Culinary school has picked up in intensity, meaning we’ve turned on the stoves. Its funny to watch people in general, but its especially funny to watch people react to fire. Couple the heat with the fact that their are 16 students and 12 front burners. There are 12 at the back of each range as well, but only 12 people can cook at once, shoulder to shoulder. Blanching broccoli? No problem. Making hollandaise, bernaise, and beurre blanc… not so much.
I have two additional problems plaguing me. First, the nerve that runs down the index finger of my knife hand is bruised and holding my knife gingerly results in irregular cuts and lack of control over a 10″ blade, or whisk. Holding any tighter results in the funny-bone sensation smarting through my hand. Clenched teeth is my current best option.
Second, I have inadvertently partnered with a retired NYPD sergeant whom, on her best days pops 6 Aleve by 10am and lets me call the shots. Most days, however, I end up fixing lots of absent-minded professor mistakes and feeling twice the anxiety I would if I was the only one I had to be concerned for.
On Friday, we made emulsions. Familiar emulsions are mayonnaise and vinaigrette. These require no heat, but must be whipped together to create a smooth blend of fat and acid. No heat means your chances for success are pretty high. Add heat, and if you’re lucky and talented, you get Hollandaise, Bernaise and Beurre Blanc. The beurre blanc is pretty easy, considering you make a dry reduction of shallots, white wine, white wine vinegar (your acid,) peppercorns and a bay leaf. Then whisk in 1 pound (yes, pound) of butter in small lumps. Bring to a boil and strain, resulting in a savory, buttery milk.
Hollandaise and Bernaise. Oh how I loathe thee. Perhaps “loathe” is too strong a word. Perhaps “broken” is the best description of how I feel towards thee.
1 T lemon juice (or lime, or tangerine, I actually used blood orange purée) (your acid)
1 T vinegar (I used champagne) (your other acid)
3 egg yolks
2 T water, with a measuring cup of cold water at the ready, in case your sauce begins to break
1 T salt
1 cup (or more, or less) clarified butter (your fat)
extra egg yolks, just in case you break your sauce
I’m going to be as non-editorial as possible here, but you can see by the ingredients what you are up against. The thing is, recipes and proportions go out the window and are replaced by technique, which right now, I have none of.
In a small sauce pan, simmer the vinegar and the citrus together until reduced to 1 tablespoon. Set another sauce pan 1/3 full with water over a burner and bring to a simmer. In a non-reactive (glass or stainless steel) mixing bowl, whisk together the first three egg yolks, water and salt. Set the mixing bowl over the simmering water and slowly dribble in the clarified butter. The eggs cannot pass 140°F so be ready, willing and able to stop drizzling butter, pull a hot bowl of stressed out egg yolks off the simmering water and continue to stir, holding them in the air until you can touch the bottom of the bowl. Both hands are occupied, one with whisk, one with bowl, and yes, you have to touch the bottom of the bowl. You have to whisk constantly, in one spot. If you pull off the heat and the mixture comes down in temperature, you can incorporate any lingering yolk that hasn’t found its way into the clarified butter mixture.
So, back and forth, back and forth off the heat until all the clarified butter is incorporated and you have a shiny, beautiful puddle of egg yolks at the ribbon stage (140°) meaning you can lift the whisk out of the yolks and what drizzles back into the bowl stands up briefly (or creates ribbons) before melting back into the sauce. Now your sauce is fully emulsified and off the heat, gently fold the citrus-vinegar reduction.
Ok, so that sounds easy. Not. (Sorry, I came of age Wayne’s World.) Its especially not easy when your sauce breaks, which every single one of ours did. A broken sauce looks like curdled milk and there’s absolutely nothing but nothing you can do to rescue it, so stop whisking. Pour the broken sauce into a cup/bowl/vessel of some type. Put a new egg yolk, a dash of salt and a dash of cold water into the mixing bowl and whisk over the simmering water. Drizzle your broken sauce back in, then continue with the clarified butter. If it breaks again, repeat.
Did I mention that my sauce broke after all the butter was incorporated?? Apparently It was too hot, or not hot enough, or I whisked too much or not enough… whatever, I saved it on the THIRD try and turned to my partner, expecting that she was prepping for bernaise, a reduction of tarragon, white wine and white wine vinegar. I was ready to start fresh, same process, different seasoning and when I said “You ready??” She said “I have everything we need for the hollandaise right here.”
You’ll never buy jarred again.
3 egg yolks
juice of 1/2 lemon (or acid of your choice)
1 tsp salt
1 cup canola oil
Ideally, in a non-reactive bowl with a non-reactive whisk (glass bowl and plastic coated whisk) begin whisking together the egg yolks, lemon, mustard, and salt. If you only have stainless steel, that’s fine, just work fast so as not to discolor your mayo. Slowly drizzle in your canola oil and whisk until the mayo is stiff and looks like, well… mayo.