Eggs Benedict + Molecular Gastronomy: Don’t Be a Hater
*This is a post for consideration in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice recipe competition. If you like to get all crazy El Bulli-style, you should check out both the contest and the book HERE.
If necessity is the mother of invention, luxury must be the father of reinvention, no? There is the argument- why mess with a good thing? But I say, why not when there is the possibility to create a truly great thing. French fries and ketchup are good. Poutine is great. Your first time was good, your 50th time (complete with curled toes) was great. Passable Eggs Benedict are good. Even really, really good. But these Eggs Benedict are as stratospheric as that time you did it in the hot springs with the guy who was really into Kamasutra. Isn’t that the kind of greatness we should aspire to in the kitchen?
Striking culinary platinum is infinitely more satisfying to me than appeasing the status quo. This is the group who are keen on getting their food ten miles from where they park their Prius in front of their Craftsman. They insist on knowing that their chicken is named Estelle. It’s gone so far that they want to know Estelle’s mother’s maiden name (which is Stansberry), and fixate on whether she was fed a steady diet of organic, humanely-mined gold dust over the course of her bucolic nine months on earth.
I have dubbed the culinary status quo the anti-gastronomers. I tire of their ill-informed diatribe against molecular gastronomy (which is a hated term much like “foodie,” but a better description is yet to be widely-accepted). They cannot discern the difference between a foam and a froth but they verbally vomit on both despite the fact that they lap up foam wholeheartedly every time they sip a latte, spoon in mousse, or swallow soufflé.
This is not to say I’m against locavorism; once you enter a certain echelon of manipulation of food, eating local is one of many important concerns. Some cooks want to do something more inventive with food than regurgitate Thomas Keller’s recipes that have been simplified for the aspiring home chef. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about food revolutions, sustainable sourcing, slow food, and all the other modern movements piggy-backing off each other to create one steamy paella pile of loathe for the future of gastronomy.
Anti-gastronomers, get off your grass-fed high horses for a minute and actually seek out the food you so spitefully condemn. Your head might not want you to like it, but we humans are base creatures at heart. If it’s done right, your mouth will fall in love.
What I’m trying to say is that we are all in this together. Just because you choose to roast a prime rib and I choose to sous vide it doesn’t mean one or the other of us has more cred. It’s time to quit polarizing. Let’s embrace change and usher it in carefully so it happens with precision rather than leaving it in the hands of soulless scientists who miss the point of food in the first place. Once upon a time there was a grip of people who believed the earth was flat, and we know how that turned out. I’d rather be a culinary Galileo than a lemming who falls off the edge of the continent because I believed so hard it wasn’t wrapped around a sphere.
This version of Eggs Benedict is one such dish that I would love to make for anyone who casts doubt. I knew I needed to nail every aspect of the original Benedict or the scoffers would come Escoffier-in’ (yes, that was a really bad pun). The trickiest element to get right was the English muffin- the anchor of any classic version of the dish. Wylie Dufresne does an admirable reinterpretation of Benedict at WD50 in which he coats cubed Hollandaise in English muffin breadcrumbs and then deep fries them.
It’s genius, but I’ve always liked my English muffin to take a more starring role. It occurred to me that a tuile makes a lovely vessel in which to host a plethora of edible trifles, so why not make an English muffin tuile? I took it one step further and formed my tuile into a cornet. I hereby proclaim that I will deep throat a beer bong full of Everclear if this cornet doesn’t taste just like an English muffin should in your wildest, crunchiest fantasies.
Many would say the make or break (sometimes literally) aspect of Eggs Bennie is the Hollandaise. My version is no exception. I knew I couldn’t eff it up or the anti-gastronomers might waterboard me with sizzling drips of clarified butter. It took me some time to get the proportions right, but I finally nailed a reverse-spherification food processor hollandaise that will please you more than the pool boy. When you heat the sphere of Hollandaise up it goes all gooey inside. Because it is thermo-resistant, the membrane on the exterior stays taut enough to keep the warm sauce contained just until it hits your mouth.
Sometimes I think I love eggs more than I love most humans. There are so many millions of ways to eat eggs, from raw off the half shell with a little lemon just like an oyster (yes, I do this, salmonella be damned), to cooked en sous vide at 63°C. If I had to subsist off one ingredient alone for the rest of my days, it would be eggs. At the risk of sounding wildly unhealthy, I will admit that my small family consisting of two adults and one toddler goes through at least 36 eggs per week.
When it comes to eggs, I am a slut. Chicken, duck, quail, goose- show me an egg and I’ll show you my chompers. Once I figured out my English muffin cornets and knew I’d be tossing spherified Hollandaise in them, I knew immediately that egg yolk drops would be the ideal accompaniment. They are egg yolks poached in clarified butter piped the size of kernels of corn. I could probably eat a popcorn tub of them. They would be great on popcorn, in fact. I wish I could say I came up with the concept, but I have to give credit to my muse, Oh Granty Boy (Achatz).
