Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hollandaise Sauce

Some couples come back from their tenth wedding anniversary pregnant. Us, we came home with an assignation. And a couple of weeks later, as arranged, my four-year-old and I headed up country and met with an eccentric man wearing a gaudy apron; we came home with four chickens.

Now these ladies are pecking and preening their way around our garden. They gobble up slugs with relish; they eye off the weed seeds and strip them clean; they endlessly turn over the compost heap; they peer in our windows and check what we're up to; they follow us around as we work in the garden. And they lay eggs.

We are totally smitten. My four-year-old spends hours each day carrying one chook or the other, or sitting on a little wooden chair in the run and chatting with them as they peck around her ankles. My six-year-old came home from school yesterday. 'I'm tired and cross,' she announced, then went and read with the chickens. She came in an hour later much refreshed. And I stand at the kitchen sink, looking out and laughing at the little heads peeking out from behind a flowerpot or popping up from a clump of grass.

All of us, young and old, crow with delight when we find an egg. It's like finding treasure two or three times a day. And I find myself wondering, what took me so long?

I can castigate myself for putting it off. Or, better, I can celebrate that we have an abundance of fresh eggs just as asparagus comes into season. Between asparagus, eggs, and a lemon from the neighbour's tree, we're most of the way to poached eggs and asparagus with hollandaise sauce.

I trim the asparagus and simmer it for a few minutes in a wide skillet until just cooked – not squishy, but not crisp either; meanwhile, I poach eggs in another skillet. And in a breathtaking feat of kitchen management, while the asparagus and eggs are cooking I whip up this hollandaise sauce ready to blanket the lot.

For more on how to poach an egg, click here.

Hollandaise Sauce

- 2 egg yolks (freeze the whites for meringue)
- 2 tbs cream or top milk (that is, the first bit of a bottle of unhomogenized unshaken milk)
- 1 tbs lemon juice, or to taste
- 4 tbs unsalted butter
- salt, pepper

Put the 4 tbs butter somewhere in easy reach.

Place the yolks, cream, lemon juice and salt into a deep pan. Whisk together. Heat over a medium flame. Holding the saucepan with one hand, whisk rapidly and continuously with the other. Make sure you whisk right to the edges of the pan.

The instant it thickens, take the saucepan off the stove – keep whisking – and walk to the butter. Throw it in, and whisk and stir until it is combined.


Precautions: Do not stop whisking or you'll end up with scrambled egg yolks. If you are timid, you can make it over a double boiler (or a bowl resting over a saucepan of simmering water), but the double boiler method usually results in a thin undercooked sauce. Using direct heat is riskier, but as long as you remain observant it is easy and quick.

Adapted from a recipe in Robert Farrar Capon's The Supper of the Lamb, reviewed here.

(Local: eggs, cream, lemon, asparagus. Not local: butter, salt.)

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