ordered two poached eggs, bacon, buttered toast, and a pitcher of hollandaise sauce. The maitre d’hotel loved the combination and added it to the menu, but substituted ham for bacon and English muffins for toast. Lemuel’s cousin (well, technically first cousin once removed), Jack, dedicated most of his life to ensuring that everyone knew that his family legacy was known. He even opened a restaurant in Colorado, L.C. Benedict Restaurant and Tavern, which he filled with eggs Benedict memorabilia.
In 1978, Bon Appetit magazine credited Mr. and Mrs. LeGrand Benedict as the creators of the dish, saying that the couple requested the now-famous combination at a financial district restaurant called Delmonico’s. And so we have our second popular tale of the creation of eggs Benedict. The LeGrand story received much more credit than the Lemuel story over the years, being cited in many cookbooks and food reference books, much to Jack’s dismay.
The New York Times article is actually a fascinating story with a sad, but touching ending, and worth a read if you are looking for a good story to pass the time on your train ride home.
One of the best things about this dish, and part of its popularity, is the number of variations it allows. If you have something in your fridge or garden that you want to use, you’re sure to find a way to do it.
A few of my favorites:
- Eggs Florentine substitutes spinach for the ham. Older versions of eggs Florentine add spinach to poached or shirred eggs Mornay – eggs covered in Mornay sauce.
- Eggs Commander’s was created by Chef Paul Prudhomme during the time he was working at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. The dish varies from Eggs Benedict in that the bacon is replaced with spicy andouille or breakfast sausage, and the hollandaise sauce is replaced with bearnaise sauce.
- Eggs Chesapeake replaces bacon with crabcake.
A few that sound good, but that I have never tried:
- Eggs Royale (Also known as Eggs Pacifica, Eggs Montreal, Eggs Victoria, Eggs Royal or Salmon Benedict) replaces the bacon with smoked salmon. Commonly served with capers and red onions, either on the side or directly on top of the hollandaise sauce.
- Pacific Northwest Eggs Benedict Poached egg over wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon on a toasted English muffin covered with Hollandaise sauce. Can also substitute Dungeness crab cakes for English muffin.
- Veggie Benedict, also known as California Benedict, replaces the bacon with avocado and tomato.
- Eggs Stanley, from the famous Stanley Restaurant in New Orleans (yes, as in Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire), serves up Cornmeal-Crusted P&J’s Louisiana Oysters, Poached Eggs, Canadian Bacon and Creole Hollandaise on a Toasted English Muffin
- Eggs Benedict Poor Boy, also from Stanley Restaurant, Poached Eggs, Smoked Canadian Bacon and Creole
Hollandaise on Toasted French Bread (hat tip to my sister for pointing out the two Stanley Restaurant variations!)
And a few that are just worth sharing:
- Irish Benedict replaces the ham with corned beef hash or Irish bacon.
- Pennsylvania-Dutch Benedict replaces the ham or bacon with scrapple. Popular in the eastern region of Pennsylvania.
- Eggs Benedict Arnold replaces the English muffin with a biscuit and the hollandaise with country gravy, and also cooks the poached egg longer, so that the yolk is fully cooked.
- Eggs Pope Benedict substitutes German pumpernickel bread for the muffin and German bratwurst sausage for the bacon. It was created when Benedict XVI became pope in 2005.
- Goose Benedict was invented by James Delingpole. It consists of goose fat spread on an English muffin, with a fried goose foie gras stuffed with black truffle and black pudding, topped with a gull’s egg Hollandaise sauce.
- Huevos Benedict replaces the English muffin with a twice-folded warm corn tortilla, and the ham with avocado. Also, salsa roja and cilantro are added on top of the hollandaise sauce.
- Eggs Frederick substitutes tomato ketchup for hollandaise sauce. (sorry, but ketchup and eggs is not a combination for me)