Eggs Benedict is an American breakfast or brunch dish.
The dish is composed of an English muffin topped with Canadian bacon, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce.
English muffins are a small, round, flat yeast-leavened bread which is commonly sliced horizontally, toasted, and buttered.
Canadian bacon is the American name for a form of back bacon that is cured, smoked and fully cooked, trimmed into cylindrical medallions, and thickly sliced. “Canadian” bacon is made only from the lean eye of the loin and is ready to eat. Its flavor is described as more ham-like than other types because of its lean cut.
Hollandaise sauce a rich and creamy concoction made with egg yolks, butter, lemon juice or vinegar, and various seasonings.
The dish is believed to have originated in New York City during the 1800s.
There are several stories about how Eggs Benedict started.
There have been many “Benedicts” who have tried to claim credit for the invention of the dish, but they are all frauds. A “benedict” was slang for a newly married gent who had been single for a very long time. Many of these “benedict” did not take well to married life and often sought refuge of strange beds and bedfellows. It is for them that the dish was named.
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.
Delmonico’s in Lower Manhattan says on its menu that “Eggs Benedict was first created in our ovens in 1860.” One of its former chefs, Charles Ranhofer, also published the recipe for Eggs à la Benedick in 1894.
By 1931, in the Waldorf-Astoria, eggs Benedict had been enshrined as a classic American dish and a fixture in a hotel that served presidents, movie stars and foreign dignitaries.
In an interview recorded in the “Talk of the Town” column of The New Yorker in 1942, the year before his death, Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street stock broker, said that he had wandered into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 and, hoping to find a cure for his morning hangover, ordered “buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and hollandaise sauce”. Oscar Tschirky, the 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.
A later claim to the creation of eggs Benedict was circuitously made by Edward P. Montgomery on behalf of Commodore E. C. Benedict. In 1967 Montgomery wrote a letter to then The New York Times food columnist Craig Claiborne which included a recipe he said he had received through his uncle, a friend of the commodore. Commodore Benedict’s recipe—by way of Montgomery—varies greatly from Ranhofer’s version, particularly in the hollandaise sauce preparation—calling for the addition of a “hot, hard-cooked egg and ham mixture”.
In any case, the respective chefs at each restaurant continued to serve the dish thereafter, and it has remained a popular breakfast and brunch dish across the United States and elsewhere ever since.
The lasting power of this dish may be due to the ingredients that are so easily replaced by more-regional ones, whether it is corned beef for an Irish rendition or crab cakes in the Washington, D.C., area. Other variations include eggs Florentine (prepared in the same manner as eggs Benedict except with spinach used in place of the Canadian bacon) and the Creole-style eggs Sardou (poached eggs, artichoke bottoms, and creamed spinach, topped with hollandaise sauce and sometimes shrimp), which was named for the French dramatist Victorien Sardou, who frequented New Orleans, where this take on the dish originated.
National Eggs Benedict Day is a little-known observance celebrated on April 16.