A big part of the reason I haven’t written much lately is due to the increased number of hours spent in the kitchen and away from my computer–at culinary school!
It has been a whirlwind month filled with soufflé, hollandaise, puff pastry, cream puffs, pastry cream…you get the picture. With one day devoted to savory cooking and one to baking each week (and also a seminar featuring something exciting like plating and finishing, food safety, and butchering), I have certainly eaten my share of our “schoolwork.” But the thing about culinary school is that it is like any other academic program where you have to study the subject matter, which in this case means making more soufflé, hollandaise, puff pastry, cream puffs, pastry cream. Luckily, the hubby doesn’t seem to mind my “studying” at home, particularly when it involves hollandaise.
You have to have courage in the kitchen. I’ve found that results usually improve when we stop worrying about how daunting gravy, pie crust, and hollandaise are and just do it. More importantly, we need to learn to identify the whys of failure and success–why did the gravy fail, why did the hollandaise break, why was the pastry tough this time but not last week–so we can identify the problem, adapt, improve, and in some cases, improvise right on the spot.
I recently had an amazing opportunity to cook at Chef Louie Night, a fantastic collaboration and fundraiser showcasing some pretty important Boston chefs (Louie DeBiccari of Sel de la Terre and Jamie Bissonnette of Toro and Coppa). Rewarding and exhausting, this was one of my first professional events in a commercial kitchen (the event was hosted at Petit Robert Central). Besides the thrill of working next to these acclaimed chefs, one of my biggest takeaways of the day was how even chefs at this level mess up and have to fix a dish or improvise with only ten minutes before service. Sometimes your ingredients spoil or you break too many soft-boiled eggs so that you are short, and in both instances, we had to make do and fix the problem.
Hollandaise is like this. Forget about the fact that it is one of those classic, fear-inducing sauces that most people never think about trying to make on their own. The biggest trick about hollandaise is recognizing when it is about to separate, or “break,” and then adding a few drops of water to make it come back together. The biggest reward of hollandaise? Smothering it over whatever you want!
Here is the Dill Hollandaise Sauce I served over a quick, pan-fried haddock fillet, but you could certainly leave out the dill or substitute in another herb. This sauce would be delicious over so many things: the obvious poached eggs, savory soufflé, white fish, salmon, chicken, or just plain vegetables like blanched asparagus, broccoli, or cauliflower for an elegant side. Be patient with the entire process, as it takes some time to incorporate all that butter!
Dill Hollandaise Sauce (makes enough to generously cover 4 fish fillets)
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. finely chopped dill
2/3 tsp. salt
freshly ground white or black pepper
pinch of cayenne
3 large egg yolks
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, melted but warm
Combine the water and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and reduce to 2 tbsp. Let cool a few moments while you add in salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add the yolks over low heat (even moving pan on and off heat if you think it is getting to hot–you don’t want to scramble the eggs!) and vigorously whisk the mixture until thick and creamy and doubled in volume–this takes a few minutes, so be patient! Start to whisk the melted butter, one teaspoon at a time, into the yolk mixture. Do not add the butter too fast. On and off the heat, continue to add the butter this way until half has been incorporated and then continue adding butter by the tablespoon. If the mixture gets too hot and too much water evaporates, the sauce will begin to appear oily and separate. If this happens, add a few drops of water and mixture should come back together, with a creamy, pale yellow appearance.
Once all the butter is incorporated, add in dill and season to taste with extra salt and pepper if necessary. Serve immediately or keep warm in a hot water bath.