Sunday, 31 March 2013

une affaire hollandaise...

Today, I rekindled a long-lost love affair with Hollondaise. It had been a long time since a brunch date over a plate of Eggs Benedict, but today it was almost like old times again. As with many what-went-wrong-with-us relationships, happier times once existed between "Holly" and I. Time, distance, and extenuating circumstances, however, separated us as excess heat or acidity separates her emulsified yolks. How did this affair come to be, pass, and come back to life? Join me as I recount our decade-plus long journey.

Holly and I met when I was a cook at the Sandbar in Mana, a beachy suburb of Wellington. I don't know how I never met her in years before, but she was a regular feature of our weekend brunches. I learned of her fickle nature: when treated right, she would be smooth, silky, and satisfying; treated just a shy wrong and she would completely fall apart on you, pleasing no one in the process.
Holly traveled with me to Queenstown and later Christchurch where I learned that she was also the mother of so many other egg-and-butter-based sauces. Her daughter Bearnaise once showed up as a sauce for broccoli on our buffet, but it was to brunch with Holly I would always turn to on days when too much wine was enjoyed the night before, or sometimes just as a special treat when no one else was around.

Then it was I who took a break from Holly during my 6 months of backpacking through South America. (Eggs Benny isn't much of a thing among the backpacking sort). After a few months of resettling in Vancouver, Holly and I once again crossed paths as I took the role of Manager/Exepditer at a chain restaurant famous for its world-famous-in-Canada brunches. I fell in love once again with Holly, but two adages came true: absence can make the heart grow fungus, and you can have too much of a good thing. No longer responsible for her creation, I instead had to deal with Holly as she sat on line, bubbling away for several hours. In short, I quickly grew tired of Holly; her lemon-buttery perfume permeating my hair and clothes every Sunday for 3 years. I shied away from her smooth touch on my Eggs Benedict, instead opting for a Chimichurri-inspired, Argentine hottie there called gaucho sauce (also great on pan-fried potatoes, by the way).

Leaving the restaurant industry to pursue a career in wine retail, I never spoke to or of Holly again. The mere thought of her made me ill to my stomach. She was welcome at the tables of my friends, but I wanted nothing further to do with her; I had had my fare share. Such was the case for three and a half years.

August long weekend, 2012, and a brunch in Deep Cove with a visiting friend brought Holly back in my life. Fresh crab bennies on a summer, seaside patio seemed the way to go, so I put aside outstanding issues to welcome - albeit briefly - Holly back into my life. I savoured the warm reunion, remembering but only the good times. A chance encounter that set me on the path to today.
A perfect storm of spinach-on-sale, soon-to-expire eggs, and oxidised-wine is what it took to bring Holly back into my home. Our first time together was clumsy to say the least; i lost concentration for a moment and she fell apart. Our second attempt, however, was pure magic; the perfect balance of rich, creamy butter blended with fresh egg yolk and the zip of freshly squeezed lemon poured over perfectly poached eggs, steamed spinach, and homemade toast:

"Holly's" Hollandaise
2 egg yolks              2 tsp. lemon juice          1 tbsp. white wine          salt, pepper, & cayenne to taste
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp. butter          1 tbsp shallots, chopped          1 clove garlic, chopped

1) Whisk together yolks, lemon juice, wine, salt, pepper, and cayenne. The liquids should be completely integrated into the yolk;
2) Melt 1/4 cup butter over low heat in a saucepan. Once melted, keep warm over very low heat;
3) In a double broiler/thick-bottom saucepan, heat remaining butter over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and fry until opaque and fragrant. Reduce heat to medium-low;
4) Add yolk mixture to shallots/garlic, and whisk thoroughly. Slowly add melted butter while continually whisking the eggs. This is important so as to completely emulsify the sauce and prevent cloying or separation;
5) Serve over poached eggs, green veggies (asparagus), or grilled fish.

It may not be the classic sauce I met so many years ago in Wellington, but I think I am rather fond of the new, updated version of her because, at her very essence (butter, lemon, egg yolk), she is still the same Holly I fell in love with so many years ago.

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