Hollandazed and Confused
Every self-respecting chef or cook in the industry should be able to properly cook meat, process fruit and vegetables, and make a sandwich. A few can even paint a canvass and call it food. Congratulations to you. But I think I speak for many of us when I say that pride is found in the sauce. Steak is steak until you put sauce on it. Chicken is chicken until you put sauce on it. A fish is, well, you get the idea. But eggs, eggs are like the simplest of all foods, and we turn them into sauce. Today, I’m going to talk to you about my journey of making scrambled egg butter into the elegant, delicious hollandaise.
We’ve all made an egg for breakfast. It’s how I start my day, every day. So how do we take this basic food staple and make it gourmet? Honestly, I was put on the spot with little to no training and left to figure it out myself. I had little to go on when I took over as breakfast lead at my restaurant. I wasn’t fit for duty, as they would say. My chef only believed that it was easier to lean on my potential rather than hire out. Looking back on the time it took me to get it right, maybe he should have just looked harder, but look at me now! All I really had to go on was my executive telling me years ago that you had to beat the hell out of it to make it light and fluffy, an old sous telling me the importance of SLOWLY adding the clarified, and my smart phone. I guess I had a recipe too, but nobody ever explained to me how to actually do it. More so than with other sauces, I believe the technique so much more important than the recipe. Flavors can be tinkered with later.
The guy I was replacing trained me for one day. One day. It was a Monday or Tuesday, so not super busy. There was a bunch of stuff about not scrambling the egg, moving the mixing bowl off the boiler, blahblahblah. Important stuff, but not really critical regarding how you get a feel for it. I had my thirty yolks, some white wine (how does anyone cook without it), lemon juice, Worcestershire, cayenne, and Tabasco. Don’t forget the SNP. The ratios I’ll get to later.
My first batch wasn’t too bad, I guess, but it would always break around nine in the morning. I did this delicate dance with our expo where we would position it just right in relation to the hot window so that it could stay warm, but not actually overcook. They were tasked with saucing our Bennies, as we delegated a lot of garnishing to them on account of our high volume. If it ever broke, they were the easy scapegoat because we were the mighty chefs. How dare we be accused of making a technically bad sauce. Spoiler alert, it was our fault. Nobody ever taught us right or bothered to explore how they could improve on their own unpaid time. That is until me. Sure, some knew the way before us, but when I did breakfast, the focus wasn’t on breakfast at all, it was about the dinner cash cow. No blame, just lamenting the death of old knowledge before it could be properly passed on. So long as we put some yellow shit on it, it was all gravy.. erm... sauce.
I learned to feel the heat of the bowl by light burns. Look for the tiny bubbles and beat them into tinier ones. Stop whipping when the resistance became to much, then realize the thickness could be MY discretion, its all about how well it would hold on the egg. Add that butter as slowly as possible and never, I mean never, stop whipping your sauce until its done. My final product to this day is the culmination of countless failures because I knew it could be done better, yet I just hadn’t discovered how. The best sauces are the ones you learn to perfect yourself because of the effort put towards success. I guess what I’m trying to say is we can always learn to do something better, and hollandaise was my platform to demonstrate that. It took me six months until I was satisfied with it regularly. Go out and try it yourself and be proud of your mistakes. Here’s my basic recipe for 100 covers or less. Do math and figure out how much you want to make. Also use google.
30 yolks, 1 shot of lemon, 2 of wine, 1 dash cayenne, 7 dashes tobacco, 1 second pour Wooster. Way more butter than you’d expect. Figure it out through trial.
-Jonathan Nelson, writer for cleaverandblade.com, calls Coeur d’Alene, Idaho home