French cooking, and any cooking, has a foundation in the sauces that garnish a dish. Sauces sometimes get a bad image. It's often said they just drown the flavor of bland food. Sure, if we cover everything in brown gravy, that'll be the case. But there is so much more to a well-made sauce.
Sauces help add balance to a dish and often add a layer of freshness. They are also a mark of a good cook. If you can't prepare and flavor sauces, then it will be difficult to gain any true skill in preparing traditional or modern dishes.
Auguste Escoffier, the father of modern-day cookery, formulated the idea of five mother sauces. Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Sauce Tomat (tomato sauce), and Hollandaise. Espagnole has been seen as dated and isn't used all too often. The others, on the other hand, we will be looking into the next couple of weeks.
This week we start with Hollandaise! Eggs Benedict is, of course, the most notable example of its use. Hollandaise is an example of an egg emulsified sauce, with about 1/3-2/3rds of it being in its dispersed fat phase. If you've made Béarnaise sauce before, it's very similar but differs in its seasoning. Lemon is used for Hollandaise, and Béarnaise uses wine and herbs.
When you make this sauce, it's important to note the type of butter you'll be using. Whole butter contains about 15% water, while clarified butter is 100% butterfat. Whole butter will thin the sauce, and clarified butter thickens. Because this is an egg emulsified sauce, it's crucial how fast/ how much we heat the eggs. Eggs help thicken the sauce but cook them too much and the eggs will cook and curdle causing the sauce to separate.
How do we solve the issue of curdled eggs? Simply use a double boiler- a pot filled with water with a bowl atop it for cooking. Another way, and more scientific, is Its PH value. Keep it around 4.5, and the portions in the eggs will repel each other and unfold before bonding. Since most of us, including myself, don't have PH strips in our kitchens, we use a double boiler and slowly cook the sauce while whisking constantly.
What if you do end up curdling your eggs? Simply strain the sauce through a fine sieve and add a warm egg yolk and a tablespoon of water. The big question here, though... can we save the sauce? Yes, you can, but it requires some work to revive it. The butterfat will have recrystallized and, once warmed, will form puddles atop the sauce. Simply add a warm egg yolk and a tablespoon of water and whisk till combined.
And so that's Hollandaise and the science behind it; below, we have a beautiful eggs Benedict recipe that highlights fresh ingredients- perfect for spring or any season.