The Spanish Fried Egg

Spanish Fried Egg

I am always looking for new ways to fry an egg. I came upon this recipe in my travels, and have found it to be very interesting. it’s like a poached egg, in oil!   The egg white get crackly, and the egg yolk thickens. It is perfect to top a steak, or as a change from the drab morning egg.  Nothing could be further from the “perfect way to cook an egg” that Chef Ferdinand Point promoted.  (He insisted the ONLY way to cook an egg was slowly, in ample amounts of butter.)  The texture is unique.  The Spanish fry everything in a rather bland olive oil (lacking in overall “olive” flavor). This may be cooked in a good quality cooking oil, in melted lard, or as the Spanish do, in olive oil.

Heat a generous amount of oil in a heavy pan (cast iron works well) until it is nearly smoking. Then reduce the heat to medium-high, and break an egg into the hot oil. Cook eggs one at a time (several eggs will instantly migrate together and coagulate into one big shaggy mess). Tilt the pan away from you, and spoon the oil over the egg or, alternatively, roll the egg gently with a spoon to cook all sides evenly. Cook until the white is opaque but the interior is still runny. The total cooking time is less than a minute, closer to 45 seconds, for a still-runny yolk and up to 2 minutes for a firm yolk. Use a slotted spoon to lift the egg out of the oil, and let the excess oil drip off. The technique and resulting egg texture are more like those of a poached egg, but with a decidedly fried, almost crispy, exterior.

Monte Cristo Sandwich

The sandwich that is the oddest in my book is the Monte Cristo sandwich. It is a class of sandwich, with several regional variations. Generally speaking, the pieces of bread are sweet French toast and the sandwich filling is savory.

The sandwich filling may be ham and cheese or turkey ham and cheese, much as in a club sandwich. Some parts of the United States grill a “closed” sandwich, whereas other places serve it open-faced with Swiss (or other) cheese melted on top. The bread is always French toast. Some recipes call for a more savory approach (Thousand Island dressing on plain egg toast, with fries on the side), and others lean toward the standard American breakfast French toast with powdered sugar, maple syrup, and fresh fruit salad as garnish.

The thing is, French toast isn’t actually that unusual as a sandwich exterior. Several recipes call for two pieces of bread dipped in egg and fried. I think it’s the combination of ingredients and the name that make this sandwich stand out.

The name of the sandwich is, obviously, a nod to Le Comte De Monte-Cristo, the Alexandre Dumas adventure novel, published in 1844. The Count of Monte Cristo’s protagonist, Edmond Dantes, who had been wrongfully accused and imprisoned and subsequently escaped from jail, flees to the island of Monte Cristo and finds the legendary treasure of the Spada family. With the riches, he can fund his revenge on those who wronged him. His revenge is formidable and the results shocking. The book is a classic.

Alexandre Dumas, painted by Olivier Pichat

Alexandre Dumas, painted by Olivier Pichat

The history of the sandwich is more difficult to unearth than the Spada family treasure. Many references assume that the first incarnation of the Count of Monte Cristo sandwich was in Disneyland, in Anaheim, California (where it was served at the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square and in the Adventureland Tahitian Terrace restaurants). The earliest Disneyland menu it is found on is from 1966.

The first cookbook to publish a recipe was the Brown Derby Cookbook.[1] Its recipe:

     Take three slices of white bread. Butter the first and cover with lean baked ham and chicken. Butter the middle slice on both sides, place on meat, and cover with thinly sliced Swiss cheese. Butter the third slice and place, butter down, over cheese. Trim crusts; cut sandwich in two; secure with toothpicks; dip in light egg batter; fry in butter on all sides until golden brown. Remove toothpicks and serve with currant jelly, strawberry jam, or cranberry sauce.

The Brown Derby did not claim to have invented the sandwich. In Southern California, it was served in many cafés, from some at swanky golf courses to the famous Cantor’s Deli in Hollywood[2].

However, all these citations are predated by the Monte Cristo Hotel in Everett, Washington. The sandwich was a house special in its cafe.

Monte Cristo Hotel, Everett Washington

 

The first written citation on the sandwich was in a weekly Los Angeles Times column by Chef A. L. Wyman[3] in 1924. His recipe:

     Cover six slices of sandwich bread with a slice of American full cream cheese, cover the cheese with slices of boiled ham, cover with slices of bread, tie with white string, dip in beaten egg and fry a nice brown on both sides in hot butter. Place on hot plates, remove the string and serve.

It is notable that his recipe called for cream cheese, not the Swiss cheese or Emmentaler (a type of Swiss cheese) that is fairly standard among all the recipes.

The Monte Cristo has many minor variations. The most common: The bread is made into French toast first and then grilled (using 3 pieces of bread in a “Dagwood” layering[4]); a sandwich (usually with 2 pieces of bread) assembled and dipped in an egg/flour thickened batter; meat variations such as ham, turkey, and chicken; a sandwich served with jam, jelly, fruit, or maple syrup and dusted with confectioner’s sugar (and sometimes whipped cream); and a savory version (Cumberland-head style) served with Thousand Island dressing and garnished with pickles, relish, or French fries.

