Eggs, the best eggs, and Eggs Benedict

Having just said goodbye to too many reminders that eggs are – or were – seasonal, and thus a symbol of spring rebirth, I won’t go into it except to point out that the best eggs still ARE seasonal, and that there’s a huge difference between an egg that’s as good as an egg can be and a conventional mass-produced egg.

Well-treated chickens that are not fed things you don’t want to think about produce tastier eggs year ‘round, but the eggs that are really worth crowing about are super-fresh local eggs from hens that spend a lot of time outdoors getting exercise and fresh air, eating bugs (concentrated protein, lots of minerals) and green vegetables. ( Many kinds of dark green leaves are rich in carotenes, precursors to vitamin A and a much better way to have deep yellow yolks than putting annato – a spice that acts as a yellow dye – in the chicken feed).

These eggs come from Ilana Nilsen, who sells her backyard eggs at farmers markets and at a store in Millbrook, NY called Best Creations. This is nice to know if you happen to live near Millbrook, but what’s nicer is that there are good local eggs just about everywhere, if you bother to look, and there are likely to be more and more because Ilana isn’t the only person who just wanted a few heirloom chickens and wound up with more than she bargained for.

Ilana Nilsen
“These girls are Javas, or Mottled Javas,” Ilana said when she sent me the pic. ”They are about nine months old here. Very independent birds. The second oldest American breed and used to create other American breeds. They also come all black. There was a white variety that seems to have gone extinct. “

Want to see where this sort of thing can lead? Ilana sent her quite amazing current list. It’s posted at the end so that we can get to the recipe

which was originally going to be rich cup custard, a neglected classic that’s not only beyond delicious but also almost obscenely easy. But then I was browsing through the Times and happened on a Frank Bruni restaurant review

Words fail me. Suffice it to say it describes a version of Eggs Benedict that is actually a pure yolk custard, accompanied by cubes of deep fried hollandaise and garnished with “an ultrathin, ultracrispy chip of Canadian bacon.”

Very impressive in its way ( the dish was part of a tasting menu and the portion was extremely small), but when I described it to Bill, feeling very nostalgic for good old Eggs Benedict made the way normal people make it – and eaten the way normal people eat it, for brunch on Sunday with a few good friends – he just said “oh, egg mcmuffin.”

Well, no.

Eggs Benedict is an assemblage*, not a recipe. But you do need hollandaise sauce, more or less a major food group once asparagus season really gets going, so here’s a

Fast, Easy Hollandaise sauce in one pan without machinery

Which my mother taught me how to make and I’m sure is from some totally known cookbook but I have no idea which one. In theory, you make this in a double boiler as insurance against curdling the eggs. In practice, I use a heavy pan, low heat and vigilance, which I think is what Moth did, but I wouldn’t swear.

I don’t remember who taught me the best way to separate eggs, but assuming you don’t have killer nails, hands are a lot less likely to break yolks than the edges of eggshells.

For a little less than a cup, 4 servings:

3 egg yolks

2 tsp. water

2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice

¼ pound (1 stick) butter, right out of the refrigerator, cut into 8 pieces.


you make this with a wooden spoon, but it’s good to have a wire whisk handy in case you get into trouble. Any time the sauce starts looking grainy or god forbid you turn up a lump of cooked egg yolk, take the pan from the heat and whisk like crazy.

1. Put the egg yolks in the pan with the water and a teaspoon or so of the juice and stir until smooth. Add 2 chunks of the butter and put the pan over very low heat or barely simmering water, as the case may be.


2. Place the spoon edge firmly on a butter chunk and use it to stir the yolks constantly. As soon as it start to get away from you, add another chunk and repeat.

3. Continue until all the butter’s used up, then keep stirring until the sauce thickens to unctuous pouring consistency. Shortly before that, add salt and lemon juice to taste. If you’re using the heavy pan/direct heat method, stop when the sauce is still a bit thinner than you want.

