Friday, September 14, 2007

Don't get saucy with me... Bernaise!

I have a new found respect for Sunday brunch line cooks. As I write, I'm in crippling pain after making a hollandaise today. Who knew it required to much work? I was so cramped up from the whisking that when it came to seasoning I couldn't move my hand out of the claw-like position I had cramped into during whisking! I felt like a mutant. Thank God for a left hand!

I was also horrified (and vaguely impressed) with just how much butter is required for these sauces. It almost justified the effort involved in making the sauce since the calories that it burnt MORE than made up for the intake. I was also surprised by the consistency of the hollandaise sauce at the end, I hadn't thought it would end up so custard-like. I always imagined it to be somewhere between runny egg yolk and a slow-moving, thick olive oil. I found it actually slightly off putting to find the consistency closer to a gelatinous mayonnaise. At first, I had thought that I had overcooked my eggs, but chef said that the custard feeling and look to the eggs was what I should be aiming for.

Unfortunately, having now realized just how much butter is in hollandaise I'm rather disgusted by it all. The idea of all that butter being suspended in egg yolks gave my heart a little flutter of disgust, particularly upon realizing just how much fat and cholesterol was in every bite of those past eggs Benedict. In the future, I think the only way I could justify eating my favorite brunch dish would be if I make it at home myself, balancing out the fat intake... too bad I can't make a good poached egg.

The beurre blanc was a completely different monster for me. When we had begun making the sauces for the day, we all reduced out vinegar/white wine mixture for the beurre blanc, then moved on to making (and finishing) the hollandaise sauce before returning to the reduction. For me, the staggering of the beurre blanc stages made it difficult to complete the sauce properly. I had reduced the liquid a touch too far at the beginning, which could have be salavaged if I had added the butter right away, but because we let the reduction cool, trying to bring the reduction back up to temperature and adding the butter ended up cooling the pan too much. Then, in a complete rookie mistake, I forgot the cardinal rule to not let it boil or bubble up... and the whole thing separated on me.

One look and I knew it was gone. I was frustrated but felt I learnt a valuable lesson: don't take your eyes off your sauce! I'll certainly be more careful in future. Luckily, there was enough time after cleaning up my sauce that I was able to start over again. This time, it came together beautifully.

Chef and Kevin had also made a brown sauce from our veal stocks from yesterday. I was surprised by the flavor, it wasn't as intense and rich as I had hoped it would be. Are brown sauces supposed to be fuller in flavor? Everyone else seemed to think it was a great sauce. I would like to see if other brown sauces are more flavorful. Should the sauce be stronger than the food or should to play nicely with the other kids on the plate? I used to think that sauces should be minimal at best, but the French always seemed to have a more aggressive attitude towards sauces. At this point, I don't know if I still believe in minimalism, but I'm pretty sure I'd move away from such intense sauces.

In the morning demo, Chef made a blond roux and a brown roux. I couldn't believe how long the blond roux cooked. At home, my blond roux (when making a bechamel) never took much longer than five minutes. I never thought they turned out grainy or flour-y either. Twenty minutes seems excessive and almost makes the color too dark to be considered a 'blond.' Next time I make a bechamel, I'll leave it on for 20 minutes and see if it really makes a flavor difference.

P.S. Perhaps the nuttiness released from the cooked flour enhances the flavor? Thinking over the logic now, it would seem that a good bechamel should have a nutty quality, particularly since most recipes include nutmeg. Even still... I don't know how nutty I want my bechamel.