Eggs Benedict are a pretty flexible dish. You can switch out the English muffin for other baked goods, or potato pancakes, or even Portobello mushrooms. You can substitute smoked fish, or sausage patties, or vegetables like spinach (in the variation called eggs Florentine) for the back bacon. When it comes down to it, the foundation that the rest of the dish is built on consists of two things: poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.
Hollandaise has a reputation for being one of the trickier sauces to make. It took me a long time to conquer my fear of it, but it’s really not hard once you get the hang of it. One thing’s for sure: this is not a sauce you make from an envelope. If you’re going to indulge in the calorie bomb that is hollandaise, take the time to make it properly, because there’s really no comparison to the real thing!
I figured out hollandaise sauce while testing recipes for Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio , and his recipe is the one I still turn to whenever I’m making it. Some people argue that his use of reduced vinegar is not traditional, but it tastes good, so who cares? Ruhlman does tend to prefer his hollandaise thicker than I do, though: he aims for a mayo-like consistency; I prefer mine on the thick side of nappé. (Admittedly, the sauce pictured above is a little thin for me. This can happen if you don’t cook the eggs yolks enough before adding the butter.)
Although eggs Benedict without hollandaise are not eggs Benedict at all, hollandaise is really just a template, a mother sauce. So you can tweak it with other ingredients to match the other variations you’ve made in the dish. If the meat layer of your Benedict is lamb, you can add come chopped fresh mint to the sauce (this is known as sauce Paloise). For eggs Florentine, a little nutmeg in the sauce would complement the spinach nicely, or perhaps a little dill. Or, just for fun, you could use chilis, lime juice and cilantro for a Mexican variation, or red bell pepper puree and anchovies for a Spanish flavour.
Do you make hollandaise sauce at home, or do you find it scary?