When I lived in Toronto, I loved going out for brunch. In other ways, I never really fit into a big-city lifestyle. But when it came to brunch, it felt like home.
I was never one to queue for a table in a restaurant, but there was one place on the city's east end which was always worth the wait. It only did brunch and at the weekends, it was packed. My friends and I would get coffees from the cafe next door and wait patiently; exposed to the elements, until we finally got a table.
The menu was short and sweet and it featured numerous types of eggs benedict. My personal favourite version was infused with mango and cheddar (don't knock it 'til you've tried it!).
Living in the Irish countryside, I don't get to go to brunch as much as I would like. Especially now, during yet another lockdown. So I bring the brunch to us. When things get dull and boring and you're craving some comfort and luxury, a nice brunch can really lighten your overall outlook on life.
This play on an eggs benedict features great Irish ingredients. Try it with Burren Smokehouse salmon, Goatsbridge trout or – if you're not into fish – your favourite thick-cut rashers. The hollandaise is made fresh and zingly with a dash of lemon juice and lots of fresh herbs. And the base? Why use a store-bought English muffin (however classic) when you can whip up some potato cakes instead?
Try this recipe out at the weekend - it pairs very nicely with a mimosa!
For the potato cakes:
6 medium-sized potatoes, peeled
6 Tbsp butter
2 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
60-75g plain flour
Oil, for frying
For the hollandaise:
3 large egg yolks
Juice of ½ lemon
250g butter, melted and clarified (melt the butter in the microwave and then skim the white milk solids from the top to make clarified butter)
50g finely chopped fresh herbs (chives, tarragon, dill and flat leaf parsley work well)
Salt, to taste
1 bunch of asparagus, ends removed
8 eggs, to poach (two per person)
2 to 4 fillets hot-smoked salmon or trout (flaked) or eight thick-cut rashers
1. Make the potato cakes: peel and cut potatoes into even-sized chunks. Simmer in salted water until fork tender, then drain and return to the pot.
2. Cover the pot and allow the potatoes to steam for an additional ten minutes. Add the butter, salt and pepper. Mash until completely smooth.
3. Add 60g of flour and mix. The mixture should be sticky but pliable. If it’s too sticky, add an additional 20g of flour and mix.
4. Turn the potato mixture on to a well-floured surface while heating a non-stick pan on medium heat. Knead the potato mixture for one minute to work the dough (add more flour to the surface if it’s too sticky) and then divide the dough into eight even-sized portions.
5. Add oil to the non-stick pan to heat. Flatten each portion of potato with your hands (to about ¼ inch thickness) and fry on both sides until golden brown. You want to work with the potato mixture while it’s still warm – it’s easier to handle this way. Keep the fried potato cakes warm in the oven while the rest is prepared.
6. Blanch the asparagus for two minutes in boiling salted water, then shock in ice water. Drain well and set aside. Flake the salmon (you will want half a fillet per person) and set aside.
7. Bring a large pot filled halfway with water to a simmer. Add one tbsp of vinegar to the simmering water.
8. To make the hollandaise, make sure your herbs are chopped and your butter is clarified and in a pourable dish (like a measuring cup).
9. Add the egg yolks and lemon juice to a stainless-steel bowl, then place the bowl over the pot of simmering water and start whisking. Whisk the egg yolk mixture until pale and slightly thick, this takes about two minutes, then start adding the clarified butter to the mixture in a very slow, thin stream (whisking constantly).
10. Keep adding the butter until the mixture thickens (you may not need the entire cup). You want the hollandaise to be pale yellow and thick but pourable.
11. Add the fresh herbs to the hollandaise and season to taste. Add the eggs to the simmering water and poach for about three minutes. Reheat the asparagus in a hot frying pan.
12. Assemble the dish: place two hot potato cakes on the plate, then top each with hot-smoked salmon. Place a poached egg on top of the salmon, then add a generous tablespoon of hollandaise over the whole thing.
13. Serve right away.
* You can prepare the potato cakes and blanch the asparagus the night before, if you like. The potato cakes will keep in the fridge for up to four days.