By Chef Buddy Wolfe
In a city that loves its Sunday brunches, the Eggs Benedict has eternal star power. Chef Buddy Wolfe of Jam Café celebrates the Benny in all its variations and shares a saucy secret.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, perhaps the original foodie, once quipped, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” In Victoria … we eat brunch.
The somewhat hazy history of brunch as we know it may have begun to develop on Sundays, perhaps as an after-church meal, especially for Catholics, whose religion necessitated fasting before mass. A portmanteau of the words breakfast and lunch, the word first appears in 1895 in a Guy Beringer essay Brunch: A Plea, in which he advocates for a meal which would “… make life brighter for Saturday night carousers.”
On a dreary Sunday morning in Victoria, you’ll find no shortage of carousers and brunch aficionados waiting in lines all over town to sample the wares of local chefs, to nurse hangovers with overflowing Mimosas and Caesars and to indulge in a variety of breakfast sweets and as many applications of pork as you can dream up. Now a truly and wholly North American pastime, brunch is a cultural standard, served on the weekends, usually from late morning to early afternoon. It’s a time where family and friends will gather to reflect on their week, recover from the previous night and eat those things that maybe they shouldn’t be eating.
The Glorious Benny
Probably the classic dish most associated with brunch — and one many people use as the standard for the quality of an establishment — is the Eggs Benedict, that ethereal dish of crispy English muffin, lightly smoked and savoury ham, and perfectly poached eggs. Of course, the dish would not be complete without the ubiquitous Sauce Hollandaise, that tangy buttery lightness that graces the tops of eggs the world over.
Like most dishes, the origin of Eggs Benedict is debated amongst gourmands, but it is universally agreed to be an American creation, albeit using classic French techniques. The creation of this dish has been associated with Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans, as well as both the Waldorf Hotel and Delmonico’s in New York City.
The godfather of modern cuisine, Georges-Auguste Escoffier, once said, “La bonne cuisine est la base du véritable bonheur” or “Good food is the foundation of true happiness.” He was responsible for creating what we understand as the modern brigade-style of kitchen organization as well as categorizing the classic canon of French sauces, most of which were developed by Antonin Carême in the early 19th century.
Hollandaise sauce, a staple of Eggs Benedict, is one of the five classic French ‘mother sauces’ from which almost all classic and modern sauces are derived. Although the true origin of Hollandaise sauce is still debated, it is generally accepted that the emulsion of egg yolks and butter, seasoned with an acidic component (vinegar and/or lemon juice) and salt, pepper and cayenne, was based on a sauce originating from the Netherlands; hence the name Hollandaise.
Nowadays, we’re seeing somewhat of a renaissance in kitchens the world over as chefs and customers alike seek to find new and fun ways of experiencing what some may consider to be ‘dated’ dishes. Gone are the fancy and finicky dishes of yesteryear; enter the new breakfast and brunch ‘joints.’ Call it the greasy spoon meets haute cuisine, gourmet comfort food or farm-to-fork cooking, but all of these ideas have one thing in common, which is taking your grandmother’s dish and spicing it up. Here are some great new variations of Eggs Benedict that can be found around Victoria:
• Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Roasted Corn Salsa, Classic Hollandaise (Jam Café)
• Montreal Smoked Meat, Caramelized Onion, Swiss Cheese, Roasted Garlic Hollandaise (Shine Café)
• Pulled Pork, Sweet Bell Peppers, Roasted Jalapeno Aïoli (Blue Fox Café)
• Minted Sweet Pea Pesto, Bacon, Goat Cheese, Hollandaise (Lady Marmalade)
In order to truly understand a variation on a dish, you must understand it in its most basic form, so below is a recipe for a basic Hollandaise sauce. Once you’ve developed this, you can create endless variations by adding different ingredients.
Buddy Wolfe’s Hollandaise recipe
• 6 egg yolks
• 1 lb butter, unsalted and clarified
• 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
• 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
• 5 tbsp water
Add all ingredients (except the butter) to a double boiler; whisk constantly over medium heat. When the yolks thicken to the consistency of thick cream, remove from heat and slowly add warmed butter, whisking constantly. If the sauce is too thick, add an extra tablespoon of warm water while making it. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 8-12 servings.