“Well, to be fair, can you think of a breakfast food that WASN’T invented as a way to cure hangovers?”
~Hmm…you’ve got a good point there, actually
Americans developed an infatuation with breakfast as soon as it was named the most acceptable time to eat bacon. Of course, it helps that it’s an extremely versatile meal as well. If you’re running late in the morning, you can just put some milk on random dried grains doused in sugar, or pick up some sort of surprisingly unhealthy egg sandwich from a fast food joint. And when it’s the weekend and you can take your time, you can create something meticulously crafted to cure every kind of hangover you can possibly imagine (for more information, buy AFFotD’s “101 Different Types Of Hangovers, And Their Cure” on Amazon.com next fall).
There are of course many staples of the American breakfast that are worth praising. Pancakes, waffles (a.k.a. pancakes with syrup traps), bacon, omelets, all of these are delicious and, when done right, incredibly unhealthy ways to combat the fact that you drank two four lokos last night before playing flip cup with vodka cranberry at a random party before stumbling into a cab, texting your ex, and yelling at the cab driver when you erroneously assume he’s taking you the wrong way. But arguably the best American breakfast dish that can help you momentarily forget the shame you’re feeling as you have to send off an apologetic group text the following morning remains…
Eggs Benedict: The Best American Breakfast With The Least American Name
When you first heard the name “Eggs Benedict” you probably assumed that the dish was named after noted American traitor/the picture we sometimes put up on our dart board when we get tired of having the French flag up there, Benedict Arnold. We’ve pondered this very issue on our Facebook page, because the two don’t seem to really go together. One is an English Muffin covered with eggs, ham, and Hollandaise sauce used to cure hangovers, while the other was an American general who turned over West Point to the British before defecting to their army. But, do not worry, Eggs Benedict fans, this tasty open-faced sandwich not only isn’t named after the traitorous turncoat, but it was invented nearly a hundred years after his death.
What? Then you mean to tell us this picture isn’t 100% factually accurate?
The general consensus is that the Eggs Benedict first appeared on menus no earlier than the late 19th century, and recent years have seen dozens of variations of the delicious meal. In its purest form, the dish consists of two halves of an English muffin that is topped with ham (or bacon), poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce (basically an emulsion of egg yolk and butter). There are of course versions of this dish that use corned beef (Irish Benedict), salmon (Eggs Hemingway), or asparagus and crab meat (Oscar Benedict) and all of them are fucking delicious, but these are merely adaptations of the initial dish, which remains about the closest a drunken brunch can come to achieving perfection.
So how did this delicious template of artery-clotting goodness first spring into existence? Well, there are three prominent stories regarding the origin of this particular breakfast sandwich, though we’re going to save the most likely for last (it’s most likely because it was made explicitly as a hangover cure.”
Origin Story 1: Edward P. Montgomery writes a letter to The New York Times Magazine from France (ugh) with the recipe, attributing it to Commodore E.C. Benedict
This one seems hard to believe for a couple of reasons. First of all, you should never trust a letter from an American ex-pat living in France. Secondly, if Commodore E.C. Benedict did invent the Eggs Benedict, you think that’d be the first thing mentioned on his Wikipedia page, because that’s an important enough rumor to warrant at least a thousand words of explanation. But, the fact remains, food critic Craig Claiborne wrote a column in September of 1967, where Edward Montgomery claims the dish was invented by Benedict (who died in 1920), with the recipe passed on to him by his mother, whose brother was friends of the Commodore. If that sounds needless complicated, and especially suspect because Montgomery went 40 years before sharing it with anyone, we’d have to agree with you.
It just goes to show you, do not trust letters from France, as it is a nation of lies.
Origin Story 2: Mabel Butler calls Edward Montgomery out, probably implies that France is a nation of lies, says Delmonico’s invented it
Two months after the publication of Clairborne’s column, Mabel Butler sent a letter to The New York Times Magazine saying, in as polite of a way as possible, “You shut your whore mouth, Edward P. Montgomery, I know who invented the Eggs Benedict.” According to her, she was a relative of Mrs. Le Grand Benedict, who lived with her husband in New York around the turn of the century, and would dine every Saturday at Delmonico’s. One day, Mrs. Benedict asked the maître d’hotel if they could get her something new and off menu (you might remember this scene playing out in the movie Ratatouille). When he asked for a suggestion of something to cook up (because he clearly wasn’t very good at his job) she suggested poached eggs on toasted English muffins with ham, Hollandaise sauce, and a truffle on top, because whenever someone asks us to make up a dish off the top of our hands, we all tend to ask for five separate specific ingredients that come from three different culinary traditions. Obviously. We don’t mean to say that the Le Grand Benedict family are full of shit, but they are absolutely full of shit.
That’s why we choose to believe this final tale.
Probably The Actual Origin Tale: Lemuel Benedict was hungover as shit at the Waldorf in 1894
This is what really happened, folks. Back in 1942, The New Yorker did an interview with a retired Wall Street stock broker named Lemuel Benedict, who claimed he wandered (stumbled) into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 hoping to find a hangover cure. He ordered himself “buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of Hollander.” We know you just got really excited by the inclusion of the word “hooker” there, but unfortunately “hooker” was just an old-timey term for, basically, a shot of booze. The maître d’hotel of the Waldorf, Oscar Tschirky, decided the dish was delicious (duh), and added it to his menu, replacing the bacon with ham, and replacing the toast with toasted English Muffin.
Of course, this has to be the real account. Because only the collaboration between a hungover stock broker and the man largely known for popularizing Thousand Island Dressing can really explain how such a glorious American breakfast item could come to our collective consciousness.
So thank you, Lemuel Benedict and Oscar Tschirky, for curing untold millions of hangovers, and causing untold thousands of coronaries. And screw you Benedict Arnold, just because.