Don’t be afraid


It is a beautiful day for a holiday. The cricket on my balcony has finally conceded to the day, even before the sun has poked its head over the edge of the neighbouring block of flats, and the birds are bang on schedule. The morning air is quiet and cool but it will be hot later, I think. I can’t take the day off, but as a concession I am still in bed at 06h30 with the laptop, and writing something not-for-profit. It is quite a groovy place to be. In about half an hour I am going to go for a swim.

On Sunday we had Spring Day at Barbara’s house. It was a little late this year because of the cold winter, as a result of which the ranunculi bloomed a tad tardily. Instead of a wine-soaked afternoon, as we had last year, Barb planned breakfast, and Jeffrey delegated the hollandaise-making to me. We did Russian and Italian eggs Benedict, on sourdough with salmon/vodka and prosciutto/grappa. I was the only one that had some Grey Goose with mine, but then, I had something to celebrate.

I made a perfect batch of hollandaise for 20 people. It was just wonderful, and it looked just like the picture. They say that the butter-emulsion sauces can FEEL your fear, and when they do, you are done for. They will split, scramble or do something else that will enable smug and jealous people to act all don’t-worry-we’ll-do-without around the stove. Well, Anthony Bourdain says that. Not that bit about the smug folk, just about the splitting. This is not true at all. I was stiff with fear: it’s OK to start again with three or four yolks once you have fucked everything up beyond repair (one Christmas my mother failed for about ½ an hour to get a hollandaise to unsplit with the help of the bzzt-thing) but when you have ten yolks in the pot and twenty people looking on, the stakes are higher. (If I was making Béarnaise I could have said the steaks were higher…. Well, I think that is funny.)

Anyway, I used a classic recipe from The Cordon Blu at Home, one that tells you to whisk the yolks with quite a bit of water over the low heat (I do it in the bain marie, always) and to use clarified butter. It is so empowering to know that I will never flinch in the face of a hot egg-butter emulsion again. As much as I am a Nigella fan, her cold-cubes-of-butter shortcut will never lead to the kind of triumph I celebrated on Sunday. Honest.

So here is the recipe:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 60ml water
  • 225g butter, clarified and cooled to lukewarm
  • Salt, pepper
  • Juice of ½ lemon, strained

Combine the egg yolks and water in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk continuously over very low heat until the mixture becomes frothy and thickens, and the whisk leaves a clear trail on the bottom of the pan. Do not let the mixture boil.

Remove from the heat. Add the clarified butter drop by drop, until the mixture starts to emulsify. Whisk in the remaining butter in slow stream until the sauce thickens. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Set aside, off the heat, on top of a pan of warm water.


5 thoughts on “Don’t be afraid

  1. filblanc 26 September 2009 / 16:33

    Sipho my favourite chef at the (late) samovar use to make eggs benedicte to DIE for. The all thing was on the sauce hollandaise. Nothing better than eggs bénédicte on a sunday morning for breakfast. I miss them so much!

  2. Betty Noire 29 September 2009 / 19:18

    Hmm. I can invite you! I have really perfected it, and I thought about you when I made the sauce. I told everybody about Le Samovar.

  3. filblanc 2 October 2009 / 16:33

    It would be great… shall I bring croissants and newspapers? Sunday morniiiing???? reallllyyyyy???? yesssss!

  4. RobD 7 October 2009 / 00:49

    Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking your feeds too now, Thanks. 🙂

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