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The history of Eggs Benedict
You can find eggs Benedict on most brunch menus, but uncovering the truth about who inspired the iconic dish is a much harder task. Served on a split English muffin, the dish consists of two slices of Canadian bacon topped with poached eggs, drizzled with tangy Hollandaise sauce. The New York Times has called it “conceivably the most sophisticated dish created in America.”
But who was the Benedict behind the dish that has accompanied countless Bloody Marys and inspired the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin? With many chefs experimenting with variations of eggs on toast throughout the ages, the answer, it turns out, is murky. (Here are the world’s most contagious myths and misconceptions—debunked.)
Some food historians think the concept of eggs Benedict may date back to the Benedictine monks of the Renaissance, who ate a dish of poached egg served on top of pureed salt cod, the Washington Post reports. Others who have laid claim to inventing eggs Benedict were far less monastic. In fact, they both involve wealthy New Yorkers who got inventive with the menu.
The first account dates back to 1894, according to a story that ran in The New Yorker. It said that when Lemuel Benedict, a Wall Street broker, was hungover one morning, he ordered some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of Hollandaise sauce at what was then known as the Waldorf Hotel. “The Waldorf’s legendary chef, Oscar Tschirky, was so impressed,” the article continued, “that he put the dish on his breakfast and lunch menus after substituting Canadian bacon for crisp bacon and a toasted English muffin for toasted bread.”
Or the inspiration for the dish could have been the wife of another well-known Wall Street financier, LeGrand Benedict. According to that story, Benedict’s wife wasn’t satisfied with the selection when she and her husband dined out for lunch at the famous Manhattan restaurant Delmonico’s. The wife reportedly held a brainstorming session with legendary Chef Charles Ranhofer or the maître d’, and eggs Benedict was conceived.
To add to the confusion, Tschirky reportedly never confirmed the story, while Ranhofer published a cookbook called The Epicurean in 1894 that included a recipe for “Eggs a la Benedick.”
Then in 1967, another theory emerged. The New York Times’s famous food critic, Craig Claiborne, wrote that an American living in Paris named Edward P. Montgomery had contacted him, expressing outrage at how Americans were preparing eggs Benedict: “A concoction of an overpoached egg or a few shards of ham on a—ugh!—soggy tough half of an English muffin with an utterly tasteless Hollandaise.”
Montgomery claimed that the dish was originally conceived by Commodore E.C. Benedict, “a noted banker and yachtsman who died in 1920 at age 86.” Montgomery wrote that he got Benedict’s recipes from his mother, who had gotten it from her brother, who had been friendly with the Commodore.
What’s not in question is that people are passionate about their eggs Benedict. The son of Lemuel Benedict’s cousin, Jack Benedict, was reportedly upset in March 1978, when an article in Bon Appetit credited LeGrand Benedict and his wife with the creation of the breakfast staple, according to the New York Times. He eventually even opened a restaurant in Colorado dedicated to eggs Benedict, but it eventually closed.
One well-known Benedict who likely had nothing to do with inventing Eggs Benedict? Benedict Arnold, the Revolutionary War hero-turned-traitor who died in 1801.
Next, learn more about the quirky origins of your favourite foods.