When I am eating out often times there are dishes I order only because they’re not things I’d normally make at home. Maybe it’s a crispy seafood fritto misto with a spicy garlic aioli, or perhaps a luscious and warm molten chocolate cake, or possibly even a light and wonderfully fresh tuna tartar. Of course all of these things I probably can make at home, but there’s just something about ordering them in a restaurant that makes them feel special.
For me, one of those such dishes is eggs benedict. It’s really very easy – and not all that extraordinary – but still I only eat when I am out at a cafe for brunch. It definitely isn’t the ordinary English muffin, the plain Canadian bacon, or the poached egg that makes the benedict so appealing – it’s the hollandaise sauce. That amazing eggy, silky, savory, rich sauce that clothes those little open face egg sandwiches and smothers them with its delightfulness.
Without that hollandaise, your benedict waltzes into dangerous territory and becomes something much more pedestrian – something that rhymes with ‘leg-rick-puffan,’ and it becomes, at least to me, completely undesirable.
Hollandaise is one of the five French ‘Mother Sauces’ – thats is, a basic sauce used as a base sauce in many other variations. Having received a copy of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for my birthday a couple of years ago (from someone who is most always the recipient of the meals I make, no less!) I’ve made it a point to learn some of the basics, and a hollandaise is one of them.
Traditional hollandaise is very simple – it requires eggs, lemon juice, and copious amounts of butter. The traditional method involves tediously and carefully warming egg yolks in a double boiler and slowly emulsifying them with cubed butter. It is not difficult, but it does require constant whisking and attention to ensure the yolks do not curdle and the sauce does not break. Cheating and making it in a blender or food processor (which Julia actually endorses on page 81!) is a much speedier way to get the same results. The yolks cook from the heat of the butter and the speed of the blender helps prevent the sauce from breaking. It is so easy, and was the perfect topper for the lovely bunch of white asparagus I picked up today.
Use good quality butter and fresh organic eggs if you can – you will taste the difference. I can already imagine all of the things I want to do with this sauce: atop toasts topped with tomatoes and spinach, draped over roasted fingerling potatoes, alongside a piece of pan fried halibut…
I don’t know if I’ll ever use the muscle-cramp-inducing original method – I say cheat away!
Lemon Steamed White Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce
Serves 4 as a side dish
Adapted from Julia Child’s “The Art of French Cooking”
White asparagus have a much woodier outside than the green variety, are more brittle, and take longer to cook. Before cooking, snap off the bottom 1.5″ of the stem, and while holding flat on a cutting board, gently peel the outermost layer off with a vegetable peel. If you attempt to hold the asparagus in the air while you do this it will snap – it needs the support of the hard surface.
You can use a blender or a mini processor – personally, I am enamored with my mini processor. I keep it out on the counter at all times, and use it much more often than my Big Mama. Its smaller cup size is perfect for making smaller amounts of anything and is especially perfect for this sauce as you aren’t really working with a lot of volume to begin with. You can find one here. I dialed back the butter a bit from the original entire stick (!!) but it was still delicious and very rich.
1 bunch White Asparagus (about 1lb), ends trimmed and stalks peeled
1 lemon, sliced thinly into rounds
salt & fresh cracked pepper
4 Egg yolks
6 tbsp butter
1 tbsp lemon juice
pinch sea salt & pepper
In a saucepan large enough to hold the asparagus, pour in enough water to come up just to the bottom of the steamer basket. Place the sliced lemons and 2 tsp salt in with the water, then place the steamer basket in. Bring to a boil, and place the asparagus in the pot (on top of the steamer basket). Lower the heat to a simmer and cover. Steam the asparagus for 5-8 minutes, until crisp-tender (skinnier asparagus will take around 5 minutes, while thicker stalks will take longer). Once crisp tender, you can a) plunge into an ice bath, if you’d like it chilled, or b) remove from the heat and keep it warm to the side, if you’d like a warm dish.
While the asparagus cooks, make your hollandaise. Place the 4 egg yolks in the bowl of a food processor (or alternately, a blender) and mix for 15 seconds, until smooth and frothy. Place the lemon juice and butter into a microwaveable cup (a glass Pyrex type works well, or other bowl that is easy to pour from) and microwave on high until the butter is completely melted and a bit foamy, about 30-40 seconds. Be careful, it will be hot!
With the blender or processor running, slowly pour the butter into the egg in a very thin stream. Be very careful – if you add too much hot butter at once to the egg, the sudden intense heat will scramble the yolks….not exactly the desired effect. Continue until all the butter is added and the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 20 seconds or so.
Place the warm (or chilled) asparagus on a plate, and pour the hollandaise over the stalks. Serve immediately with fresh lemon wedges, and season with salt & fresh ground pepper. The hollandaise is best served while still warm, creamy, and delicious.