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Photos by Deb Lindsey for the Washington Post
Savory and rich-tasting, Mushroom Benedict makes a good breakfast-for-dinner candidate. See the recipes for these dishes on Page 6D.

Get saucy with classic

Twists on eggs Benedict take dish from boring breakfast to marvelous meal

Chorizo Benedict uses lime juice in the hollandaise sauce.
Reuben Benedict uses corned beef and a ketchup-based sauce.

Brunch is where clichés go to molder, and eggs Benedict 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 bacon on a buttered English muffin. To put it more concisely: boring, with fries.

So when “Irish Benedict” appeared on a menu, 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.

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.

A recent Forbes.com story 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 are 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.

Most recipes yield oceans of hollandaise, but it’s possible to whip up enough for a mere two or four servings. And because hollandaise is one of those mother sauces that spawn a dozen others, it can be flavored many ways simply. (Choron is tomato added to bearnaise, which itself is tarragon added to hollandaise.)

And then there are the all-important poached eggs. Chef Michel Richard, whose technique is illustrated in a video at http://bit.ly/poachanegg, prefers to start with eggs at room temperature, but I’m in the straight-from-refrigerator camp. In either case, they should be super-fresh.

The technique is straightforward: Add about three inches of water to a saucepan or skillet and bring it to a boil. Pour in half a teaspoon or so of cider vinegar or white vinegar; this helps quickly firm up the egg white. Reduce the heat so the water is barely bubbling. Gently break eggs into individual teacups, custard cups or ramekins to make them easier to handle.

Water that’s moving a bit makes the eggs cook better, so I swirl it a couple of times with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Then you should hold the side of each egg container as close as possible to the surface of the water and slide the egg in. Use the spatula or spoon to “shape” the white around the yolk. Cook for two to four minutes, depending on how runny you like your yolks. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper or tea towel.

The eggs may look a little sloppy around the edges, but any threads can be trimmed before serving. Or you can hope the hollandaise hides all sins.

Mushroom Benedict

Savory and rich-tasting, this makes a good breakfast-for-dinner candidate.

For the eggs:

4 poached eggs

2 English muffins, split, toasted and buttered

Chopped chives, for garnish (optional)

For the mushrooms and sauce:

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium or large shallot, minced (3 to 4 tablespoons)

8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon tamari (may substitute low-sodium soy sauce)

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 small lemon (about 1 tablespoon)

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

Salt (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 small red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced

For the mushrooms and sauce: Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water, and heat over medium heat or until the water is barely bubbling at the edges. Adjust the heat to medium-low if needed. Place a metal bowl on the saucepan (to create a double boiler).

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot is just translucent, then increase the heat to medium-high and add the mushrooms, stirring to coat. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, so the mushrooms release their moisture and brown. Stir in the tamari (to taste), then season with black pepper to taste.

Melt the remaining 5 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet over low heat.

Combine the lemon juice and egg yolk in the metal bowl and whisk to blend. Set over the simmering water and continue whisking until the eggs start to set. Remove from the heat and whisk in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time, until the sauce emulsifies. Stir in the roasted pepper bits. Season with salt if needed and hold in a warm spot. The yield is about 1/3 cup.

To assemble, lay the toasted, buttered English muffin halves on warmed plates and top with the shiitake mixture. Place a poached egg on each muffin half, then spoon the pepper hollandaise over each portion. Garnish with chives, if desired. Serve right away. Makes 2 servings.

Reuben Benedict

The recipe doubles easily. Do not use a microwave to heat up the corned beef; instead, place the slices in a small nonstick skillet, perhaps with a little chicken broth; cover and gently steam until thoroughly warmed through.

Don’t skip the cornichons; they counter the richness.

For the eggs:

4 poached eggs

4 slices rye bread, toasted

6 ounces sliced, lean corned beef, heated

4 slices Swiss cheese (4 ounces total)

Cornichons, for garnish

For the sauce:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon ketchup

1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon pickle relish

Freshly squeezed juice from 1/2 lemon (1 1/2 tablespoons)

1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

Salt

For the sauce: Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water, and heat over medium heat or until the water is barely bubbling at the edges. Adjust the heat to medium-low if needed. Place a metal bowl on the saucepan (to create a double boiler).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small skillet or saucepan over low heat.

Whisk together the ketchup, Sriracha, Worcestershire and pickle relish in a small bowl.

Combine the lemon juice, mustard and egg yolk in the metal bowl, whisking constantly until the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from the heat.

Whisk in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time, to form an emulsified sauce. Whisk in the ketchup mixture. Season with salt if needed and hold in a warm spot. The yield is about 1/2 cup.

Divide the toasted bread between two warmed serving plates. Top with the warmed corned beef, then the cheese. Arrange the poached eggs on top. Ladle the sauce over the eggs; garnish with the cornichons. Serve right away. Makes 2 servings.

Chorizo Benedict

4 servings

Simply using lime juice instead of lemon juice in the hollandaise sauce brings the flavors of this Mexican-inspired dish together.

The diced chorizo can be warmed in a skillet over medium-low heat (or over medium heat to create crisped edges).

Make ahead: The muffins can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

For the muffin base:

7 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1/2 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup cooked corn kernels (optional)

6 tablespoons regular or low-fat sour cream

1 large egg

For the eggs:

8 poached eggs

8 to 12 ounces (2 links) cured, cooked chorizo, cut into medium dice, warmed

Chopped cilantro, for garnish

For the sauce:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 large lime (2 teaspoons)

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

Kosher salt

For the muffin base: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place 4 custard cups or ramekins (6 to 8 ounces each) on a baking sheet.

Use a little of the melted butter to grease the inside of the cups or ramekins.

Use a fork to combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and corn kernels, if desired, in a mixing bowl. Stir together the remaining melted butter with the sour cream and egg in a measuring cup. Gradually stir the wet ingredients into the cornmeal mixture to form a thick batter. Divide evenly among the custard cups or ramekins. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until firm and browned.

For the sauce: Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water, and heat over medium heat or until the water is barely bubbling at the edges. Adjust the heat to medium-low if needed. Place a metal bowl on the saucepan (to create a double boiler).

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small skillet or saucepan over low heat. Combine the lime juice and egg yolks in the metal bowl, whisking constantly until the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from the heat.

Whisk in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time, to form an emulsified sauce. Season with salt to taste and hold in a warm spot. The yield is about 1/2 cup.

When ready to serve, cut the corn muffins in half horizontally, placing two halves cut sides up on each plate. Divide the warmed chorizo evenly over the muffin halves, then place a poached egg on the chorizo. Spoon the sauce over each portion, then sprinkle with the cilantro, if desired. Serve right away. Makes 4 servings.

– New York food writer Regina Schrambling

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