What Exactly Is Eggs Florentine?

Today, eggs Florentine is a gorgeous breakfast or brunch dish that takes an English muffin with a crispy top and soft exterior and layers it with sauteed spinach, lightly-poached eggs, and creamy hollandaise sauce. It's a beautiful dish where each layer compliments the next, as the creamy notes of the egg and hollandaise tame the bitterness of the spinach, while the English muffin helps to create texture. This dish can also use a Mornay sauce instead of hollandaise, which is ideal if you want to bring a cheesier flavor to brunch. 

While this dish is similar to eggs Benedict, there are key differences, such as spinach taking the place of meat. What's more, it's relatively easy to trace the inspiration for eggs Florentine, in contrast to the still-mysterious origins of eggs Benedict. Each element must be skillfully executed to achieve this dish to royal standards, as it was initially crafted to be served to some very high-class diners.

A love for spinach that lives ever on

Eggs Florentine is thought to have first appeared during the Renaissance, when Prince Henry II of France married Catherine de Medici of Florence, Italy. It is believed that Catherine de Medici held a particular fondness for spinach. Once she was in France and had an array of chefs at her disposal, she directed them to develop recipes that inspired what are now iconic French dishes, including eggs Florentine.

However, Samuel Bath Thomas did not invent the English muffin until 1874 in New York, while muffins are thought to have dated back to the Victorian era. Moreover, hollandaise sauce was first mentioned in a Dutch cookbook from 1593, long after Prince Henry and Catherine had both died. 

The eggs Florentine that were first enjoyed in the royal palaces of France were probably quite different from how the dish is served and appreciated today. With a rich history that pulls inspiration from France, Italy, New York, and England, eggs Florentine was fusion cuisine before fusion cuisine was even a thing.

Mastering eggs Florentine

To master this dish, begin by carefully poaching the eggs. To create pillowy whites, boil water with white vinegar and salt before stirring with a whisk. Then gently place the eggs inside and lower the heat. After 2-3 minutes, the eggs should be firm enough to be removed and set on a plate lined with a kitchen towel to remove excess water. Next, sauté baby spinach with a little garlic and seasoning until just wilted. Then transfer to a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl to prevent the spinach from becoming a soggy mess.

For the hollandaise, whisk two egg yolks in a double boiler or a heatproof glass bowl over a pot with an inch or so of boiling water. Don't let the water touch the section with the eggs, as it will scramble them. Add a tablespoon of cold water and a drizzle of lemon juice and whisk. Slowly add in melted butter and continue whisking until velvety smooth. Taste and season with cayenne. Otherwise, you can buy good hollandaise at the store.

Next, halve the English muffins and toast until golden. Plate the muffins, then layer them with spinach and the poached eggs. Finish by spooning hollandaise over the eggs and garnishing with a sprinkle of paprika or grated nutmeg.