Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Misadventures in the wonderful world of sauces!

A few nights ago, I had to come up with something to eat. Charlie and I were both tired and it was getting late, so we decided on breakfast for supper. He had never had Eggs Benedict. He's been wanting to try it and has been asking about it for a few weeks. I thought I'd give it a go. I know it isn't something that is terribly hard to make, as I've made it previously. And it is rather filling. I thought the dish would suit our tastes pretty well for that night. Between that and some crispy homefries, we'd have a pretty delicious meal!

For those who don't know, Eggs Benedict is a split and toasted English muffin; each side topped with a slice or two of Canadian bacon, a poached egg and hollandaise. This dish is quite common on breakfast and brunch menus all over the US, France and many other countries, I'm sure. Some say that the recipe originated at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. Others suggest that it came from a French Provincial cookbook. There are so many variations of the dish as well, but the one thing they all have in common is the sauce. Hollandaise is an emulsion of egg yolks and clarified butter. Add some salt and a splash of lemon juice and you have one of my very favorite sauces in the whole wide world. It's fantastic on veggies, eggs, and many different kinds of meat.

At any rate, I set out to make Eggs Benedict for our supper. Toasting English muffins? Duh. Frying up some Canadian bacon? Again, duh. Poaching eggs? Not always a cake walk, but I usually fare pretty well if I crack the egg into a small dish and carefully float it into the water. (We poached dozens of eggs every Sunday for brunch at the restaurant I used to work at. I've had lots of practice.) Whipping up some hollandaise? I've made it quite a few times in the past and have been successful. But it's been a while...and boy howdy could you tell that it has been a while. Apparently making this sauce isn't quite like riding a bike.

Attempt number 1 was a disaster. The sauce never emulsified. I started out using the double-boiler and whisked manually with no hope at all. I quickly transferred it to a blender thinking that maybe more speed would be helpful. Nope. My last hope of saving it was using a hand mixer. I think all that really did was piss it off . It went from not being a runny mess of warm butter with some egg yolks at the bottom to a broken, gloppy disaster. I believe my issue was not whipping the egg yolks properly before starting to heat them. I also think that my clarified butter was not cool enough. After many tears and a bit of yelling, Charlie made me swallow my pride and look at a recipe he found online. I looked at it, reluctantly (because I'm supposed to know everything), and went back out to the store to get more butter.

Attempt number 2 went so much better. I clarified about a cup and a half of butter and put it in the fridge to cool faster. While that was cooling, I put a small sauce pan of water on to simmer. In a medium metal bowl I put two egg yolks in with about a tablespoon of ice water. Then, I beat the hell out of those eggs. They were frothy, pale, and thick as they should have been. I placed the bowl over the double-boiler and whisked like a mad woman in order to cook the yolks a bit and bring them up to temperature before streaming in the clarified butter. I whisked and whisked and whisked. I whisked so much that my arm was sore for 2 days. But the sauce emulsified properly and was rather tasty, if I do say so myself. It was a little thicker than I'd like, but I still say it was a success. Charlie enjoyed the Eggs Benedict very much, as did I.

I think what made the failure even more hard to take was the fact that I had just been ranting and yelling about how to properly make hollandaise the night before this ordeal. Charlie was watching a news cast of sorts and there was a woman showing a "short cut" in making a hollandaise sauce. She claimed that the sauce would come together faster if you heat the butter. Um, no kidding? Then I realized she assumed that you make it with cold, whole butter. Really?! Whole butter? Wow. That seems like a terrible idea.

The moral of the story, ladies and gentlemen, is this: Patience and a refresher course can make all the difference in something that you may have done in the past, but not recently.

As much as I hate to admit it, I don't know everything.


No comments:

Post a Comment

I'd love to hear from you!