I have neglected the cooking side of my blog in recent weeks partly because there has been so much other stuff to write about and partly because there are so many brilliant cooking blogs out there that put my feeble efforts (and dodgy smartphone photos) to shame. However, a little adventure in the kitchen at the weekend has prompted this post. I have always loved the eggy, buttery, unctuous confection that is hollandaise sauce and always thought I should have a go at making it myself. I have been put off in the past because I had heard it is quite tricky and that things may “split” if the nascent sauce gets too cold … or too hot. No room for error then. But, putting all my fears aside, the time felt right at the weekend to give it a go. After all, both kids are back at university, so that was two less people to poison. As it happened, the results were fine and in an unexpected way – a way that will be music to the ears of lazy or less than gifted cooks (and possibly weight watchers too).
I’m one for short cuts and not bothering with recipes but this would have to be an exception. So, I trawled through a few recipes and found that there is a surprising amount of variation. I immediately discarded recipes that required butter to be melted and separated, runny stuff from solids (too much of a faff) and those that required use of a double saucepan and/or food processor. I know food processors are supposed to be labour saving devices but it’s too much effort to dig out our little-used machine from its dark, cobweb-festooned cupboard, wash all the bits, use it to make a few tablespoonfuls of sauce, wash it…..
In the end, here’s what I did and what I used for two servings:-
One large glass of chilled sherry*. This goes into you not the sauce. If you’re going to make Dutch sauce, you need a bit of Dutch courage.
Two egg yolks. If the prospect of separating egg yolk from egg white sounds more frightening than separating butter, don’t panic and read on.
About 1oz/25 g of chilled butter (as chilled as you will be after the sherry)
One tablespoon fresh lemon juice. You can try the bottled variety if you like but don’t blame me if your spouse leaves you and the house falls down.
That’s all! Oh, a smidgelet of salt and pepper if you wish. It doesn’t sound like much butter does it? The recipe called for more but that’s where my hollandaise adventure took an unexpected turn.
Expert cooks can skip this paragraph (and in fact this whole, heretical post) but for novice egg workers ……. To extract an egg yolk from a complete egg, crack the egg on the edge of a bowl but just enough so that you can then pull the two halves of the shell apart with your thumbs. Hang on, not yet. First make sure that the egg is above the bowl and that the egg is upright. Now pull the shell apart. The yolk
should will remain in the bottom half of the shell while most of the white cascades with a slop into the bowl. Now tip the yolk from one half of the shell to the other a few times to get rid of the rest of the egg white. There may be a small amount of white that refuses to part with the yolk but that doesn’t matter – the cooking gods and the hollandaise will turn a blind eye. If you’re a first timer, it may be best to attempt this before touching the sherry. If it all goes horribly wrong, give up on the hollandaise sauce and have an omelette.
Now you can get started proper (with the sauce and the sherry). Put the eggs yolks into a small saucepan and whisk until “lemon yellow and slightly thick”. I’m already thick so I was half way there – haha. About 1 minute the recipe said. Haha again – I frantically waved my balloon whisk around for longer than that until I convinced myself I could notice a change. I must be a feeble whisker (that sounds odd) but ultimately everything was fine. Then whisk in the lemon juice (NB. all this is happening without any heat – other than excess body heat generated by all that whisking).
Now add half the chilled butter … man (my butter was so chilled it was called Dylan**). Place over a low heat and whisk continuously while the butter is melting and until the sauce thickens and you can see the bottom of the saucepan between strokes. In reality, since I was making half the quantity compared to the recipe, I could see the bottom of the pan right from the start! So, just continue until it thickens. I also used a VERY low heat, the smallest ring on our gas hob and a metal simmer plate on top of that.
Next, remove the pan from the heat and beat in the remaining chilled butter. Now here’s the twist. The recipe told me to then whisk in, a little at a time, three more ounces (150g) of melted butter (and yes, that was the corrected quantity for just two servings). To its credit, it did not call for separated butter – that’s why I chose this particular recipe. So, I had a carefully weighed amount of diced butter waiting to be melted in the microwave but I thought hang on, the contents of the saucepan were already doing a passable impersonation of hollandaise sauce in terms of colour and consistency. A quick dip and lick of the little finger confirmed that, taste-wise, it could pass as the Dutch delight and there was a reasonable quantity to provide several elegant tablespoonfuls over a couple of grilled salmon fillets. Why waste time and an unhealthy amount of extra butter going any further? So I stopped there and behold, Colin created half-way hollandaise sauce.
I did carry on heating my creation because I had used such a gentle heat that, although the butter had melted, the sauce was not warm enough to serve. So, I left it on the simmer plate until it was a decent temperature (serious, important point because of the raw egg), whisking frequently but not continuously while I attended to frying rösti, grilling salmon, steaming vegetables and sipping sherry. Never before have so many tasks been attempted by a male of the species. Finally, you may wish to add a touch of salt and pepper – or even whisk in some melted butter if you want more of a hollandaise swamp on your plate.
It’s now four days since consumption of my hollandaise heresy. There have been no ill effects and I have recovered full use of my whisking arm (when I went swimming on Sunday morning, I only managed to go round in circles). We need a new bottle of sherry though.
* Sherry is probably a bit of an old-fashioned drink nowadays but a glass of chilled sherry before our Sunday dinner is one of our guilty pleasures. Here I broke the rules and had a glass on Saturday. We used to buy Croft Particular, a rather pricey pale Amontillado (I’m in danger of sounding knowledgeable there – I know Amontillado is a type of sherry and not an armoured mammal native to the Americas but that’s about it). After forgetting to pick up a bottle on a trip to Sainsbury’s, we later grabbed a bottle of Aldi’s own brand cream sherry in desperation (so we thought at the time). It’s a different style of sherry but we haven’t looked back. It’s about half the price and, apparently, it has won awards.
** Readers of a certain age will understand this Magic Roundabout reference.