Gourmet Secrets: Making a fuss for the best breakfast…
Why the first meal of the morning is a huge deal for many people around the worldbrunch Updated: Dec 09, 2017 22:21 IST
Breakfast has never been a priority on my list of culinary “must dos”, nor am I for some reason, particularly hungry in the morning. I see however, whenever I stay out of my home, when I have guests, or when I am faced with a five star buffet breakfast, that this morning ritual is a very big deal to most people. Most hotels today throw that gargantuan, jaw-dropping, almost inhuman spread of food in the morning into your room tariff, so even if you aren’t hungry, you feel obliged to at least see what’s on offer and then naturally succumb to temptation. How are you expected to resist, with everything from tropical fruit and pastries to eggs a dozen ways to all things masala on offer?
The US experience
Nobody seems to count any calories at this time of the morning, in particular the Americans, who seem to have breakfast down to a fine art – whether it’s a hotel or the corner deli, they know damn well how to sell it. A few years ago when I was in California (not in one of the “health” pockets), I decided to try breakfast the American way, in a deli. The waitress appeared quickly and talked to me like I was one of those contestants in a quiz show. After the “How are you today, ready to order?” query, “Coffee?” lulls you into a false sense of security. Then the serious questioning begins.
“Juice?” “Yes,” you say, “What juices do you have today?” By this time the waitress has detected an un-American accent, in which case she’ll be amused, and rhyme off orange, apple, tomato, grapefruit, guava, pineapple and a peculiar-tasting drink called grape juice which I suspect has never seen a vineyard. I specify my preference quick before she gets on to smoothies and milkshakes.
Cereals are standard, apart from a mysterious product called grits. I have never dared ask what they are. The only grits I know of are the John Wayne variety or the kind you put in the bottom of a parrot’s cage. “Eggs?” are next: In America you are expected to eat eggs. The moment you show an interest you are asked how you’d like them cooked. “Fried”. Not that simple. It’s “Sunny-side up or over-easy?”, assuming you know that this means fried one side or two. But even the most modest establishment will often have stacks of other options: scrambled eggs with lox (salmon); Eggs Benedict with a buttery hollandaise sauce over ham, and English muffins (about as English as my left toe, this is an American invention which has no link to Britain); Florentine - again an obscure link to Florence but quite divine nevertheless: a dish of poached eggs over spinach topped with a creamy Mornay sauce; plain poached eggs, and huge three-egg omelettes.
The omelettes open up a Pandora’s box of additional options: vegetarian, Spanish, ham or cheese or both, omelettes with chopped-up sausage…. The list goes on and on. Then there are the little extras: ham, bacon, sausages, Portuguese sausage… it speeds up, “Hash-browns, corned beef hash?” To a first-timer it can be mind-boggling. That established, the options widen. Bread or rolls? Waffles or pancakes with or without maple syrup? Order muffins and you’ll be even more confused because you’ll finish up getting some kind of sweet scone, plain, chocolate or with blueberries. Should you want toast, you’ll get five of them: “White, wholegrain, rye (light or dark), sourdough, brown or fruit toast?”
Exhausted by 10 in the morning, I have come to the conclusion that to order one dish a la carte may be the simple solution.
The UK experience
In London recently, I stay at the very swish, exceedingly central Hotel Cafe Royal on Regent Street, a whisper away from Piccadilly Circus. Although so central, the hotel is somehow protected from the hustle, bustle and noise, physically and metaphorically. It really is an oasis in the middle of the madness of central London. The service is also amazing. No request too difficult and a solution for every problem. I am truly impressed. I never make it down for breakfast, a fact noticed by my butler. I mention that I am not much of a breakfast person. He insists that I try their version of Eggs Benedict with that flavourful dry cured Spanish ham known as Iberico, available on request even post breakfast. Now that might work, I thought to myself. Another great thing about this hotel, is that you can order breakfast any time of the day which is great if you arrive off a flight and need breakfast in your time zone or if like me, you don’t mind breakfast if it satisfies the hunger pangs for an early lunch.
One of my all time breakfast or brunch indulgences is in fact Eggs Benedict and the many versions of it, with ham, bacon or crab. I’ve even had one with grilled wild mushrooms. The common factors in all of them is the muffin, the poached egg and of course the heady Hollandaise. There are many claimants to the creation of this great dish....all American. Classic Eggs Benedict is made up of what the Americans call an English muffin - a robust white roll split in two like a hamburger bun - on which is placed bacon or ham, a perfectly poached egg and lashings of Hollandaise sauce - that devilishly wicked concoction of egg yolks and warm melted butter. The one at Cafe Royal is simple and delicious. You get two small muffins with an organic egg topped with warm, perfectly rendered Hollandaise with the right amount of creaminess, cut by a hint of vinegar reduction and the salty “umaminess “of thinly cut Iberico ham. It really is perfection on a plate and ironic that I should find a perfect one in a bastion of all things British in London and not in the U.S.. Here’s the recipe if you would like to recreate it.
Cafe Royal - Iberico Eggs Bendict
Cinco jotas Iberico ham
8 Clarence court eggs
Poach the eggs in boiling water with a splash of vinegar, cut in half and toast the muffin, top with thinly sliced ham, place the poached eggs on top of the ham, then spoon over the hollandaise and serve warm.
2 egg yolks medium
50ml Hollandaise reduction
200g clarified butter
Paprika and lemon juice to taste
Whisk the yolks and reduction over a bain-marie until a sabayon is achieved, slowly add the butter in a fine stream until all has been incorporated, then season and serve.
100ml dry white wine
10ml white wine vinegar
2 sprigs tarragon
50 g chopped shallots
2g black peppercorns
Bring to the boil and reduce by half. When cool, store in airtight container.
Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on December 24.
From HT Brunch, December 10, 2017
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First Published: Dec 09, 2017 22:21 IST