Beginning at the Beginning, with Breakfast


Crumby sex has a different meaning to me. I rate breakfast in bed, naked, thighs dusted with the imprint of the Sunday paper headlines, as one of life’s greatest joys.

Creamy scrambled eggs, a spot of toast and bacon, which is a mandatory part of pretty much every meal I eat, suits me fine, right down to the crumbs lingering uncomfortably in the creases of my skin and the all too decipherable impressions left in the butter.

But what are the delights of marmalade smeared on pillowcases and coffee rings on the bedside table to that more singular of pleasures, the basis of which is butter, egg yolks and lemon juice? I am talking, of course, about Hollandaise.
It is unclear whether I have a Mr, a Commodore, or a Mrs Benedict to thank for the creation of the doyenne of breakfast dishes, Eggs Benedict. But all tales of the dish’s genesis are unanimous in their assertion that it was conceived to strike its creator out of a breakfast rut. This person was serious about the first and most important meal of the day, and I think that they would agree that it requires the total self-centred focus, which is only achievable through dining alone.

Eating alone and enjoying it is an unacknowledged art, which is due a revival. Cooking only to satisfy your own cravings is a self-revelatory experience – like going on a meditative retreat, albeit one where a menu of wheatgrass is replaced with double cream. There’s nothing like the heavy silence of a steamy kitchen, water at a cautious simmer as a fat orange yolk slips to the bottom of the bain marie, attuning yourself to little kitchen miracles like emulsification or a poached egg finally forming itself into a perfect teardrop after years of practise. Just as Woody Allen says, ‘don’t knock masturbation: it’s sex with someone I love’, the creation and eating of Eggs Benedict is the ultimate masturbatory experience.

Whilst I remain essentially faithful to this original incarnation of the seriously wonderful eggs-and-hollandaise formula, I’ve been known to play away. Next I want to try Eggs Sardou, a variation which substitutes the muffin and ham for artichoke bottoms and crossed anchovy fillets, and tops the Hollandaise with chopped ham and sliced truffles. I cannot recommend enough what, as far as I am aware, is my own variation – a disc of crispy fried bread, chanterells sautéed with a touch of lemon juice and thyme, topped off with the legendary duo.

And if you’re going to cook for pleasure rather than fuel, you have to treat yourself, an idea hardly unpleasant to anyone. That means fresh coffee in your favourite mug, your comfiest pyjamas, the morning papers and acres of time stretching before you, untroubled by imminent deadlines, all so you are able to fully appreciate what’s to come. The ooze of a poached egg pricked with your knife. Soft English muffins. Thick slices of country ham. And oodles of pillowy Hollandaise dousing everything in buttery goodness.

It may sound like a heart attack waiting to happen, but comfort yourself with the knowledge that you’ll certainly die well satisfied.


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