Shell shock

Eggs bene­dict with Delia

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Stephen Bush Stephen Bush is cook­ing his way through Delia’s Com­plete How To Cook (BBC Books, £40) in a year; @stephenkb You can watch Delia Smith’s free On­line Cook­ery School videos at deliaon­line.com; @DeliaOn­line

The trick to eggs is to un­der­stand that they are not a food, but a birth­place ...

Good prepa­ra­tion,” it was once said, “is at the heart of a suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tion.” Who it ac­tu­ally was who first said that is lost to time, but no jour­nal­ist has ever been sacked for falsely at­tribut­ing a quote to Win­ston Churchill, so let’s say it was him.

To adapt Churchill (pos­si­bly) for the kitchen: good prepa­ra­tion is at the heart of a suc­cess­ful eggs bene­dict: and that starts with choos­ing your eggs.

“What we have to do be­fore we even be­gin cook­ing,” Delia writes, “is to try to un­der­stand what eggs are and how they work.” And the trick to un­der­stand­ing eggs is to un­der­stand that they are not a food, but a birth­place, de­signed not to pro­vide a handy kitchen sta­ple but to bring more chick­ens into the world.

To keep the chick go­ing while it’s in there, there’s a tiny lit­tle air pocket within the egg’s shell. This pocket is great news if you are a chick but ter­ri­ble news if your eggs are any­thing less than fresh, as the longer the egg is left, the big­ger the pocket gets, dry­ing out the eggs and mak­ing it harder to sep­a­rate the white from the yolk – and mak­ing poach­ing next to im­pos­si­ble.

If your eggs are fresh, poach­ing them ac­cord­ing to the Delia method is so easy you could get a mon­key to do it, pro­vided you had some way of ca­jol­ing the mon­key into re­triev­ing the poached egg af­ter it had sat in hot wa­ter for 10 min­utes.

If your eggs are less than fresh, how­ever, things can get a lit­tle tricky. Your eggs are just as likely to dis­solve as they are to form suc­cess­ful poached eggs. The one piece of good news I have is this: if you can­not re­call which one of the two boxes of eggs in your cupboard is the fresh one and it only be­comes painfully clear that you have cho­sen the wrong box when the egg turns into mush the sec­ond it hits the wa­ter, don’t worry: the wa­ter it­self will still serve per­fectly well with a fresh egg.

Of course, there’s more to an eggs bene­dict than sim­ply poach­ing an egg. The good news is, af­ter not much prac­tice, the time it takes to pre­pare the hol­landaise sauce fits ex­actly into the amount of time you need to leave the poached egg in the hot wa­ter, mean­ing that all your in­gre­di­ents should be nice and hot when you whack them on a muf­fin.

The bad news is, if you fol­low Delia’s in­struc­tions, un­less you have a very, very, very steady hand, you will end up with not a nice, thick hol­landaise sauce but some­thing rather thin­ner. Un­less you can get that melted but­ter in as steady a stream as pos­si­ble, you will end up with a sauce that tastes like hol­landaise, but cer­tainly doesn’t look like it.

There are two so­lu­tions for this: the first is to add a tea­spoon of cream to the mix, which gets you the right con­sis­tency but is a one-way road to heart fail­ure. The sec­ond, more artery-friendly, way is to dou­ble the amount you put in of ev­ery­thing else, and add a tea­spoon of corn­flour. I grad­u­ated dur­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, so, un­der the as­sump­tion that I won’t have a pen­sion to col­lect should I live that long, I use cream. How’s that for fi­nan­cial plan­ning?

That done, sim­ply whack your poached egg on a piece of muf­fin along­side some pancetta, put it un­der the grill for a few sec­onds, and there you go. An eggs bene­dict wor­thy of any good cafe.

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