Monte Cristo Sandwich

1 egg

6 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons flour

3 slices bread

2 teaspoons butter

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan or other hard cheese

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 (2 ounce) slice Swiss cheese

2 (1 ounce) slices roasted turkey

2 (1 ounce) slices boiled ham

confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

jam, for garnish

Whisk egg, milk, and flour together to make thick batter. Heat skillet on medium heat to melt small amount of butter. Dip bread into batter until coated, and put into frying pan; sprinkle with grated cheese and nutmeg. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Put Swiss cheese between 2 pieces of battered bread. Grill until cheese has melted enough to join the 2 pieces together. Remove from pan. On plate assemble sandwich. Place ham and turkey on top of grilled cheese pieces, and put last piece of battered bread on top. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, and serve with side dish of jam.
[1] Doubleday & Company: Garden City, NY, 1949 (p. 183). The Brown Derby was a chain of restaurants in Los Angeles, California. The first and most famous was opened in a building shaped like a hat. The restaurants were iconic during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The first restaurant opened in 1926.

[2] The original Cantor’s—a Jersey City, New Jersey, delicatessen—opened in 1924 and moved to Hollywood in the 1940s.

[3] The regular column was called Practical Recipes: Helps for Epicures and All Who Appreciate Good Cooking. The Monte Cristo sandwich recipe was published May 24, 1924.

[4] Dagwood Bumstead was a character in artist Chic Young’s long-running comic strip Blondie. Dagwood was famous for creating insanely tall, multilayered sandwiches topped with an olive on a toothpick. This name has become a food term to describe any sandwich with more than two pieces of bread.

Summer Egg Blues (and, adventures in Hollandaise Sauce)

broken eggs  jean-baptiste greuze

“Broken Eggs” Jean-Baptiste Greuze 1756  (On display at the MET. Bequest of William K. Vanderbilt, 1920)

The painting was said, by critics in the 1700’s, that the broken eggs symbolized the loss of the girl’s virginity. I don’t think they’re right.  I just think that she was overwhelmed by the eggs, and the weight of deciding what to do with them. As is the case, in the long days of summer chickens just lay too darn many eggs.  (Although I do wonder why the little boy has a rat and that strange expression.)

My chickens have long since passed on to the pasture in the sky, so I source my eggs at a local honor farm stand. A couple of days ago I didn’t have change for a single carton of eggs, so I purchased four cartons (two medium $4.00 each, and two large $6.00 each) and stuffed my $20 bill into the locked box.

Now I have the weight of 48 eggs staring at me every time I open my refrigerator.

I don’t really feel like making an angel food or sunshine cake. Not in the mood for a savory bread casserole. (No stale bread, either.) Not in the mood for a souffle.

So, what do I feel like?  Custard? Flan? Quiche?

That is the dilemma. I feel like I can relate to that poor woman sitting on the floor. Deep in contemplation, annoyed at the lack of direction and unable to make a decision. I have 47 perfect eggs sitting waiting for me. Calling out “I’m yummy”. (The best I have done is fry one for breakfast.)

I think I’m going to make a Hollandaise sauce (which will bring me down to 46 eggs which will patiently wait until tomorrow).  I have some fresh, wild caught salmon that I will poach in some white wine, some fresh squash (who doesn’t have too much squash this time of year?) a glass of the white wine, and a Hollandaise sauce will be perfect.

I can taste it now. The butter and egg sauce with a lemony flavor, emulsified over heat served hot.

Hollandaise sauce is named for Holland, the place of its birth. Although made famous by the French. The name suggests that it was a Dutch creation imported to France (by the Huguenots). The sauce’s history is quite muddled, with many views on who was first, where it appeared in written form first, and why it came to be.

Most people only think of Hollandaise for breakfast (Eggs Benedict).

As all emulsified egg sauces, it has the reputation for being difficult, in this case,  notoriously difficult. The internet and cookbooks all have some trick and shout out: “this is the BEST RECIPE” that most people shy away from making a batch.

(Note: I’m cutting the recipe in half, because I’m just cooking for myself.)

The most important thing about all sauces is to not rush. Eggs and oil are an exercise in patience. Push to hard, heat too high, rush and the sauce will “break” (curdle, clump).

Some cooking experts will tell you to start with nearly frozen butter cut into small cubes and let the butter melt as you blend it with the yolk over heat. (It works. It can take a long time for the butter to melt, but the end result is fine.) Some recipes make no distinction in the temperature of the butter but say to put the pan directly on low heat and move it off when necessary to control the temperature. Other recipes call for an extra initial step: clarifying the butter first (which I prefer) and then mixing the oil into the yolk, much as with making mayonnaise, only over a bain-marie or a double boiler. Although, you can just do this in a saucepan over the heat.

(Something I have NOT tried until tonight.)