(A pan heavy enough to prevent curdling is going to keep cooking the sauce after it leaves the stove. I had to get the rest out mighty quickly to forestall disaster)

If you add a bit of shredded orange rind and about 1/4 cup of orange juice you’ll have Sauce Maltaise and if you use blood orange juice said sauce will be a beautiful melony peach color.

Eggs Benedict: crisply toasted half of a Thomas’s English muffin topped with a gently heated slice of tender no-nitrate Canadian bacon topped with a poached fresh local egg topped with Hollandaise sauce made from same.

One warning: backyard and small farm eggs are ungraded; a dozen may vary a great deal in size. Doesn’t usually matter, but it’s something to bear in mind if you’re going to be baking cake.

Ilana’s inventory as of March 27th, as described by Ilana:

“We have, approximately,
9 Golden Comets ( a red sex link, very chatty lovely hens), 8 are “Tammy”
and the last is “BeBe”
1 Cuckoo Maran rooster, Oliver, very dignified and handsome
1 Mottled Java rooster, Theo, one black Java cockerel, stunningly handsome,
yet unnamed, will probably be something like Rhett, four mottled Java hens
(surprisingly good broody hens, as three of the four have already sat on
eggs this year) and one black Java hen. From at least three sources, so I
don’t think these will be inbred for awhile.
7 Dominique hens
11 Amerucana Hens and one cockerel “Rockstar”
5 black Wyandotte hens and 9 white Wyandotte hens. If we need one, a friend
has a barred Wyandotte rooster. They’re very sweet birds, rather portly and
a bit shy.
2 ornamental type feather footed bantam ladies, a mother & daughter.
Absolutely useless for anything except dusting – they are referred to as the
Dust Mops. Maybe buff cochins or d’uccles. Very sweet.
One nasty silkie hen, Mama Silkie, who is a fabulous mother. She lives to
sit on eggs. One horribly nasty probably cockerel of hers, Lemondrop – it’s
nearly impossible to tell gender with these. One Blue Splash silkie,
“Splash”, who looks like a cross between a chicken and a llama. One lovely
silkie cross, “Peachy”, who is the object of affection for Splash and
Three white cochin hens
Eileen – a silkie/amerucana cross that should have been a hen
Four Nankin Bantams. Tiny birds, look rather like Thrush and are on the
endangered list. Very social with people. Three hens and one rooster. Lay
tiny eggs.
One small Modern Game cockerel
A pair of adolescent Black Copper Marans that are stunning. She will lay a
dark, chocolaty brown egg.
Eight seven week old chicks – four Black Copper Marans hens and four
crosses. A dominique cross, an amerucana cross, java silkie possibility and
who knows about Mystery Chick #8.

And this week’s sweetness is so far 17 chicks being raised by a Java and of
course Mama Silkie. They bicker over who sits on the eggs.”

Ilana Nilsen

You may think this picture is about Ms. Java teaching the children to eat apples, but what it really means is that having both hens and roosters is probably a mistake.

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  • MET Said,

    The caption on the bottom picture, hilarious. Having grown up with two chickens and one rooster as a child, it was a pleasure to see the chicks as they broke their brown shells open, but soon, as Nilsen has seen, three birds became more than 15. We need to get more people to start raising their own food. Eat and support local everyone.

  • ted russo Said,

    i would like to purchase Amerucana Hens. Do you them for sale? If yes how much and how do I go about getting the hens?

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Ted –

    sounds like you’ve been listening to MET!

    I don’t sell chickens, so I sent your request along to Ilana, who may be able to help if you’re in or near the Hudson Valley. If you’re not, Craigslist would be a good bet; there are more and more backyard chicken-raisers – and, unfortunately, disillusioned backyard chicken raisers – who have hens for sale.

    (Baby chicks from big commercial hatcheries – just google, please, I don’t want to mention any names – have worked out fine for many poultry fanciers, but they have probably disappointed an equal number and of course it takes a while for chicks to become laying hens.)

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