I was 23 years old the first time I poached an egg (not to mention even trying to make Eggs Florentine).
I had been out of college for about a year, and aside from scheduling my own dental appointments, my list of personal achievements was fairly short.
On a breezy spring morning in May, I piled my hair into a knot, rolled up my pajama sleeves and embarked on my first poaching adventure.
Ten minutes later, I was in a screaming match with my stove.
“I guess I just crack it and drop it — OH GOD IT’S EVERYWHERE”
“WHY IS THE EGG WHITE FLOATING? DO I POKE IT?”
“Shit I forgot to start the timer. How long has it been? 1 minute? 8 MINUTES??”
*glances at bewildered boyfriend* “Don’t you dare come in the kitchen right now.”
Needless to say, the first attempt was a wash. I jotted down some notes.
Mistake #1: Googled “how to poach an egg” and picked first recipe I saw
Mistake #2: Underestimated how hard it is to hold hands near boiling water
Mistake #3: Didn’t drink a mimosa prior to cooking
The interwebs is fraught with misinformation about basic cooking skills, so I should’ve known better than to google something as delicate as the art of poaching. For my next attempt, I pulled out my Bible: How To Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. I refer to this book at least once a day, because it has literally everything and I don’t have to sort through 37 online cooking misadventures to find a reliable recipe.
I won’t regale you with the tales of the next 14 attempts, or the Great Hollandaise Massacre of 2014, but I will say this took a lot of trial and error before I got it down. I suppose I could have cheated and purchased a $14 poaching apparatus from Amazon, but . . . well, whatever, I didn’t do that so let’s just move on.
Beyond poaching an egg, the trickiest part about eggs benny is the timing. You’re toasting, boiling, poaching, frying and possibly sauteing simultaneously, and even a few seconds over can annihilate the final product. My two pieces of advice:
- Keep your oven or toaster oven preheated to “warm,” about 200º F. That way, when you finish cooking something early, you have somewhere to store it while you finish the rest.
- Have everything measured out and ready to add beforehand. Fumbling around with measuring spoons and lids in the heat of [brunching] battle is a rookie move.
The following recipe is inspired by the first breakfast I ever had in London. (The lumpy croissant and congealed jam they served me on the plane did not count.) It was a characteristically drizzly and slate-gray London morning in December. As we trudged through the narrow Soho streets, I tried to hide how grumpy I was at having not yet eaten at the absurd hour of 11:00am. Just as my hanger was about to take over, we happened upon Bill’s, a sprawling corner restaurant at the intersection of Lexington and Brewer. We ducked inside to discover the coziest interior: exposed ductwork and mismatched chandeliers swung from the ceilings above unstained wooden tables. The built-in shelves lining the walls were dressed to the nines in colorful yarn, jams, jellies and juices. After skimming the menu, I zeroed in on an eggs benny item with spinach and pumpkin seeds. It came flying out of the kitchen in what seemed like minutes after we placed the order and thoroughly exceeded my expectations; scrumptious, savory, and slathered in thick hollandaise. Below you will find the instructions on how to recreate this special meal, and if you’re ever in London, do yourself a serious favor and pop into Bill’s for a toasty morning meal.
Soho Eggs Florentine
Eggs Benedict served over sauteed spinach and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds
1 serving (2 eggs)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp distilled white vinegar
- ⅔ cup raw baby spinach
- 1 english muffin
- ½ cup shelled pumpkin seeds
- Butter or olive oil, to saute spinach
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Tin foil
- Slotted spoon
- 2 shallow mason jars or small bowls
- Sauce pan
- An aluminum or glass bowl to place over a sauce pan
- Stopwatch (I just use the one on my phone)
For the hollandaise (makes ½ cup):
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ stick butter (4 TBSP)
- ½-1 TSBP of fresh lemon juice
- ¼ tsp of salt
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Pinch of ground mustard
- A splash of warm water, if needed
- Spread pumpkin seeds over an ungreased foil-covered cookie sheet. Bake at 350º for 3-4 minutes, or until the seeds start to brown. Put to the side.
- Fill a sauce pan with 2 inches of water and heat over high heat.
- While water is starting to heat up, begin toasting the english muffin. Keep an eye on it, and make sure to take it out if it looks like it might burn.
- Also while the water is heating, heat olive oil or butter in a small saute pan over low-medium heat. Add spinach, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat after 8-10 minutes.
- When the water starts to boil, add the vinegar and salt. Take a broad, flat utensil (like a spatula) and G-E-N-T-L-Y stir the water once, and then once more in the opposite direction. You want the water to be as still as possible before dropping the egg in. Turn heat to low.
- This is important. Make sure you have your eggs already cracked open and sitting in the mason jars/small bowls.
- Set up your phone with the stopwatch ready to go.
- Gently pour the egg from the jar into the water, holding it as close to the water as you can. Hopefully the water is still enough that the egg doesn’t splat in 5 different directions. Hit “start” on the stopwatch immediately.
- Add the second egg to the water in the same way. Make sure you are paying attention to which egg went in first (right vs left side of the pan, e.g.). As soon as the egg has been dropped in, hit the “lap” button on the stopwatch. If you don’t have that, note how many seconds have gone by since the first egg went in.
- The magic number is somewhere between 3 minutes 20 seconds and 3 minutes 25 seconds, depending on how quickly you add eggs after the water is reduced from a boil to a simmer. Check in on your english muffin – if it’s been done, pop it back in the preheated oven to keep it warm. If it’s just finishing toasting, turn off the heat and let it sit.
- Have a small microwave-safe plate ready beside the stove. When the stopwatch hits 3:20/3:25, dip your slotted spoon into the water and scoop out the FIRST egg that went in. Transfer to plate.
- Watch the stop watch. If you put in the second egg 15 seconds after the first, wait until 3:35/3:40 to take it out. Transfer to the same plate.
- Hold the plate over the sink and tilt to the side to drain any excess water. Hold the spatula against the eggs so they don’t slide off.
- Put plate in the preheated oven to keep the eggs warm while you prepare the hollandaise. If the spinach is getting cold, put that in a dish to place in the oven too.
For the hollandaise:
- Place the glass or aluminum bowl on top of the sauce pan filled with water. Turn heat to low. I just use the same sauce pan I used to poach the eggs.
- Melt butter in a separate bowl in the microwave.
- Pour butter in the bowl sitting on top of the sauce pan.
- Add egg yolks, salt, lemon juice, cayenne, and dried mustard. Whisk together until the mixture thickens.
- Stir frequently until you are ready to pour over the eggs. If you notice the hollandaise starting to get chunky or more solid than liquid, move the bowl to the counter top and continue stirring. If needed, add a TINY splash of warm water and keep stirring to smooth it out.
- Now it’s time to assemble! Spoon the spinach onto the english muffins. Use the spatula to carefully transfer the eggs from their plate. Drizzle hollandaise over the top of each egg, and top with pumpkin seeds. Ready to serve!
Practice makes perfect! Don’t be discouraged if you encounter a few hiccups. It will get better with each brunch and soon you’ll be a poaching ninja.