Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Ending and A New Beginning

 I apologize greatly for my negligence in posting lately - things have been busy.  I strive for one or two posts a week, but had to take a break last week because of my hectic schedule.  In any case, I am back with your final emulsion (and likely the most difficult).

As in my own life, I am about to end one portion and begin another, this process will be both the ending of the emulsions, and the beginning of the next set, the five 'mother' sauces, as (secondly) defined  by great French chef Auguste Escoffier*.  Now, these sauces might strike you as some kind of 'foodie' endeavor, the kind of thing that pretentious folks like myself sit around and expound upon to prove their knowledge of esoteric food lore - but, give them a chance.

Let me expand just a bit.  Having these five 'mother' sauces in your cooking repertoire, that is, being able to make them without pulling out a recipe or cookbook, will make your life so much easier.  You can take these mother sauces and add to them in so many ways, and if you do cook by cookbooks, you will start to notice that many recipes are based on one of them (and you will then understand the use of the moniker 'mother').  They have fancy, Francophile names, but all are both delicious and not terribly difficult.  So, without further ado, I give you the end of the emulsions and the beginning of the mother sauces, Hollandaise.

Liminal Hollandaise
- 1 part egg yolk (1 yolk)
- 5 parts butter (absolutely real butter)
- 1 part lemon juice or another acid**
- Seasonings
As you will see, we are using the ratio method again.  With egg yolks, it can be a bit difficult, so let's say a good standard ratio is 1 egg yolk, 5 tablespoons / 15 grams of butter, and 1 splash of lemon juice/acid.

You will also need your trusty whisk and double boiler for this one.  Even more so than the polyvalent pudding, temperature is essential here.  Too hot and your egg yolks will scramble and your sauce will be chunky.  Too cool and you will not get a good emulsion.  No wonder they make those crappy powdered Hollandaise sauces!  Don't be afraid though, as a true Hollandaise is a thing of near-sexual beauty, which envelops you in its smooth textures while at the same time exciting you with its tangy acidity.  Perhaps I have a prurient mind, but you will see for yourself when you taste the first bite.

To make your Hollandaise, begin by melting your butter, you want to have it still liquefied, but not too hot when you add it later on***.  So, melt it and let it sit, so as to cool its head a bit while you undertake the rest of the process.  You have a short break now to catch a cup of coffee or Campari with white wine (depending on the time of day) to fortify yourself for the whisking that is ahead.  You really need to be 100% on point here, so if you are feeling a bit unsteady from a night of heavy imbibing, you may want to grab some toast with chicken livers or a grilled veal kidney to fortify your nerves.

Now, combine your yolk and acid in the top part of the double boiler.  Whisk them in a gentle way over very lightly simmering water.  You want to heat the yolk up a bit, but absolutely not to cook it. Also, furious whisking will surely break the spirit of your yolk - it gathers up a great deal of courage, employing all of its lecithin to enable your sauce to thicken, so one hardly wants to beat that courage down.  After a short bit, your yolk should get a bit lighter in color and will thicken a bit, this is the yolk's finest hour, so don't miss it!  Turn off the heat under the boiler.

In the same way as with the other emulsions, dribble just a small amount of your butter into the warmed yolk and whisk in an intentional kind of way (not furiously as with the other, less delicate emulsions), adding more butter as the sauce allows.  Nothing should be pooling on top, or looking like it might separate.  Whisk until all the butter is incorporated, and you should have a very smooth, yellowish sauce, season to taste and keep just a bit warm until you are ready to pour it over your eggs Benedict.  If your Hollandaise seems a bit chunky, take note of the fact that you cooked it a bit too hot and strain it - it is still fine to use.  Also, taste it and tell me if I am wrong about the sex thing.

- Béarnaise: Replace the lemon juice with 1 part reduced vinegar, shallots, and tarragon
- Choron: Add 1 part tomato puree with the lemon juice to the yolk.
- Vin Blanc: Add 1 part fish stock and reduced white wine instead of lemon juice
- Bavaroise: Fold horseradish, heavy cream, and thyme into the final product
- Crème Fleurette: Fold Crème Fraîche into the final product
- Dijon: Add 1 part Dijon mustard to the yolk and lemon juice
- Maltaise: Add zest and juice from a blood orange to the yolk instead of lemon juice.
These are just a few, and should give you a good idea of how versatile a mother sauce is!

* Antonin Carême listed four at first, but Escoffier's list is better and has better sauces.
** Some folks like to use reduced vinegar with water, but lots of acids will work here - see the derivatives!
*** A certain Food Network chef advocates adding cubes of cold butter to the warm egg yolk so that you don't break the emulsion, but this is too much in the spirit of convenience for me to possibly advocate.  If you learn to make a Hollandaise with this method, you may as well just go buy it from the store in powdered form.  Harsh, right?

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