Southern Angola, early nineties...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Eggs Benedict

This has got to be one of the nicest breakfasts one could ever wish for. The recipe calls for English Muffins. I did ask for them at the South African shop near the port of Luanda but didn’t get any joy. Not surprising really as any South African with ‘van’ in his name is likely to be descended from someone who suffered terribly at the hands of the English and would no more stock anything from the old country than a Republican would serve Borsht. So, if you cannot get muffins, use thick sliced white bread instead.

Eggs Benedict uses ham or bacon. A variation, Eggs Florentine substitutes the ham or bacon for spinach. Well, as I said the to the maitre d' hotel in Port Gentil, ‘why not use both?’

One thing Africa does not seem to be short of is aluminium pots and bowls. Eggs, vinegar, artisan bread, these things were quite often available around vilages so it was perfectly possible to rustle up this quite exotic breakfast over a charcoal fire in the bush. With duck eggs, the dish is supreme. There are places, in Angola especially, where you can drive for hours and not see a soul. Stop to relieve yourself, however, and as you tuck the jewels away and look up, there'll be a row of faces solemnly watching you. I never managed to cook without a big audience but they were always, without exception, very polite. Even the kids. If I did something stupid lke burn myself on a hot pot and then treat the countryside to a series of Anglo Saxon expletives, they would hide their titters behind a hand, only the bright eyes and convulsions giving the game away.

For this dish you will need:

An egg
English Muffins or thick sliced white bread.
Lean back bacon with any rind cut off.
Spinach or any other succulent green leaves. Lettuce is no good once steamed so, if you decide to use lettuce (and why not?), use it raw.
Sauce Hollandaise
Finely chopped parsley
If it is past 11 0’clock, you are somewhere civilised and the cricket is on, a pint of Boddington’s Bitter to wash the dish down (oh, how I dream of the Cream of Manchester)

First up, make the Sauce Hollandaise (see basics 2)
Start the process of poaching an egg (or however many eggs you need for the number of people you intend to serve). If you do not have an egg poacher, place some of the hot water from the Bain Marie you used to make the Sauce Hollandaise into a pot, wipe the inside of a teacup with olive oil, crack an egg into it and place the cup in the pot (the water should come a third of the way up the cup), cover with a lid and simmer for three or four minutes.
Lightly toast the muffin or slice of bread.
Fry up the rindless bacon in butter. We want the bacon to be soft, not crispy and free of crunchy gristle or tough rind.
Remove the bacon and place to one side
Place the muffin or slice of bread serving face down in the frying pan to soak up the bacon fat and toast a little more.
Remove the muffin/toast, pour an egg cup full of water into the pan and add the spinach/succulent leaves and cover the pan. Steam the leaves for five minutes or so until they are nicely soft.

Place a muffin half, or slice of toast, onto the plate fried side up. Smear a smidgin of Sauce Hollandaise over the bread and then cover with a bed of spinach or whatever leaves you are using. Lay the bacon over this and then the poached egg on top. With the bacon and the seasoning of the sauce, it is unlikely that you will need any salt but a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper would not hurt. Spoon Sauce Hollandaise over the top, add a sprinkle of chopped Parsley for garnish and serve. Sometimes I like to quickly brown the dish under the grill before serving and, if I am in the mood, ocasionally I like to place a slice of cheese on the bread while the bread is still hot, fresh out of the pan, before placing the spinach and other layers.

And this is the point I am making about my attitude to cooking. Recipes are a guide, no more. If you want to substitute all the meat and veg and replace them with seaweed and poached oysters, go ahead, I bet it would taste great!

Some of my colleagues are serving right now as I write, in countries where Pork, along with alcohol and scantily clad women (all the good things that life has to offer) are frowned upon. Try replacing the bacon with thinly sliced calves liver. Fry the liver up as you would the bacon, perhaps with half a finely chopped shallot, it should only take seconds, and then make up the dish as normal. Trust me, it is outstanding and will give you enough energy to lug that GPMG all day long.

No comments: