Start Christmas in the best possible way with a sumptuous, hollandaise-smothered egg on a muffin with smoked salmon, ham or spinach.
Eggs royale – a decadent pile of salmon, eggs and a criminally rich sauce atop a fluffy muffin – is my dream breakfast on 25 December, even if in reality the big day tends to start with chaos and a hurried slice of toast. If you have fewer children and dogs in residence, however, enjoy an extra dollop of sauce with your eggs royale – and benedict or florentine for me, too. It is Christmas, after all.
Prep 5 min
Cook 20 min
4-8 eggs, depending on hunger
1 drop vinegar
4 English muffins
Butter, to spread
400g baby spinach (optional)
4 slices cooked ham or 100g smoked salmon
Salt and pepper
For the hollandaise
125g cold unsalted butter
2 large egg yolks
1 Precautionary measures
Start with the hollandaise. Fill the sink, or a heatproof bowl larger than your saucepan, with about 5cm cold water and boil a little water in the kettle. These are both insurance policies in case of disaster, but don’t worry: as long as you make these preparations, you won’t need them. Cut the butter into cubes.
2 Combine the eggs and butter
Put the butter in a small, heavy-based saucepan with the egg yolks and two tablespoons of cold water. Put over a very low heat and stir to help melt the butter; I find it easiest to start with a wooden spoon, then swap this for a whisk once the lumps have turned liquid.
3 Stir until it thickens
Gradually, the sauce will thicken; don’t be tempted to turn up the heat to hurry it along, but if it looks like it’s threatening to split or scramble anyway, plunge the base of the pan into the cold water and whisk vigorously. This should bring the temperature back down and you can put it back on the heat and continue whisking.
4 In the event of disaster …
If it does curdle, whisk in a little boiling water to see if it can be rescued; if not, pour the mess into a jug, wash the pan, then put a fresh egg yolk in there with a splash of water, and gradually whisk in the curdled sauce over a very low heat.
5 Finish the sauce and keep it warm
Once the sauce has thickened, beat in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the sauce to a heatproof pan set over a second pan of hot water, making sure the base of the hollandaise pan doesn’t touch the water, and stir occasionally: unfortunately, hollandaise doesn’t reheat well, so you can’t make it too far ahead, though it will sit happily for a while.
6 Poach (or boil) the eggs
Bring a small pan of water to a boil, and crack each egg into its own ramekin. Put a drop of vinegar into the water and whisk vigorously, then immediately slip the eggs into the centre two at a time. Poach on a low heat and set the timer for three minutes. (Alternatively, make soft-boiled eggs: simmer them for seven minutes, then plunge into cold water and peel.)
7 Now for the muffins and spinach
Meanwhile, split, toast and butter the muffins. If you want spinach, wash, then put in a medium pan on a medium heat with the water still clinging to its leaves. Cover and cook until wilted, shaking the pan from time to time, then squeeze dry and season generously with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Make sure you haven’t forgotten about the eggs.
8 Plate and serve
Drain the eggs and pat dry on kitchen paper. Working quickly now, put two muffin halves on each plate and top first with the spinach (if using) and then the ham or salmon, followed by an egg and a good dollop of hollandaise. Finish with a grating of black pepper or a little nutmeg, and serve at once before the sauce goes cold.
9 Variations on the theme
If you’re not a slave to tradition, swap in ripe avocado, grilled bacon, warm crab meat or brown shrimp, or a grilled field mushroom or beef tomato for the ham, etc. Or swap the muffin for a crumpet or good toast. Or spice up the hollandaise with a squeeze of hot sauce, anchovy paste or a handful of fresh, soft herbs.