My husband insists that clarifying the butter is an unneeded step and that any butter will work, salted or not, although the only butter he usually has on hand is unsalted butter. He has made Hollandaise and Bernaise sauces hundreds of times. I, on the other hand, have made emulsified sauces only with clarified butter but have made mayonnaise many times, and I like liquid oil to mix into the egg yolk, because I find it easier to control and more familiar. Since we both come up with the same basic end result, I suppose it’s only a matter of which directions you care to follow and practice with. One thing is for certain: These are sauces you have to be prepared to practice, and make routinely, until the techniques are foolproof—or nearly so—for you.

The key is to not get frustrated. Once you have the hang of it, these are easy and elegant sauces to “whip up.”

If the egg in the sauce begins to curdle, you can strain the sauce through several layers of cheesecloth, return the liquid to the pan, add a new egg yolk, and try again. Addition of some very, very cold water (a teaspoon to a tablespoon) can cool the sauce down enough to stop the break. (Then whisk energetically to get the egg proteins to smooth out and accept more oil.) If a sauce breaks, it breaks. Everyone has it happen, sometimes. When it does, just start over and go slower, and you’ll find success. (I have a lot of mistakes I can make, and still have eggs.)

Tonight I’ll try my husband’s recipe [cut in half]:.



  • 2 sticks butter  [1 stick, or so 1/4 pound, or 4 ounces of butter]
  • 4 egg yolks [2 egg yolks]
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice [1/2 teaspoon lemon juice]
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper [I am going to skip the cayenne, because I don’t feel like it]
  • salt and pepper, to taste [just a small dash of salt, touch more pepper]
  • 2 teaspoons ice water, if needed [1 teaspoon ice water]

Cut well-chilled butter into small (1/4-inch) chunks, and set aside. In fairly large saucepan, add egg yolks, lemon juice, cayenne, and pepper. With hand whisk, blend all ingredients. Add chilled nuggets of butter, and turn heat to medium. Start whisking ingredients, and do not stop until butter melts and sauce begins to thicken. If sauce starts to break, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of very cold water, remove from heat, and whisk feverishly until sauce combines again. Once sauce is thick and smooth, add salt and more pepper, to taste. Remove from heat, and serve. (You can put saucepan into pan of warm water to keep sauce heated for as long as 30 minutes. This sauce does not hold well—it will begin to break.)



 

I’ll report back —

Savory French Toast

Savory French toast, eggy toast, and fried toast are similar to the sweet varieties, in that they have a custard base. They differ in that they have more-intense flavors, involve cheese, or are filled. These are good for breakfast, snacks, lunch, or a light dinner. This is just a small sampling of recipes for savory French toast. You can certainly experiment with the idea and create your own signature one.

Savory Cheesy Eggy Toast
½ cup milk
4 eggs
4 slices stale bread

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated or shredded cheese (your choice of cheese)

ketchup (garnish)

Mix egg and milk. Dip bread slices, and coat both sides evenly. Melt butter in skillet on medium heat, and heat until very hot. Cook until golden on both sides. Move slices of bread to an oven broiler pan, sprinkle with cheese, place under broiler, and heat until cheese melts. Serve with ketchup.

The Quest for the “Perfect” Scrambled Egg

Old Woman Selling Eggs  Hendrick Bloemaert (1602-1672) Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Old Woman Selling Eggs Hendrick Bloemaert (1602-1672)
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

People fixate on how to make the “perfect” scrambled egg. I don’t think there is any egg dish that has so many experts, so many techniques, and such a variety of opinions. It ranks up there with discussing politics or religion.

The basic scrambled egg is a fried egg that mixes the egg yolk and white in a process known as beating (or whipping, depending on the recipe) and then cooking the egg by frying while disturbing the egg by stirring. The result is that the protein in the egg will coagulate into soft, moist curds. In an egg scramble, something is added to this basic scrambled egg to create new and different taste combinations.

Some people whisk the eggs before cooking. Others crack them directly into the pan and mix the yolk and white in the pan through gentle stirring. Some add stock, cream, butter, milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, melted butter, sugar, cream of tartar, vinegar, lemon juice, oil, or water when they whisk the eggs. Others insist that scrambled eggs should remain unadulterated.

If you add liquid, the rule of thumb is no more than 2 teaspoons of liquid per egg.

There are recipes that want you to separate the yolk from the white, whip the white until stiff peaks form, and then fold it into the yolk. These recipes create egg dishes that are something other than scrambled eggs—more akin to soufflés.

When a recipe calls for you to stir the eggs, do so gently. (Do not stir the eggs as if you were mixing chocolate powder and milk. Violent movement will prevent the curds from forming.)


Beating Eggs to Scramble:
Again, it’s all a matter of taste. As stated above, some people do not really scramble the eggs in a bowl before cooking. They crack them into the pan and stir them around to break the yolks. Other people freak out and insist that the only way to “properly” scramble eggs is to crack them into a bowl and beat them with a fork, a whisk, or an electric mixer until a great deal of air is trapped in the egg proteins. Other people will tell you to not beat eggs for more than four beats. Meanwhile, the American Egg Board describes a well-beaten egg as “frothy and even-colored.” Some recipes actually recommend whisking the eggs for as long as two minutes.

