Smoked Haddock Benedictine
By: Ruth WatsonServes: 4
AS food combinations go, this is the dream ticket. Thick, silky hollandaise sauce; spanking-fresh poached eggs with richly dripping yolks; tender flakes of smoked haddock; and bright, tannic spinach. Gorgeous. As for the name, in one of James Beard's books he admonishes people for mistakenly calling the assembly of poached eggs, ham and hollandaise sauce eggs Benedictine, rather than eggs Benedict, as the former is actually a fishy concoction of pounded cod, garlic and cream. As I've eschewed the ham in favour of smoked haddock, I feel there is some justification for adding the 'ine.'
The spinach and eggs can be prepared up to 12 hours ahead. Poach the eggs, then plunge them straight into a bowl of ice-cold water, and store them in the fridge; cook the spinach, and leave it, clingfilmed, in a cool place (not the fridge.) Finishing the dish then only takes about 20 minutes.
TO SERVE FOUR YOU WILL NEED
a large sauté pan or saucepan; a heat-proof bowl; a large wok or frying pan; a buttered baking tin, just large enough to take the haddock in a single layer; cooking foil; a small saucepan; a liquidiser; 4 medium gratin or oven-to-table dishes
4 large, organic, free-range eggs
1 tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
About 250g prepared leaf spinach (i.e. washed, trimmed of large stalks and damaged leaves, and thoroughly drained
4 small fillets (100-125g) of undyed smoked haddock, skin on
A walnut-sized knob of butter
A little freshly grated nutmeg
1-2 tbsp finely grated parmesan
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the (quick) hollandaise:
2 large, organic, free-range egg yolks
1 tablespoon cider or white wine vinegar
175g unsalted organic butter
Preheat the oven to 200C (fan), 220C (conventional), gas mark 7, for the haddock; have a kettle of boiling water ready to reheat the eggs; preheat the grill to finish the dish.
First poach the eggs. Bring about 10cm of water to a simmer in the saucepan. Crack, and carefully plop in the eggs. Furl the whites around the yolks with a large spoon, then leave them to poach for 2-3 minutes. To test if they are cooked, scoop an egg out with a slotted spoon and gently prod it with your finger; the white part should be firm and the yolk still soft and wobbling beneath its filmy coat.
Transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice-cold water to stop them carrying on cooking, then lift each one out carefully, and trim off any raggedy white bits with a pair of scissors. Replace the eggs in the water and leave in the fridge until required.
To cook the spinach, heat the wok on a medium flame. Pour in the oil and leave for a minute, then toss in the prepared spinach with a pinch or two of salt. Toss the leaves continuously for about 1-2 minutes, until they have just collapsed, then remove and drain them. Leave the spinach aside in a cool place, clingfilmed, until required.
To cook the haddock, pour about 1cm of water into the baking tin, put in the smoked haddock, skin-side-down, and season with pepper. Cover the tin closely with foil and place it in the oven. Cook the fish for 10-15 minutes until the flesh has turned opaque. Remove the skin, but leave the haddock in the tin, replacing the foil to keep it warm.
Make the hollandaise sauce while the haddock is cooking. Melt the butter in the small saucepan until it is very hot but not boiling. Put the egg yolks and vinegar in the liquidiser, season, and whizz for 1 minute. Now, with the motor running, start to pour in the butter, first in a thread, then a thin stream. (Discard the milky, white residue at the bottom.) Leave the hollandaise in the liquidiser.
Quickly reheat both the eggs and spinach. For the eggs, drain off the cold water and replace it with boiling water, then leave the eggs for 1 minute to warm through. For the spinach, heat the knob of butter in the wok over a medium heat, grind in some pepper and a little nutmeg and toss the spinach until it is hot.
To assemble, first put a small heap of spinach in each dish, then a haddock fillet, making sure you mop up any excess liquid from the fish with a thick piece of kitchen towel. Now put a poached egg on top of the haddock, again blotting off any excess liquid. Give the hollandaise a quick whizz, then spoon it over the eggs. Sprinkle with a little parmesan and place the dishes under the grill for barely a minute until the sauce is lightly gilded. Serve immediately.
© recipe copyright 1999 Ruth Watson