By GREGORY BEYER
THE story of eggs Benedict is a hard one to tell. The beginning is shady at best, the main character has a hangover, and there are decades when nothing much happens. But the genre is certain, and the setting clear: Eggs Benedict is a mystery rooted in a long-vanished version of New York. Despite the dish’s twisted history, it provides a link to one of the city’s more glamorous eras.
Of eggs Benedict’s origins, much has been said, but little has been settled. Key witnesses are long dead. One cookbook contradicts another. Even the Oxford English Dictionary shrugs: “Origins U.S.” What remains is a recipe that for about a century has come to represent something greater than the sum of its ingredients.
The Wise Bard has returned. It is late Sunday morning, I'm hungry, and it's time for brunch. Voila: the NYT features a story on the origins of eggs Benedict.
Trouble three ways. Let me count them. First, there is the Canadian bacon (originally, we are told, conventional bacon, then ham, before achieving its current apotheosis). Gross trayf--no way around it. Second, the combination of meat with hollandaise sauce--meat and dairy, another no go. Is this a classic non-starter?
Well, like Brother Benedict (who presumably would not have recognized one of my tribe as a "brother"), I've taken to asking restaurant chefs for what I have termed "eggs Moishe", substituting smoked salmon for the Canadian bacon. This eliminates the pork, and finesses the meat/milk problem. It also tastes quite good. Even better if I can convince the chef to add some artichoke hearts, New Orleans style. (Herewith the indispensable references: my local favorite is eggs sardou: Brennan's Restaurant, Commander's Palace)
Interesting to note that on the Times' account, eggs Benedict were named for the inventive, if somewhat hung-over, patron at the Waldorf, who first constructed them (with assistance from Oscar of the Waldorf) back around 1893. Probably too late for "eggs Wise Bard". And I prefer "eggs Moishe", anyway. The triumph of identity politics, I suppose.
There are also plausible arguments for "eggs Miriam" --associated with water, necessary for the salmon-- and, perhaps, "eggs Nachshon." Nachshon was a courageous innovator in wading into dangerous spawning waters, and he hasn't received adequate culinary recognition thus far. Not even a goblet on the seder table. He may even have bagged some fish on his way across. Actually, I think I'll go with "eggs Nachshon" in the future.
But I was counting ways, and haven't yet penetrated to the third, the critical bottom layer: the English muffin (originally toast, reports the Times. Thank goodness for Oscar of the Waldorf, who changed that). English muffins work fine with smoked salmon and hollandaise (with or without the artichoke hearts). But not today. It's still Passover.
I would not waste good salmon and hollandaise on a piece of matzoh, even egg matzoh. There are standards to be upheld, and a good name to be maintained.
It will have to be matzoh brei for me, again, this morning.
What's that, Phyllis? You're sick of fried matzoh already? Motzoh hot cereal? Oy vay!
Good to be home, and back. TWB.