What directions do you follow? It depends on the type of scrambled eggs you like.

  • If you like your scrambled eggs to have bits of yellow and bits of white in a mosaic of egg, beat your eggs in the pan and wait for several seconds before you begin to mix the two.
  • If you want light, fluffy, even-colored eggs, lightly whisk the eggs and add a small amount of acid (cream of tartar, vinegar, or lemon) and push the eggs gently to the center of the pan.
  • If you really like flat, tough scrambled eggs, then beat them excessively. The pounding causes the proteins to uncurl, stretch out, and then form new connections. When egg yolks and whites are beaten together, the proteins of each react to each other. If you overwhip the eggs, you will destabilize the proteins. When the proteins are destabilized, their ability to trap air and form new connections will be pushed to the limit. The egg proteins will have nothing left to connect together during the heating process.

Do not confuse beating the egg yolk together with the egg white with beating egg whites alone. When making a meringue, soufflé, egg puff, or other recipe that relies on a great amount of air trapped in the long strands of the egg white protein, you will whip it for a very long time, often with an electric mixer, until the egg whites form stiff white peaks. This is a completely different egg preparation method than blending egg white with yolk until a creamy, even color.

If you do use an electric mixer, do not beat for more than a few seconds. After beating, set the eggs aside to relax for a few minutes before assaulting them with heat.

 

Push, Don’t Stir: Many scrambled egg recipes want you to stir the eggs to break up the solid omelet-like egg patty to make the more graceful, scrambled egg soft curds. The most effective way to “stir” is not to stir at all. The more accurate description is to push the eggs from the outer edges toward the center, occasionally, once they have begun to set in the pan. Since there is really no cooking instructional term that expresses “push around in the pan,” stir is what’s used, but it is an ill-fitting instruction.

Do not be too ambitious during this part of the cooking process. Give the eggs time to start to coagulate, and then push them toward the center so that the uncooked runny egg can flow onto the pan and the cooked mounds can be clumped together in the center.

The term for how an egg becomes firm is set in some cookbooks and curd in others, and others still use terms such as firm up, solidify, or even fluff. The point is that the eggs will change in texture and cease to be liquid.

Salt and Eggs: Salt is another point of contention. The old cookbooks’ motherly advice is that salt added to a raw egg will result in a tough cooked egg. (Spices, if desired, should be added after the eggs have started to curdle which keeps the spices suspended and cooked in the egg, instead of falling to the bottom of the pan.) Throughout this book, I have omitted salt from the recipes. Aside from the toughness issue, the amount of salt in new, compared to old, recipes is startling. Whereas a recipe in the 1900s would use a pinch, recipes today have ¼ teaspoon or more. My feeling is that you can salt an egg dish to taste after it is served.

Timing:  How long to cook scrambled eggs is also a controversial subject. Some people like their eggs cooked for a long time until very firm and rubbery. Some like them browned, and others like them still rather moist, with a glaze of not quite fully cooked egg. (The heat of the eggs will continue cooking until they are served and consumed.)

The Pan: Nonstick pans are often recommended for egg cooking. (Personally, I’m not fond of the concept of a heated plastic surface in contact with foods I am going to eat. Overheated nonstick cookware can release off toxic fumes strong enough to kill a canary or other pet bird. No thank you.) I prefer a cast iron pan that is well seasoned or a stainless steel one. Some people do not like cooking eggs in cast iron, because it can color the eggs ever so slightly. However, the heat-holding qualities of cast iron make it the easiest type of pan to cook eggs in, from my experience.

Start by heating a dry pan until water droplets dance on its surface. Then add butter or oil and get it to a high heat, but below the smoke point. (If the oil turns dark, remove the pan from the heat immediately). Be careful not to let any water get into the pan once the oil is in it, or you may be splattered with hot oil. When you have added the eggs to the pan, turn the heat down to low. Use a wooden or metal spatula, and push the eggs from the outer edges to the center.

Basic rule: lower heat + constant gentle movement = creamier eggs.

 

Dessert Hard-Boiled Eggs

old-easter-cards-505They might sound strange, but a sweetened hard-boiled egg dates back to Roman times. Egg yolks were sweetened with honey and mixed with raisins to create a dessert egg dish.  A bit shocking to some, but so obvious.  We are so used to the savory deviled (stuffed, dressed) hard-boiled eggs it never occurred to me that I could go sweet, too.  A friend mentioned a dessert egg recipe that their grandmother would make every Easter.  I’ve tried them.  They are delicious.

Another way to get kids to eat all those hard-boiled eggs they were so keen on coloring..

Maple Pecan Deviled Eggs

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
  • ¼ cup cream cheese
  • ¼ cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons (scant) maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • salt, to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped toasted pecans (topping)

Chocolate Deviled Eggs (Sweet)

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup cream cheese
  • ¼ cup superfine sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • several drops vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup whipping cream
  • cocoa powder for garnish

Butter and cream cheese are easier to work with if at room temperature. Blend. Add sugar and chocolate, add vanilla extract. Top with sweetened whipped cream, and sprinkle with cocoa powder.

 

Almost Time to Dye Eggs

smaller chicken and laundryEggs come in a variety of colors – white, light and dark brown, pink, green, but this time of year, we look for more intensely colored eggs for Easter. Aside from the purchased tablets of concentrated food dyes, or liquid food coloring, there are many  foods and flowers that can dye egg shells. They may not be as consistent, but the experimentation is a lot more fun.

You might not exactly get the colors you intend, but there is satisfaction in the process, and its a much better story to impress your friends and family with your trial-and-error efforts to “go natural”.

There are three ways to dye your eggs with foods and flowers:

  1. hard boil the eggs with the dye-source
  2. soak the already boiled eggs in a concentrated “tea” overnight in the refrigerator
  3. crush a dye source (such as fresh or frozen berries) on the egg

To allow the dye to penetrate the outer shell of the egg, add vinegar, to the liquid you will soak the egg in.

The science: Vinegar “etches’ the exterior of the egg and softens the outer layer to accept the dye.  Soak an egg for too long, or in too much, or too strong vinegar, the shell will completely dissolve, leaving the tough outer egg membrane (which is popular with some methods of pickling eggs). Why? The egg shell is made of calcium carbonate.  Vinegar is a mild (3%) solution of acetic aced.  The calcium carbonate bond is broken by the acid, and the carbonate is released as carbon dioxide, while the calcium ions float free.  The result the shell is dissolved while the egg and egg membrane are unaffected.

A teaspoon per 4 cups of liquid is sufficient. For more intense colors, add more of the dye-source (not more vinegar). The colors  also vary with the length of soaking — as long as overnight (*ideally in the refrigerator).

One of the most interesting (and variable) ways to dye eggs is with onion skins.  The problem is that you need a great quantity of skins (and who has that many onions laying around?)  I’ve only done it once — after going to a produce store and asking if I could come in for several days and collect the dried onion skins.  They were amused (to put it mildly). I came in three days in a row, and on the fourth, the shop presented me with a huge plastic bag of the onion skins. (I think they were getting tired of seeing me.)

I used six cups of onion skins (crushed) and four cups of water. Brought the mixture to a boil, and then covered and reduced the heat to a simmer and cooked them for 60 minutes.  I let the onion skin “tea” cool before, straining, adding vinegar, and then placing hard cooked eggs in the mixture.

The red onion skins produce a deep red dyed egg, and when left in the mixture, can become nearly maroon (if not left for very long the color is more lavender/violet). The yellow onion skins result in yellow/golden/orange/brown.

Juices, and red wine, can be boiled (reduced) down to make a more intense dye. Bring to a boil and simmer on the stove until about half as much of the original volume remains.

Some things may be used ‘just as they are’, such as mustard, or red wine, or even crushed berries.  The egg shells (and your hands) will pick-up color  by coating them onto the egg, or soaking the eggs into a cup-full of the stuff.

Juices (out of the bottle) can be used to dye eggs, and, best if you add some vinegar.

Seeds, herbs, leaves, flowers require boiling, and simmering to become colorants. Simmering takes a length of time (30-60 minutes) to become intense. Cool, and strain.  (Although, with the colorant can result in some interesting effects of mottling, and spotting.)

It’s not an exact science. It’s more trial and error. (Or, at least, it has been for me.) Fascinating, and perhaps time consuming, but also rewarding and interesting. And, depending on the original shell color (white, brown, tan, pinkish, greenish) the colors are even more variable and interesting. (Although, brown eggs won’t color as well as a white egg, obviously.)

The egg color result will be a matte color. You can add shine by rubbing the eggs with a drop olive oil dried with a towel.   Sometimes the colors will be splotchy (because of the vinegar etched the egg shell irregularly).

Colors to dye eggs:

PINK/RED/VIOLET/BLUE

Raspberries, blueberries (fresh or frozen); the onion skins, beets and beet juice, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, red grape juice, .cherry juice (concentrate), purple cabbage leaves (boiled), red wine, cinnamon, grape hyacinth blossoms.

BROWN/ORANGE/YELLOW

Strong Coffee (or used coffee grounds), instant coffee, black walnut shells (boiled for more than an hour), strong black tea, dill seeds (boiled – 1 cup seeds/1 cup water), mustard, carrot tops (boiled), carrot juice, celery seed (boiled), cumin (boiled), paprika (boiled), turmeric (boiled), dandelion flowers, daisies (flowers and greenery).

Deviled, Stuffed, and Dressed Hard-Boiled Eggs… YUM.

easterbunny-egg-1820-20110414-1022It’s that time of year, where we dye a bunch of hard-boiled eggs, and then we have to figure out how to use them up over the next few days.

I’ve always been a big fan of deviled, stuffed and dressed eggs.

