Monday, November 8, 2010
Brunch: Adventures in Hollandaise
Eggs Benedict, that most iconic of brunch dishes. But, without the rich, creamy Hollandaise poured atop the quivering egg, what would it be but eggs and toast with a bit of meat? Not much, if you ask me.
I've always loved Eggs Benedict but have been too intimidated to take on the task of preparing Hollandaise sauce. I mean, you hear these horror stories about broken, curdled messes sending chefs into fits of weeping and days of ennui. Who wants the heartache?
But, I also figured if I was really going to lay claim to the title of Kick Ass Home Cook, I'd better learn how to make Hollandaise. It was easy! I recount my experience here as a how-to guide for the equally trepidatious.
First off, I'd always thought of Hollandaise as an egg sauce. But, as I learned this morning, it is actually better described as a butter sauce. There is a truly sick amount of butter in Hollandaise, all of which is meant to absorb into the egg yolks. Julia Child recommends no more than 3 oz of butter per egg yolk, and sometimes less is more.
Each tablespoon of butter is equivalent to about 1/2 an ounce, so you want no more than 6 tablespoons of butter per egg yolk (and that is a maximum).
To serve about 4 people generously, I started with 3 egg yolks and 14 tablespoons of butter (well shy of of the maximum - and it still came out plenty rich).
You'll also need about 1 Tbs lemon juice (fresh squeezed), 1 Tbs of cold water, and salt to taste.
Here's what you do:
Melt 12 Tbs of unsalted butter over low heat. Then set it aside. Cut 2 Tbs of cold butter and have at the ready.
Set a pot with an opening large enough to accommodate your metal mixing bowl to a low simmer with 2-3 inches of water.
In a large, metal bowl, whisk 3 egg yolks until creamy and well-incorporated (about 1 minute). Then add 1 Tbs lemon juice, 1 Tbs water, and a pinch of salt. Whisk again, about 1 minute.
Place 1 Tbs of the cold butter in the egg mixture and then place the metal bowl over the lightly simmering water. Gently whisk the eggs until the butter melts and is incorporated. The idea here is to thicken the eggs very gently. If they seem to thicken too quickly or to start to curdle, you must take them off the heat immediately and plunge the bottom of the bowl in cold water. Once you can see the bottom of the bowl each time your whisk scrapes over it, the eggs are sufficiently thickened (this will take only 1-2 minutes). Take the bowl off the heat.
Set the bowl on a dishtowel to brace it and whisk in the remaining 1 cold Tbs of butter to temper the eggs and cool them slightly.
Then, whisking constantly, add a few drops of the melted butter. At this early stage, you must add only a very little butter and whisk vigorously. You are trying to force the thickened egg yolks to absorb the butter. You can graduate to drizzling in 1 Tbs of melted butter at a time, whisking and drizzling. If the butter seems to slow in its incorporation, stop drizzling and whisk vigorously. This process takes about 3-5 minutes and requires a strong whisking arm, but it's well-worth the effort. You can stop short of whisking in the pale milk solids that will have settled to the bottom of the butter pan.
Your Hollandise should now be thick and fabulous:
Once all the butter is incorporated, season with salt to taste. The Hollandaise can be set aside in a warm spot (near the stove) and will hold for at least 30 minutes. Don't try to reheat it; it's meant to be served only just warm.
Meanwhile, prepare the desired quantity of poached eggs. I like to cheat and cook mine in those little silicone cups. I season them with salt, olive oil, and hot sauce and poach them in a covered pan of simmering water for 4 minutes. You'll also want to have some nice English muffins toasted up to serve as a base. For the meat, you can use what you like - Canadian bacon is a classic, but I recommend a spicy chorizo or Cajun sausage to add kick and cut the richness of the sauce and poached eggs.
All that remains is to assemble the Eggs Benedict - muffin on the bottom, then the meat, eggs perched on top. And, at last, pour over that glorious yellow Hollandaise sauce. Believe me, one serving will earn you back all the calories you burned whipping the sauce...and then some!