Novel recipes: eggs Benedict from Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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Inside, the house was already full to overflowing. There were mimosas and an omelet station. There were caterers offering bite-sized quiches and poached eggs in puddles of velvety hollandaise.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

In my teenage years, I couldn’t imagine anything ever being fancier than going for brunch. As soon as I was old enough, with a purse full of money saved from my job in a fish and chip shop, I wanted to go for brunch with my school friends; now, at 30, it’s still my favourite meal and has become a weekly ritual: bacon sandwiches and pots of tea at St. John in Spitalfields, perhaps some bottomless chai and fried egg naan at Dishoom, English muffins, sharp cheese, and a flat white at Finks.

When I think of the brunches I coveted in my teenage years, it was eggs Benedict that I always imagined in front of me. Usually the most expensive dish on the menu, it was often out of reach, and I was too nervous to make hollandaise myself at home (happily, a comprehensive read of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in my mid-20s gave me the confidence I needed to make it work).

Eggs Benedict from Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Photograph: Kate Young of The Little Library Café

If you’ve struggled with it, or avoided it for fear of wasting half a block of butter and your time first thing in the morning, I have some tips. Firstly, I’ve always struggled to make a small batch – a single egg yolk almost invariably ends up splitting on me. Use two. A second pair of hands (someone to add the butter on my nod) during early attempts was useful too, but you may be less nervous than I was. The most reassuring thing I ever learnt is that if you split the sauce (it will look grainy and separated, rather than thick, if you do), you need only to start again with a new egg yolk – add your “ruined” sauce in place of butter until you have incorporated it all. The sauce will be rich and velvety, as if nothing had happened, and you won’t end up tipping anything down the sink.

I read Little Fires Everywhere over Christmas. While the world feels very American, a lot in it feels familiar to me: a idyllic tree-lined suburbia where there’s very little to do, and everyone seems to know everyone else. I left Brisbane for the anonymity and opportunity of London four years ago: this week, I return for the first time. It’s been on my mind a lot in the past months, this return ‘home’ – I worry it may no longer feel familiar. So, in so many ways, Little Fires Everywhere was the perfect book – an exploration of family, social class and suburbia.

Eggs Benedict

Serves 4


2 egg yolks
1tbsp lemon juice
Up to 125g butter, very soft and cut into 0.5cm cubes
Flaky sea salt
1tsp Dijon mustard

The rest
4 English muffins
Butter, for buttering
200g thinly sliced ham
8 eggs
Freshly ground black pepper and flaky sea salt

Heatproof bowl
Small saucepan
Wide, shallow pan for egg poaching
Slotted spoon

1 Fill your heatproof bowl with steaming hot water from the kettle. Allow it to sit for a minute, then tip the water into the small saucepan and bring it back to the boil. Dry out the bowl, which will now be lovely and warm, and tip in the egg yolks and lemon juice. Whisk until sticky and light.

2 Reduce the water in the pan to a slow simmer, and place the bowl above it, ensuring that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.

3 Whisking continuously, add the butter to the egg yolks, one cube at a time. Only add a piece once the previous has been incorporated completely into the sauce. Keep going slowly and steadily, until you have a rich, thick sauce that holds a shape when you pull the whisk out of the bowl. Season to taste with salt and mustard.

4 Toast the muffins, butter them, and top with ham. Finally, when you’re ready to eat, poach your eggs. Bring the wide pan of water to a simmer. Crack an egg into the mug, swirl the water to create a whirlpool, lower the mug close to the water, and drop the egg in. Don’t worry if the white spreads out a bit, just nudge it back towards the centre with the spoon. Repeat with the other eggs, in batches if you can. Once the whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny (this will take about two minutes, depending on how gently your water is simmering), remove each egg using the slotted spoon. Allow it to drain a little before placing on top of the ham.

5 Spoon some hollandaise onto each egg. Serve immediately with plenty of salt and pepper.

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  • Benedict
  • Celeste
  • Eggs
  • fires
  • Ng
  • recipes
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