The difference between deviled, dressed, and stuffed eggs is negligible. (A rose by any other name…)  The ingredients for all are pretty simple: take a whole, peeled hard-boiled egg cut lengthwise. Scoop out the yolk. Mash it. , enhance it, and plop it back into the empty depression on the white half.  Who hasn’t had those?

They are so popular that special plates are sold to cradle the egg halves.

Cookbooks have referenced them since the Romans (although they stuffed their hard-boiled-egg yolks with raisins and honey). In the 1500s in England, instructions appear in cookbooks to “farce” the yolks (meaning mush them up, usually with other ingredients) and re-place them in the egg. The concept is widespread, and popular worldwide.

The term deviled is a description in old cookbooks — that usually meant something  especially hot and spicy.

(Wait, no hard and fast rules here…Devil’s food chocolate cake is not hot and spicy; it was named to contrast with angel food, the exceptionally white, light, and airy sponge cake made with a great many egg whites.)

The first known reference to deviled was in an English cookbook in 1786. In the 1800’s, it was very common to find described as deviled various recipes. This was quite risque, as the usually boring bland food lacked the devilish pinch of cayenne or tiny dollop of minced horseradish.

Oh so tame by today’s chili-pepper-obsessed standards.

At the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery in 2006, Nancy R. McArthur related the following item reported in The New York Times (June 13, 1904) entitled “Angel Cake and Deviled Eggs Barred” (page 6):

“The popularity of deviled eggs was not without controversy as erupted in 1904 in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. The all-male officers of the Reformed Church voted against permitting deviled eggs and angel cake at the June fete. In their view, having deviled eggs would bring profane objects within the sacred edifice while angel cake would be sacrilegious. Women planning the fete cancelled the event in a fit of pique, refusing to bow to the will of the sanctimonious menfolk. Similar issues arose in the southern states, sometimes requiring a change in the dish’s name.”

Because of this controversy, parts of the U.S. still refer to deviled eggs as dressed or stuffed.

For years I thought that deviled eggs were ONLY egg yolk mixed with store-made jar mayonnaise. How wrong I was.

In Northern Europe, it is not uncommon to mix the yolks with stale white bread that has been soaked in milk, along with mustard and parsley. Germany is fond of stuffed eggs with anchovy and capers.  Old recipes use softened butter instead of mayonnaise. Other recipes use substitutes such as dry, Greek-style yogurt; heavy whipping cream; sour cream; cream cheese; hummus; or in the case of a mid-twentieth-century American recipe using a very American cheese-product invention, the neon-orange Cheez Whiz, for a cheesy egg concoction (No comment. I haven’t tried it.)

More-exotic binder ingredients (instead of mayonnaise) are mashed avocado, olive or other oil, and coconut milk. Additions to the egg yolk include pureed artichoke hearts; minced olives; diced sun-dried tomatoes; bits of chicken, fish, or bacon; mashed potato; bread crumbs; and ground nutmeats. In one popular variation, Russian eggs, the eggs are filled with caviar and served with a rémoulade sauce.

A couple of recipes from my collection

Deviled egg recipes all have the same instructions (unless noted): cut peeled hard-boiled eggs lengthwise; remove yolks; mash them; and add enough of a binder such as mayonnaise, butter, or yogurt to make the yolks creamy and hold them together. Mix in with other ingredients and spices. Return the yolk mixture to the center depression in the egg white (with a spoon or a pastry bag). Garnish with a spice (typically paprika) and/or other ingredients such as parsley, cilantro, or caviar

My Mother’s Deviled Eggs

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut lengthwise
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise (more or less as needed to make yolks creamy)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • paprika for garnish

Yogurt Deviled Eggs

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut lengthwise
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • Dash Tabasco sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • salt, to taste
  • Paprika, for garnish

Old-Fashioned Butter Deviled Eggs

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons softened sweet cream butter
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 teaspoons heavy cream (more or less as needed to make yolks creamy)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Paprika, for garnish

Bean Deviled Eggs

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons refried beans
  • Tabasco sauce, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced parsley
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced cilantro
  • ½ teaspoon finely minced fresh oregano (or ¼ teaspoon dried)

 

The History of Eggs Benedict

This is a rich breakfast dish, which brings to mind the relaxed dining in an expensive hotel restaurant (or ordered through room service).  It consists of two halves of a toasted English muffin, a slice of ham, a poached egg, smothered in Hollandaise sauce.  (Sadly, the closest many people have come to Eggs Benedict, is a MacDonald’s Egg McMuffin, which swaps out the Hollandaise for melted American Cheese.)

The dish is worth every bit the effort to make it. Too bad it’s history is so muddled with alternating stories all around the end of the 1800’s.

On December 19, 1942, in the column called “Talk of the Town” in The New Yorker Magazine one of the origin stories of eggs Benedict is offered.

