Shiftwork Bites: Eggs Benedict

Undaunted by last week's failed attempts at countertop egg poaching, I decided to give it another go over the weekend. Every Sunday day shift, my crew has a tradition of breakfasting on homemade biscuits and gravy, courtesy of a coworker's wife.

Last weekend, she was out of town. When Steve made the announcement that there would be no Sunday biscuits and gravy (that's coming up in his next performance evaluation), I decided to take matters into my own hands and finally nail down Shiftwork Bites Benedict. I'd been holding off until I'd perfected my coffee pot poaching technique, but decided this would be the weekend, by hook or by crook.

I stocked up with a couple dozen eggs and began running controlled experiments at 5:30 that morning, just as soon as I'd walked in the door. Over the course of several hours, cooking eggs off with 15-minute incremental time increases, I got a lot closer to the goal, but still found myself with no cigar. As my crew was getting restless, I decided to take another tack. I remembered a conversation I'd had with an acquaintance of mine regarding potential solutions to my poaching problem. Bob del Grosso, former CIA instructor, philosopher and maker of artisan salumi (how 'bout that, Bob!?) suggested, among other things, the microwave. ""Heat 8 oz. water with 2tsp vinegar in the microwave until it boils. Add two eggs. Hit 'Beverage.' I bet it works."

With rumbly-stomached shift-workers beginning to turn on me, I decided to give it a shot. One step I added to Bob's suggestion was to crack the eggs into a large, perforated spoon. Eggs actually have two different types of whites, one substantially thinner than the other. These "fly away" whites do just that during poaching, leaving thin tendrils of protein trailing on all sides of a poached egg. Eliminating them before hand leads to a cleaner egg and less trimming.

With a little tweaking, Bob's suggestion worked beautifully. I found that, in our office microwave, one minute, 30 seconds of the two-minute cook time prescribed by the "Beverage" setting yielded an egg with tender-set whites, and perfectly runny, tempered yolk. Game on. From there, I moved on to griddling half a dozen thick-cut slabs of Canadian bacon while I whipped up some hollandaise. I love making hollandaise the old fashioned way - double boiler, whisk and all - but am also deeply enamored of the chef-anathema that is the blender method. Emulsification is all about shear forces, after all, and a blender is much better at applying shear evenly and efficiently than a whisk. Plus, it's a heck of a lot faster, and dang near foolproof.

Into our (not so) trusty office blender went three egg yolks, the juice of one and a half large lemons, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I'd meant to include a bit of Dijon mustard, as well, both to add flavor and to aid in the emulsification. I'd absentmindedly left it on the counter at home. Such are the perils of gathering mise en place at 4 a.m.

I blended that combo for about a minute until well combined, then set about drizzling in a stick and a half of melted butter, waiting for the tell-tale change in pitch that indicates emulsification and thickening have commenced. I waited and waited and waited some more, and nothing. There just wasn't enough lecithin (the emulsifying agent in egg yolks) to yield a thick and stable emulsion. Man, I wished for the Dijon. It would've snapped that hollandaise together handily.

Fortunately, I still had some Xanthan Gum leftover from a recent SwB episode. While Xanthan is not, itself, an emulsifier, its hydrophilic properties do aid in stabilizing existing emulsions. Just the barest pinch was all it took to bring the sauce together.

A few toasted English muffins, the now browned bacon, some microwave-poached eggs, and blender hollandaise took their places in front of my crew. Some of the eggs were a little well-done, with far less ooze in the yolks than I would've preferred. The hollandaise had a bit too much lemon. Nobody seemed to mind.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall