Summer Egg Blues (and, adventures in Hollandaise Sauce)

broken eggs  jean-baptiste greuze

“Broken Eggs” Jean-Baptiste Greuze 1756  (On display at the MET. Bequest of William K. Vanderbilt, 1920)

The painting was said, by critics in the 1700’s, that the broken eggs symbolized the loss of the girl’s virginity. I don’t think they’re right.  I just think that she was overwhelmed by the eggs, and the weight of deciding what to do with them. As is the case, in the long days of summer chickens just lay too darn many eggs.  (Although I do wonder why the little boy has a rat and that strange expression.)

My chickens have long since passed on to the pasture in the sky, so I source my eggs at a local honor farm stand. A couple of days ago I didn’t have change for a single carton of eggs, so I purchased four cartons (two medium $4.00 each, and two large $6.00 each) and stuffed my $20 bill into the locked box.

Now I have the weight of 48 eggs staring at me every time I open my refrigerator.

I don’t really feel like making an angel food or sunshine cake. Not in the mood for a savory bread casserole. (No stale bread, either.) Not in the mood for a souffle.

So, what do I feel like?  Custard? Flan? Quiche?

That is the dilemma. I feel like I can relate to that poor woman sitting on the floor. Deep in contemplation, annoyed at the lack of direction and unable to make a decision. I have 47 perfect eggs sitting waiting for me. Calling out “I’m yummy”. (The best I have done is fry one for breakfast.)

I think I’m going to make a Hollandaise sauce (which will bring me down to 46 eggs which will patiently wait until tomorrow).  I have some fresh, wild caught salmon that I will poach in some white wine, some fresh squash (who doesn’t have too much squash this time of year?) a glass of the white wine, and a Hollandaise sauce will be perfect.

I can taste it now. The butter and egg sauce with a lemony flavor, emulsified over heat served hot.

Hollandaise sauce is named for Holland, the place of its birth. Although made famous by the French. The name suggests that it was a Dutch creation imported to France (by the Huguenots). The sauce’s history is quite muddled, with many views on who was first, where it appeared in written form first, and why it came to be.

Most people only think of Hollandaise for breakfast (Eggs Benedict).

As all emulsified egg sauces, it has the reputation for being difficult, in this case,  notoriously difficult. The internet and cookbooks all have some trick and shout out: “this is the BEST RECIPE” that most people shy away from making a batch.

(Note: I’m cutting the recipe in half, because I’m just cooking for myself.)

The most important thing about all sauces is to not rush. Eggs and oil are an exercise in patience. Push to hard, heat too high, rush and the sauce will “break” (curdle, clump).

Some cooking experts will tell you to start with nearly frozen butter cut into small cubes and let the butter melt as you blend it with the yolk over heat. (It works. It can take a long time for the butter to melt, but the end result is fine.) Some recipes make no distinction in the temperature of the butter but say to put the pan directly on low heat and move it off when necessary to control the temperature. Other recipes call for an extra initial step: clarifying the butter first (which I prefer) and then mixing the oil into the yolk, much as with making mayonnaise, only over a bain-marie or a double boiler. Although, you can just do this in a saucepan over the heat.

(Something I have NOT tried until tonight.)

My husband insists that clarifying the butter is an unneeded step and that any butter will work, salted or not, although the only butter he usually has on hand is unsalted butter. He has made Hollandaise and Bernaise sauces hundreds of times. I, on the other hand, have made emulsified sauces only with clarified butter but have made mayonnaise many times, and I like liquid oil to mix into the egg yolk, because I find it easier to control and more familiar. Since we both come up with the same basic end result, I suppose it’s only a matter of which directions you care to follow and practice with. One thing is for certain: These are sauces you have to be prepared to practice, and make routinely, until the techniques are foolproof—or nearly so—for you.

The key is to not get frustrated. Once you have the hang of it, these are easy and elegant sauces to “whip up.”

If the egg in the sauce begins to curdle, you can strain the sauce through several layers of cheesecloth, return the liquid to the pan, add a new egg yolk, and try again. Addition of some very, very cold water (a teaspoon to a tablespoon) can cool the sauce down enough to stop the break. (Then whisk energetically to get the egg proteins to smooth out and accept more oil.) If a sauce breaks, it breaks. Everyone has it happen, sometimes. When it does, just start over and go slower, and you’ll find success. (I have a lot of mistakes I can make, and still have eggs.)

Tonight I’ll try my husband’s recipe [cut in half]:.



  • 2 sticks butter  [1 stick, or so 1/4 pound, or 4 ounces of butter]
  • 4 egg yolks [2 egg yolks]
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice [1/2 teaspoon lemon juice]
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper [I am going to skip the cayenne, because I don’t feel like it]
  • salt and pepper, to taste [just a small dash of salt, touch more pepper]
  • 2 teaspoons ice water, if needed [1 teaspoon ice water]

Cut well-chilled butter into small (1/4-inch) chunks, and set aside. In fairly large saucepan, add egg yolks, lemon juice, cayenne, and pepper. With hand whisk, blend all ingredients. Add chilled nuggets of butter, and turn heat to medium. Start whisking ingredients, and do not stop until butter melts and sauce begins to thicken. If sauce starts to break, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of very cold water, remove from heat, and whisk feverishly until sauce combines again. Once sauce is thick and smooth, add salt and more pepper, to taste. Remove from heat, and serve. (You can put saucepan into pan of warm water to keep sauce heated for as long as 30 minutes. This sauce does not hold well—it will begin to break.)



 

I’ll report back —

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