5thAve_WaldorfAstoria_Interior_PalmGarden_1902

Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Interior Palm Garden 1902

The story, as published:

“Forty-eight years ago Lemuel Benedict came into the dining room of the old Waldorf for a late breakfast. He had a hangover & ordered buttered toast, crisp bacon, 2 poached eggs, & a hooker of hollandaise sauce, & then & there put together the dish that has, ever since, borne his name, Eggs Benedict.”  “ Oscar Tschirky, the famed maître d’hôtel, was so impressed with the dish that he put it on the breakfast and luncheon menus but substituted ham for the bacon and a toasted English muffin for the toast.”   

The year that Lemuel Benedict cited would have been around 1894.

In 1896 – Fannie Merritt Farmer’s (1857-1915) revised, edited, and reissued Mary J. Lincoln’s cookbook called The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. In it is a recipe for Eggs à la Benedict. The recipe is as follows:

Eggs à la Benedict – Split and toast English muffins. Sauté circular pieces of cold boiled ham, place these over the halves of muffins, arrange on each a dropped egg, and pour around Hollandaise Sauce II , diluted with cream to make of such consistency to pour easily.”

In September, 1967, in an column in The New York Times Magazine, Craig Clairborne wrote about a letter he had received from an Edward P. Montgomery, regarding a recipe given to him by his mother, who had received it from her brother, a friend of the Commodore E.C. Benedict, a banker and yachtsman, who died in 1920, at the ripe age of 86 years old. Presuming that the Commodore was in his 30’s when the dish was created in his name, the year would have been around 1894.

Two months later, (November 1967)  in a letter to the editor published in the New York Times Magazine, Mable C. Butler of Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts corrected Mr. Clairborne’s accounting of the origins of Eggs Benedict.   She claimed to be a relative of Mrs. Le Grand Benedict.  Mr. and Mrs. Benedict dined every Saturday at Delmonico’s.  She asked the maitre d’hotel if there were anything new to suggest. He asked her what sounded to her.  She suggested poached eggs on toasted English muffins, with a thin slice of ham, hollandaise sauce and a truffle on top.

To back this version up, Delmonico’s Chef Ranhofer published a recipe called Eggs a’ la Benedick (Eufa a’ la Benedick) in his The Epicurean cookbook called The Epicurean published in 1894.  His Eggs à la Benedick recipe:

“A round of cooked ham an eighth of an inch thick and of the same diameter as the muffins one each half. Heat in a moderate oven and put a poached egg on each toast. Cover the whole with Hollandaise sauce.”

The problem is, as with all food history, and all invention history, for that matter, great ideas are often considered by different people, at the same time.  It is possible that multiple people came up with the same idea at the same. It is possible that some version of this recipe was published in one of the many magazines or newspapers of the day.  Or, it is possible that some of these people were related, ran in the same circles (as they dined in expensive restaurants) and one, or several heard of the dish, and was curious to try it.  . It is also possible that Mr. and Mrs. Benedict had heard of the dish suggested by Lemuel Benedict (or visa versa).  Perhaps they were related?  Perhaps the combination was obvious given the food trends of the era was an obvious one.  Sometimes food combinations invent themselves.  After all, who really invented peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?  Obvious pairings are meant to be together.

Eggs Benedict for Two

4 fresh English muffins

8 pieces of thin sliced lean ham cut into rounds the size of the muffins

8 eggs

¾ of a cup of Hollandaise sauce

Lightly toast the muffins then spread them with butter. Grill the ham and place one piece on each muffin.  Poach the egg by bringing 4 cups of water to a boil, then reducing the heat to simmer.  Crack an egg into a soup ladle and gently lower the eggs, individually into the hot water.  Roll the eggs over to keep the whites close to the eggs. Cook to desired doneness (although, ideally, the egg yolk should still be somewhat runny).    Place the Canadian Bacon on the muffing, add the poached egg on top, and smother the whole thing with several tablespoons of Hollandaise sauce.  Serve

Hollandaise Sauce

769px-Jehan_Georges_Vibert_-_The_Marvelous_Sauce,_ca._1890,_Albright-Knox_Art_Gallery

Jehan Georges Vibert “The Marvelous Sauce” 1890 (oil on wood) in the collection of the Albright Knox Art Gallery

There are many variations on how to make a good egg sauce.  Cook books and website will promote various techniques, some of which are benign, some which are completely wrong.  You do not want to even try to make the “easy” blender or food processor aided techniques to emulsify a sauce. The “simple blender Hollandaise” recipes (more often than not) result in a lumpy, odd textured sauce. The idea of making a Bernaise sauce by making a basic mayonnaise (same concept, both are an emulsification of egg yolk and oil), then heating it often results in a strange texture.  I’m not saying it cannot be done, but I am saying that I have yet to find anyone who has succeeded with these techniques.

Just like making mayonnaise, though, there are many recommendations.   Some cooking experts will tell you to start with nearly frozen butter, cut into small cubes, and let the butter melt as you blend it with the yolk over heat.  (It works. It can take a long time for the butter to melt, but the end result is fine.)  Some recipes make no distinction on the temperature of the butter, but instruct one to use the pan directly on low heat, and move it off the heat when needed to control the temperature.  Other recipes recommend an extra step, to start, by clarifying the butter first (which I prefer) and then mixing the oil into the yolk similar to how to make mayonnaise, only over a double boiler (bane marie).