And finally, the most contentious part of the reconstruct- the meat. You’re going to say I wasn’t entirely true to a classic Eggs Bennie because I used wild boar bacon instead of ham, but here’s the thing- I had this rare and precious batch of boar bacon on hand and I just knew it would be perfect to spiral using transglutaminase for this dish. If you’re a purist (and you can somehow get on board with the rest of this iteration), the spiraling process would still apply equally to ham. If you need me to make it again to prove it, let me know.
It’s simple really- just four parts: the egg, English muffin, hollandaise, and meat. One of the reasons for the backlash against molecular gastronomy is that it is viewed as overcomplicated. This dish keeps it real but elevates every element to perfection so the result is a humbly-winning combination.
Makes 20 Cornets
For the English Muffin Tuiles/Cornets:
(loosely inspired by Thomas Keller’s cornets from The French Laundry)
- ¼ c + 2 tbsp pulverized English muffin crumbs, dried
- 1 tbsp all purpose flour
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 8 tbsp butter, softened but cool
- 2 egg whites, cold
- An additional half cup or so English muffin crumbs for rolling and sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pulse the muffin crumbs, flour, sugar, and salt in food processor fitted with steel blade until well-mixed.
- Add the butter and pulse for 10 seconds. Add the egg whites and pulse until uniform but not over-blended, about 20 seconds. You may need to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula for even consistency.
- Make a 4” circular stencil using a sheet of acetate or even the lid from a large yogurt container. Place a silicon baking pad (silpat) inside a sheet pan.
- Spread a thin, even layer of batter across the tuile stencil using an offset spatula. Repeat until you have three per batch. (I like to do three per batch because if you do more, you will run into burning problems when you try to roll them around the cornet molds.)Sprinkle some extra muffin crumbs on the top sides of the three stenciled tuiles. Bake for four minutes.
- Working quickly, remove sheet pan to the oven door and flip tuiles with a small spatula. Work them around cornet molds by starting at one end of each circle and wrapping them around the molds until they form a cone.
- Bake each cornet for an additional 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and roll in additional muffin crumbs. Let cool on cornet molds for five minutes, then slip out of molds and let cool completely on a wire rack, repeat with remaining cornet batter.
For the spherified Hollandaise sauce:
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tbsp lemon
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 sticks butter, melted and hot
- 6 g calcium lactate gluconate
- 0.8 g xanthan
- 1000 g purified water
- 5 g sodium alginate
- Put the egg yolks, lemon, paprika, salt and sugar in a food processor and blend for ten seconds. Add the melted butter in a slow and steady stream until the mixture emulsifies, about 60 seconds. Add the calcium lactate gluconate and the xanthan gum and thoroughly combine. Strain into a small bowl and cover overnight.
- Combine the water and sodium alginate in a blender and blend until no clumps remain. Pour into a shallow dish so that the mixture fills approximately the bottom two inches of the dish. Cover and let sit overnight.
- Remove the hollandaise mixture and the alginate bath from the refrigerator. Fill a third shallow dish with purified water, roughly the same size as the alginate bath dish.
- The hollandaise mixture should be solid enough that you can work with it by scooping a teaspoon of it into your palms, then rolling it into a ball. Make several of these balls and drop into the alginate mixture, making sure they sink just enough that they are evenly coated with the alginate. Do not let them touch each other or they will stick together. Let set for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the water bath. Repeat until you have 20 (or more if you want to ensure success) hollandaise spheres.
For the egg yolk drops:
Follow the technique outlined in this post:
For the wild boar spirals:
- Unspecified amount of transglutaminase powder (*handle with care)
- 16 pieces thick-cut wild boar bacon
- Wear rubber gloves and consider wearing a mask for this recipe as transglutaminase can be dangerous to touch and inhale until it’s cooked.
- Lay the bacon out in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of transglutaminase evenly over the bacon using a sifter or shaker.
- Working with four pieces of bacon at a time, start making a tight roll like you would if you were spooling ribbon. Ensure that it is as tight as possible, as the meat glue will not adhere otherwise. Once each slice of bacon is wrapped, continue with the next until all four pieces are wrapped very tightly. Repeat with remaining bacon for four spirals. At this point either vacuum seal or tightly wrap in clingfilm each spiral.
- Let rest overnight. Remove from plastic and slice each spiral into five wheels. Fry as you would normal bacon, however note the spirals will curl, so if you want them to fry flat, cover them with a heavy lid.
To assemble the Eggs Benedict:
- Several sprigs of chive for garnish
- There are options for heating the hollandaise spheres. I heat mine by putting them in a controlled temperature water bath at 110°F. You could try this on the stovetop in a saucepan if you are very attentive with the thermometer, as if they go much above that temperature they risk bursting.
- Place a warm bacon spiral inside each cornet. Nestle in a hollandaise sphere. Drop a spoonful of egg drops around the sphere and garnish with a chive sprig. I serve my cornets on a contraption I rigged to hold them upright, but get creative. You could set them in a salt-filled container or make them to order and have your guests hold them.