*Homegrown “Easter” eggs!
* I do not have chickens, but a student at N.’s school does, and was kind enough to share!
I’m reasonably certain that most people, when faced with the prospect of serving homemade hollandaise sauce, are immediately overcome with the desire to crawl underneath a table somewhere and stay there, quivering, until their guests agree to go out for brunch.
Hollandaise has a reputation for being fussy – a kind of yolk-based response to the temperamental touchiness a soufflé evokes for the whites crowd. Words like “break” and “emulsify” and “scramble” haunt your vision, and the pale lemon-yellow fluffiness cloaking a restaurant-made eggs benedict feels like an impossibility.
I started this project with flour-thickened sauces almost by accident. Wanting familiarity, I didn’t realize my first three sauces, the béchamel, the mornay, and the velouté, were fairly close cousins: fat, flour, liquid. No huge recipes for disaster there, aside from the possibility of clumping. But this second trimester, the egg exploration, is a little more complex. Fat comes from multiple sources now, and the egg yolks provide the protein and coagulation as well as some measure of fat. Balancing water, and acid, and dribbling in the butter just so, feels like a major project. But so long as you are in possession of arm muscles, just a little bit organized, and not in a huge rush, and, for all that is holy, not performing this for the first time in front of company, you are probably going to be okay.
I used an approximation of Ruhlman’s Ratio recipe for this. Almost more useful than the recipe, though, was his advice: “Do not be afraid of its breaking. Sauces can sense fear and will use it to their mischievous advantage. I have broken many sauces and am still a happy, productive member of society and an advocate of the emulsified butter sauces. If you make them, you can and will break them” (187-88).
An emulsified sauce, of which hollandaise is just one example, means a sauce that is thickened – held together, if you will – by a tenuous relationship. Think salad dressing. Remember those bottles from childhood, packed in on the door of the fridge? Remember how, during the week in between salad courses, they would slowly blurp into separate layers – oil on vinegar on water? An emulsion is when those disparate layers, unfriendly, incompatible, are coaxed together into a homogenous mix. Vinaigrette is an emulsion – perhaps one of the simplest. Fat, acid, harmonious.
Because emulsions can be unstable – leave that vinaigrette too long and you end up with a layer of oil and a layer of vinegar – they need to be treated with some care. A “broken” sauce is when the butter, added too quickly, upsets the mix and causes the fat and the water in the sauce to separate. This is the deep dread of homemade hollandaise. But I’m a survivor now. It can be done.
You would think, as would most reasonable people, that making hollandaise would be daunting enough, and I would choose some sensible preparation to share with you like… steamed asparagus.
I went with eggs benedict.
I’ve never poached an egg before.
As it turns out, no single one of the components of eggs benedict is, so long as you are relaxed and paying attention, particularly tricky. The issue is having everything ready to put together all at once. Fortunately, poached eggs, once they are poached, are forgiving. Doubly fortunately, hollandaise is one of those blessed creations that actually tastes better warm than it does hot. This means, if you’re keeping score, that if it cools off a touch while you are applying that last toaster session to your English muffins, that all is not lost.
This recipe will make enough hollandaise for two plates of eggs benedict. Since I was only serving me (albeit an unreasonably greedy me), I draped it across two eggs and had enough for a dish of the aforementioned steamed asparagus as well. That afternoon was a blur of food coma, but let me tell you, I’d do it again.
Note: if you are making eggs benedict as your vehicle for this sauce, my recommendation is to poach the eggs first (Deb has a good step-by-step recipe which I used pretty much verbatim), then set them aside in a bowl while you make the hollandaise. When the hollandaise is ready and you’ve pulled it off of the pot of water, pop the English muffin into the toaster and slip the poached eggs into the pot of hot water you just vacated. While the muffin toasts, the eggs will heat up and the hollandaise will cool slightly. By the time you’ve draped some smoked salmon or Canadian bacon across your muffins (I’m partial to the salmon, though. It’s like velvet), the poached eggs should be warm enough to serve, and hey presto! Eggs benedict for brunch, just like that.
I’m now feeling secure enough about myself, almost a month later, to share a few shots from my strawberries-and-goat-cheese biscuit disaster… They were pretty, and I love how ethereal the kitchen lighting is, but they were just so. damn. flat. Lesson learned. Jamming a full pint of strawberries into an innocent batch of dough does not fluffy biscuits make.
My bachelor habits are unusual. I typically don’t, when I’m making dinner just for my lonesome, go for what’s quick and easy. In fact, I use the rare occasions when I’m dining solo to catch up on cooking and consuming foods N. is not fond of. So when he was out of town last week visiting his parents, I took advantage of the evening alone to rendezvous with one of his major food rivals: lamb.
Most of the time (at least lately) I try to shy away from cute titles – I want to make sure you know what you’re getting – but this one was too clever not to use. This is a riff on a dish my sister made for us for Christmas (hi, R!), a version of spanikopita with crumbles of ground lamb and gooey shreds of mozzarella mixed in. Since my first thought upon tasting it was “more,” and then “more, more,” I thought a burger might be the answer. More of everything!
The delightful thing about spanikopita, to me, is the burst of briny saltiness from the hunks of cheese that muddle reluctantly into softness amid the spinach. I love the dill, and I love the earthy hit of nutmeg. Lately I’ve been adding lemon zest to the mix as well, for sour brightness to contrast the salty tang of the cheese.
