Chemistry of Hollandaise
“I sing the praise of Hollandaise,
A sauce supreme in many ways.
Not only is it a treat to us
When ladled on asparagus,
But I would shudder to depict
A world without Eggs Benedict.”
I really should have started with these first because Steve’s Tits-Up Crab Cakes are the perfect example of what I like to cook – it’s deep fried AND it is smothered in a cream sauce. There was a lot of prep involved in this meal and by the end I was in the kitchen for almost three hours. That doesn’t count making the mayonnaise and red pepper purée earlier in the week. Fortunately for me I was able to make this meal in stages. I made the crab cakes first with the help of my junior sous chef, Sarah. She prepped most of the ingredients for the crab cakes and there are a lot of them. This involved chopping peppers and onions and measuring out all of the different spices for me. She also separated the eggs for the hollandaise sauce. The crab cakes themselves were surprisingly easy. They require a lot of different ingredients (19 to be specific), but you just mix them all together and deep fry them. It helps if you have a deep fryer, which I do thanks to a well thought out Father’s Day present this year. (Take that necktie industry.) I had to shorten the deep frying time again. The book said 5 minutes and after the first one got very dark after just three minutes I shortened the frying time to a single minute. One minute made them turn out perfectly light brown and sizzling.
Next was the hollandaise sauce. I was pretty nervous because I’ve heard that a good hollandaise can be hard to make and if the temperature is wrong it can break. Hollandaise means “from Holland”, in French and is a sauce made with butter, egg yolks, and lemon juice. Mitch adds warm cream to the mix because it makes the sauce less cloying and more presentable. The butter and cream contribute milk proteins and some moisture. The mixture is heated very gently, to encourage the milk proteins and egg proteins to denature, or unfold, without clumping together. When cooked properly, the proteins form a network that traps the moisture creating a rich, smooth sauce. When cooked wrong you get a clumpy, oily mess – or so I hear. My sauce turned out wonderful. I watched a couple videos on YouTube showing how to make Hollandaise and I was glad I did. The chefs I watched showed me if nothing else that it was OK to put the sauce down for a few seconds while you are whisking it. I whisked the butter in perhaps a little slower than I needed to, but it all worked out in the end. I did get pretty tired of whisking so I had my senior sous chef, Melanie, rest me for a few minutes towards the end. I also learned from the videos that I could just hold the sauce in the bowl for a while until the rest of the meal was done. I just had to make sure I kept in in a warm place.
With the crab cakes being kept warm in the lower oven and the Hollandaise in the upper oven I made the hash browns and poached some eggs. Ironically after worrying about the Hollandaise so much it was the hash-browns that stressed me out. I made way too many and they took forever to cook. The last step was to poach some eggs and I had to wait until the hash-browns were mostly done before I started that step. It gave me time to cut the melon and toast the English muffins, but it ruined my flow of expectations.
I haven’t had much luck poaching eggs in the past, but I was feeling confident after my success with the Hollandaise. I took Mitch’s suggestion on poaching the eggs and threw in the 1/2 cup of cream I had left into the boiling water before adding the eggs. Since the boiling liquid was now white from the cream I couldn’t see anything of the egg except the yolk. I believe this worked in my favor because I just set the timer for 5 minutes and walked away. They are the best poached eggs I have ever made. Sarah who wasn’t a big fan of the crab cakes ate two cream poached eggs all by themselves and declared them delicious.
The end result of all this work and worry was an amazing dish. Kira and I oo’d and mm’d for most of the meal. The Red Pepper Hollandaise was definitely the main flavor, but you could taste the salty crab cakes and even the creamy poached egg quite clearly in a lot of the bites. I tried to eat two of them, but in the end I had to stop eating because I was too full.
Recipe #10: Poached Eggs
Recipe #11: Sweet Cream Hollandaise Sauce
Recipe #12: Red Pepper Hollandaise Sauce
Recipe #13: Steve’s Tits-Up Crab Cakes
Recipe #14: Hash-Brown Potatoes
Cooking Time = 2 1/2 Hours
Dish Washing Time = 45 minutes (completed by my lovely wife, Kira)
Damn Good Food Quote of the Day: This classic sauce takes a little finesse to prepare well.