Much like so many other iconic dishes with muddled histories, the origins of eggs Benedict are subject to some debate. There are several theories surrounding where, when, how, and — most importantly — by whom the classic dish was created, and in honor of National Eggs Benedict Day, we decided to give it a careful look.
Of all of the theories that are thrown around, some of which involve chefs, commodores, the term "benedict" meaning bachlor, and traditional French cookbooks, there are two prominent ones that seek to explain the creation of eggs Benedict. The first theory dates back to the 1860s, at the historic Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City. Supposedly, a frequent patron, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, was bored with the usual menu and wanted something new and exciting to try for lunch. After discussing her options with the chef at the time, Charles Ranhofer, they decided on a version of eggs Benedict, and the dish soon became a fixture on the iconic restaurant’s menu.
The other possible origin of eggs Benedict is said to have happened a few years later in 1894 at another New York City institution, the Waldorf Astoria. Another regular by the name of Lemuel Benedict was suffering from a hangover and he placed a special order of poached eggs on toast with bacon and a side of hollandaise sauce. The maître d' at the time, Oscar Tschirky, liked the order so much that he put it on the menu, with a few substitutions of his own. This theory has been strongly argued for by a distant relative of Benedict, and thoroughly chronicled in a New York Times piece several years later. While we won’t participate in the detailed debate about the two theories, it should be said that the year Benedict ordered his hangover breakfast was coincidentally the same year Delmonico’s chef Ranhofer published the recipe in his cookbook The Epicurean.
As you can see, when you try to dissect the several stories around the dish, the age-old question of whether the chicken or the egg came first starts to surface, and you can find yourself running in quite a frustrating circle. As one culinary expert from the Art Institute of New York City told a Times reporter, eggs Benedict is "an evolution, not a creation," and so it’s not so much about determining where it came from, but appreciating it for all of its deliciousness and glory.
Whether invented by a woman or a man, or in uptown or downtown Manhattan, there are a few things that you can derive from its creation theories. For one, Benedict will always start with a capital B, because no matter who it was, we can safely assume it was derived from someone’s name. In one theory, we know that it was meant to excite the patron at Delmonico’s, and it still does today, especially with all of the new and creative ways to serve it. In another theory, it was meant as a hangover cure for that gentleman at the Waldorf, and so it is no surprise that the filling and indulgent dish continues to show up on brunch menus today. And from both theories we can gather that it was a dish for the genteel, the high-society and privileged diners of New York City, and we continue to serve it as an elegant and impressive dish.
Whatever origin story you choose to believe, the only important thing in the end is that you continue to enjoy the dish. There’s a reason it was created and has stuck along for so long, so to help you make your eggs Benedict perfectly, every time, we’ve outlined some building blocks for the dish that you can use to help you craft the most delicious one, or devise your own recipe. Whatever you do, remember that hollandaise sauce is king, and to always spell your recipe with a capital B.
Anne Dolce is the Cook editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce