Thursday, December 21, 2006

Kiss My Whisk!

I cursed the heavens and the stars; I cursed the aquamarine ocean that I floated upon. I cursed my job; I cursed the yacht and the whole industry. But mostly I just cursed… as I whisked and whisked trying furiously to emulsify my cracked hollandaise.

In actuality, I cursed our 1st Mate because it was his birthday and I was tired from the previous night’s festivities and this morning the owners asked him what he wanted for his birthday breakfast; his request? A bed of spinach with artichoke hearts nestled in it, poached eggs on top and hollandaise (which just happens to be the owner’s favorite breakfast, too. Coincidence?). I hadn’t made hollandaise since culinary school – 7 years ago! It was a challenge I was not intimidated to take on, but I had to put out breakfast for seven hungry guests and crew and I knew they wouldn’t wait all day while I figured out how to make the sauce! And yes, I believe in shortcuts, but sauce from a packet just doesn’t fly with me. I have an aversion to powdered, just-add-water foods and/or anything with an ingredient list that reads like a HazMat identification manual…


-obviously, oblivious to my pain and suffering in the galley!

Having only a vague memory of what goes in hollandaise and how to make it – I thought about my father who always seemed to be able to whip up a tasty hollandaise in a blender, and in a snap… So, going into MythBuster mode, I decided to give the blender method an attempt. I figured that if I warmed up my clarified butter (which I had in abundance in the fridge) it would provide the necessary heat to cook the eggs. Right? Well, not exactly. My first attempt with two egg yolks and about a half cup or more of clarified butter and some lemon juice turned out a thin, very unappealing looking sauce. This just wouldn’t do. I tried adding another egg yolk - to no avail.

I quickly put together a bain-marie over the stove and began whisking. My already thin, anemic looking sauce began to separate. Discernable little droplets of clarified butter forming around the edge of my bowl, like the pearls of sweat now forming on my brow... I looked up at the heavens and shook my whisk. What was I going to do?

Attempt #3 was to pull out the trusty hand-blender, fixer of all manners of broken emulsifications. But again, to no avail. My sauce came together slightly more, but was still way too thin and I was not about to serve anything less than a perfect sauce. I had to put on my chef thinking cap – and quickly.

I started thinking about emulsified sauces and the process of emulsifying - and what, my friend, is the easiest and first emulsified sauce you learn to make in culinary school? Mayonnaise! And what is hollandaise other than mayonnaise with the oil replaced by clarified butter? I quickly whipped out another egg, cracking the yolk into a mixing bowl and adding the tiniest amount of Dijon mustard (Dijon mustard has a thickening quality which assists the emulsification process, with a bit of flavor!). I started getting busy on my yolk mixture with my hand blender and then slowly, very S-L-O-W-L-Y, began drizzling my broken sauce into the yolk while I blended away. Drop by drop, my sauce began to come together, the broken sauce going un-wasted, and thickening up perfectly. I added a bit more clarified butter, lemon juice, and salt – and voila, I had a perfect, and I’d recon to say, almost unbreakable, hollandaise sauce. When it came time to serve, my sauce was a bit thick and it needed reheating. I simply put it in my bain-marie on the stove, thinned it with the tiniest amount of hot water and whisked it until it was warm.

And yes, you purest out there rolling your eyes and cursing me for not knowing how to make a hollandaise – well, you can just kiss my whisk because my sauce was beautiful and tasty. And what is the cardinal rule of professional cooking, yacht cooking and catering? Make it work, baby, make it work…

After getting my sauce together, my next order of business was to poach off 14 eggs. How exactly would you serve eggs benedict to your guests, hot, and all at the same time? I didn’t happen to have my 14 egg-at-a-time-poaching mechanism on hand, which, again did pose a bit of a challenge. But once again, I looked at the wonderful learning opportunity I had in front of me and figured I would test out a method that a friend had told me about a while back. Poach off your eggs a few at a time, being careful to leave them very soft and slightly under-poached (which called for some very delicate handling), pull them from the hot water and shock them in an ice-bath to stop the cooking. Keep them aside and simply reheat them by plunking them back into the hot water for a minute before serving.

I’ve had some poaching failures in the past – everyone has a different method and I’ve tried them all; swirling the water before dropping the egg in, adding vinegar, etc. and those just haven’t worked for me. The method I use is to fill a frying pan (yes, a frying pan) with water and bring it to a boil. Crack an egg into a cup and when the water boils, pour the egg into the water – turn off the heat, cover the pan with a lid and let it sit for 3 minutes or so, until it’s done. So, this is the method I employed this time, poaching off three eggs at a time, dunking them (very carefully) into an ice bath and then scooping them out onto a plate. In the meantime, I cooked up my spinach and heated my artichoke hearts.

When it came time to serve, it all worked out really quite simply. I plunked my eggs back into some hot water, then scooped them out and plopped them (gently, of course) onto the artichoke heart and dressed them with a spoon of my golden, tangy, warm and perfectly unbroken hollandaise. 7 orders up at the same time, and hot. The owners and crew all sat down for breakfast together and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride that I had met the challenge…

Lesson learned? Well, hollandaise is one of those things that, working on a yacht, I should really know how to make. And now, I can make it in abundance, hold it and reheat it without it breaking. And, I can also do poached eggs for the masses and get them all up at once, hot and perfectly cooked.

How ‘bout them apples?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wherer are you?
Looking for more new from the sun!
Vancouver, BC Canada

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