Actually, these emulsified sauces are nearly identical to mayonnaise in technique and in texture. The only difference is the added heat during the making of the sauce, and the resulting warm sauce.   The reason to not make the sauce cold and then heat it, is that the emulsified cold sauce (except under the most gentle of heat) will break frightfully easy.

My husband insists that clarified butter is an unneeded step. That any butter will work, salted or not, although the only butter he usually has on hand is unsalted butter.  He has made Hollandaise and Bernaise sauces hundreds of times. I, on the other hand, have only made the sauce with a clarified butter, but have made mayonnaise many times, and I like a liquid oil to mix into the egg yolk, because I find it easier to control, and more familiar.   Since we both come up with the same basic end result, I suppose it’s only a matter of which directions you care to follow, and practice with. One thing is for certain, this is a sauce that you have to be prepared to practice, and make routinely, until you get the techniques foolproof, or nearly so. The key is to not get frustrated. Once you have the hang of it, its an easy, and elegant sauce to “whip up”.

I always use a bain marie (double boiler) to make a Hollandaise or Bernaise sauce.  The gentle heat slows the cooking time, and provides more even, gentle heat.  (A double boiler is also necessary if you need to “hold” the sauce to wait for the rest of the meal to finish cooking.) It also allows more time to fix a “break”.  And, it also reminds me to “go slow” and to not rush.

If the egg in the sauce begins to curdle, you can strain the sauce through several layers of cheese cloth, return the liquid to the pan, and add a new egg yolk, and try again.  Addition of some very, very cold water (a teaspoon to a tablespoon) can cool the sauce temperature down enough to stop the break.  (Then, whisk energetically to get the egg proteins to smooth out, and accept more oil.)   If a sauce breaks, it breaks.  Everyone has it happen, sometimes.  When it does, just start over, and go slower and you’ll find success.

How to Make Clarified Butter

Clarified butter, also known as drawn butter, (similar to ghee, which is heated at low temperatures longer) is butter that you have removed all residual whey, and milk solids from.  Butter, in the stick, from the carton, has a pale yellow color because milk solids (aka whey and leftover bits of milk solids) are still mixed in.  These remaining bits scorch at a lower temperature (250-300 degree smoke point) than the butter fat alone (325 to 450 degree smoke point).

To remove the whey and milk solids, melt the butter on very low heat until the butter simmers. As the butter simmers three layers will develop. The foamy scum on the surface (the whey) and a darker layer on the bottom of the pan (milk solids).  Carefully remove the foam with a spoon (and reserve for other uses. It’s fantastic on vegetables, or popcorn).  Then strain the butterfat through several layers of cheesecloth to remove the milk solids that have collected, and hardened at the bottom.   The clarified butter, in the center, will be an amber color.     This extra step will make a huge difference in sauce creation.   (Never use salted butter as the salt can cause the yolks to curdle.  Once salt is in butter, it cannot be removed.)

1lb of butter will yield, roughly, 1½ cups of clarified butter.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE RECIPE

This is a sauce that has a lemony flavor. It is butter and eggs emulsified over heat. The sauce is rich and smooth, but not oily. It is served hot over vegetables (asparagus, broccoli) red meats, fish, game, and eggs (like Eggs Benedict).

Hollandaise Sauce

½ cup clarified butter

3 raw egg yolks

4 tablespoons boiling water

1½ teaspoons heated lemon juice

Few grains cayenne

(2 tablespoons ice water, if needed)

Start with ¾ cup butter, and heat slowly on low heat.  Let the butter separate into whey, butter fat and milk solids.   Skim off whey, strain to remove milk solids.  Measure ½ cup butter, and set aside

In a separate pan heat 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice and heat until boiling.  Remove from heat and strain to remove seeds and pulp.  Set aside.  Heat ½ cup of water.  Set aside

In a bowl separate egg yolks from whites.  Whisk yolks for several seconds to blend well. Put egg yolks into double boiler, over boiling water.   Whisk until they begin to thicken. Add ¼ teaspoon of water, and mix in well.  Add ¼ teaspoon more, until all is mixed in to the yolk.

Turn off heat, but let yolks remain in double boiler over simmering hot water.  Whisk the egg yolks constantly.  Add several drops of the warmed lemon juice. Whisk in well.  Then, add warm melted butter in a thin stream, in small amounts, and continue to whisk until the egg absorbs the butter, then add more.  The more completely the yolk can absorb the liquid the better.

Slow down if the emulsification starts to “break” (curdle), and add a small amount of ice water to cool the sauce, if it does start to break.

Keep adding a drop or two of lemon juice, and then small amounts of butter until it is all incorporated into the yolks.  The mixture should be creamy and smooth. Once all the butter, yolks, and lemon juice are one smooth, thick emulsification add cayenne.