Once you master the sauce, this is an easy breakfast to throw together on the fly. Like many French-inspired “composed” dishes, it is just a matter of preparing ingredients individually and throwing them together at the end. Here is how I would do it:
1) To keep items warm while you are preparing other items, preheat your oven to the “warm” setting, or the lowest temperature possible.
2) In a medium skillet, fill to about an inch with water, set it over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add a teaspoon or so of salt and a small splash of white vinegar. This is the skillet you’ll use to poach your eggs. Alternatively, you could just fry the eggs to your liking in the skillet in which you cook the bacon.
3) In a medium saucepan, add plain, unseasoned water to about half way; this is going to act as the bottom for your double boiler. Set over medium-high heat to come to a boil.
4) Prepare your Canadian bacon* by heating and browning it in another skillet large enough to hold about six slices (three per person). Once they are heated through, remove them to an oven-proof plate and place in the oven to keep warm until you are ready to plate. Reserve this skillet to cook the asparagus at the end.
5) Start the Hollandaise while your saucepan is coming to a simmer. It helps to have room temperature eggs and butter for this, but it is not imperative.
Start by separating:
1 whole egg
Place the yolk in a metal bowl large enough to do some whisking and that you can set over a pot of boiling water; this bowl will be the top of your double boiler. Reserve the egg white for another recipe. To the egg yolk, add:
Juice from half a lemon (I like it lemon-y)
Whisk to combine and add a few pinches of salt and ground white pepper to taste (black pepper is fine, too).
1/2 stick of butter, cut into 6-8 cubes/pieces
Essentially, the key here is to heat the eggs over the water without letting them get too hot and scramble. I find that a thin metal bowl works well because it heats up and cools down quickly, allowing you to regulate the temperature. You need a good whisk, too. Once your saucepan is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low. Set your bowl over the water and whisk the yolks until they get warm. From here, it is just a matter of whisking in the butter, one piece at a time, until each is melted and incorporated into the yolks. Be patient and don’t overheat the yolks. Once you get all of the butter whisked in, you’ll have a thick yellow sauce that looks like this:
6) I find that this is a good place to let the sauce stand off the heat for a moment while I poach my eggs and heat the asparagus, which you can do at the same time. Get your bacon pan hot again, add about half of a store-bought bunch of asparagus to the pan, and about a 1/4 cup of water, cover and steam over medium.
7) To poach the eggs (2 per person), crack each one into the simmering water in the skillet, being careful to break them open as close to the surface of the water as possible to prevent them from spreading too much. You want to work quickly here to cook the eggs at roughly the same rate. I like to cook poached eggs until the white is set and the yolk is still runny, but you should feel free to experiment.
From here, it is all about assembly. Lay down a little raft of drained asparagus in one layer on each plate, then top with three slices of the bacon. Remove the eggs from the skillet using a slotted spoon, then lay over the top of your bacon. Get your sauce back to temperature now over the water at medium-high heat, whisking constantly. If it is too thick or breaks (where the butter separates from the eggs), just add a few spoonfuls of boiling water and whisk it vigorously – that should bring it back to a smooth, pourable state. Spoon the sauce over the eggs and serve with or without good hearty toast.
I know this may sound complicated, and maybe like a recipe for disaster, but it is worth doing and doing it right. Your companion will be very happy with the results, I think, and should then clean up all the dishes you just dirtied. If you fail at this one, you can likely still salvage the bacon and toast, and that bottle of bubbles you bought will take care of any angst from you or your guest. =)
*We are lucky in having a great grocery store near us that sells Dreymiller & Kray cured meats, which are produced in Hampshire, Illinois, and are some of the best things I’ve ever tasted. You can order them online at www.dreymillerandkray.com.