All this, then, would have to go into my lamb burger. I’m not a big fan of massive additions to burgers. They seem, too often, fussy and unnecessary. That’s what toppings are for. But here, I think the incorporation works incredibly well for several reasons. First, lamb has a bit of a gamey flavor. Some of us like that, but for those who don’t, the additions of extra ingredients mean it’s a mild gaminess, not overwhelming. Second, it’s very easy for ground lamb to dry out. Here, where I’ve incorporated not just cheese but a sodden handful of sautéed fresh spinach, producing a dry product becomes a challenge. Third, but no less important, the addition of these extra ingredients bulks up the burgers, making the lamb – not nearly as cheap as everyday ground beef – stretch a bit further. This isn’t like a crab cake stretch, though, where your product is so drenched in seasoned bread crumbs you forget what kind of meat is supposed to be in there. All of these flavors dance well with the lamb, enhancing rather than masking it.
Because you’re cooking with a heady amount of cheese in the mix, these burgers will get crusty and deeply bronzed as the cheese seeps down onto the hot pan to toast. Don’t be alarmed. Settled on a bun with some fresh spinach leaves, to contrast the cooked tumble in the burger itself, this is nearly perfect. Slathered with some Greek yogurt whipped with lemon juice and fresh raw garlic, it turns into lamb burger nirvana.
Just because this isn’t, perhaps, a typical bachelor meal, what with the longish ingredient list and the time taken to prepare it from scratch, doesn’t mean I treated it as fancy. There’s no need for ceremony here; it’s too good. Hasty bites. No napkin. Straight over the sink. I don’t mind telling you, just between us, that I didn’t even bother with a plate.
Unless you are feeding a large family, or your small family is a bunch of sauce junkies, chances are if you make something like the velouté I shared last week, you are going to have some leftovers. Mine worked out to just under a cup of sauce (you will probably have a touch more – I oversauced my chicken a bit because I was taking photos of the stream of velvet I was pouring), which was clearly too much to trash but, it seemed, not enough to do much with. True, I could have just warmed it up again and scarfed another cutlet, but that didn’t seem very original. Additionally, this sort of flour-thickened sauce doesn’t always reheat particularly well – think about the resolute globs of leftover Thanksgiving gravy. It was going to need some help.
When I thought velouté, I thought pot-pie. However, a mere cup of sauce didn’t seem like enough. Smaller quantities of sauce would require smaller packages. I’ve been tossing around the idea of hand-pies for a while (see what I did there? Yeah.), and suddenly it became clear that this final bit of sauce would become the base for the filling of pot pie empanadas, spiced up with chunks of cheddar cheese in the crust.
Yes. This was happening.
I think every culture has a snack food created by enclosing a savory little morsel in a puff of dough. Samosas, gyoza or pot-stickers, pierogies, Cornish pasties, think about it. For Spain, and for Central and South American cuisines, empanadas are that snack. A tumble of meat, cheese, and spices (with the occasional vegetable – a few summers ago I had a spectacular one filled with cheese and fresh spinach) wrapped up in a lovely soft dough that is sometimes baked but more often lovingly tipped into the deep fryer: it’s quite possibly my dream food.
And here I was about to Americanize it beyond belief. The leftovers of my grad school training screamed things at me about colonization and cultural appropriation, but I swatted them down. It’s improving the classic by acknowledging and incorporating a new angle. Yeah.
And it was so worth it.
The dough here is baked, not fried. I don’t have a deep fryer, and to be honest, crammed with cheddar as it was, the crust did not provide the most airtight of seals. I would have been nervous about dropping these into hot oil.
There’s nothing to be nervous about when it comes to the taste, though. You can stuff these with whatever you’d like in a pot pie, meats or vegetables. I opted for potatoes, carrots, a few mushrooms, green onions, a breath of garlic, and some green beans that had been in my fridge for a touch longer than they should have. A bit of shredded up chicken breast completed the pot. These get cooked in the leftover velouté with a splash of white wine (and a bit of water, if you feel there isn’t enough liquid) until they are tender, then, once they are cool, jammed a mere tablespoon at a time into circles of sticky but pliable dough. A quick fold, a squeeze, and a crimp with the tines of a fork, and they are ready to bake.
I had designs on serving these alongside a salad for a balanced meal, but we never made it to the salad. We just ate these, burning our fingers and our tongues as we picked up one and another and another. These are pot pies for crust lovers. The dough becomes rich and crisp and flaky, and the cheddar cheese is, I have to admit, a bit of a stroke of genius. It’s a perfect little package, and writing about it now, I desperately want another.
Sometimes leftovers are better than the original. This, friends, is one of those times.
Makes enough for 18-20 empanadas, if re-rolled once or twice
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt (this doesn’t seem like much, but the cheese is salty and the filling will be seasoned)
8 tablespoons very cold butter (1 stick), cut into cubes
½ cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, cut into cubes
⅓ cup ice water
1 tablespoon vinegar
Pot pie filling
These quantities may not seem like enough, but remember, you are using only minute quantities of filling for each empanada. Overfilling dumplings is somewhere in the top ten of my frequent cooking mistakes, so trust me. You will have plenty.
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced in little moons
3-4 mushrooms, diced
2 small carrots (or one large), diced
1 small Yukon gold potato, diced
6 green beans, stems removed, sliced into ½ inch pieces
½ cup cooked shredded chicken
¼ cup white wine
1 cup velouté
Salt and pepper, and herbs of your choosing, to taste
To assemble and bake:
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Paper and Salt attempts to recreate and reinterpret dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries and fiction. Part food and recipe blog, part historical discussion, part literary fangirl-ing.
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food, in so many words.
Serving up the hottest dishes on WordPress.com.
food, in so many words.
food, in so many words.
food, in so many words.
food, in so many words.