A blog by ShapeShiftas' designer Deborah Goodwin
Feb. 1, 2012 (ShapeShiftas) -- I made a perfect hollandaise for the broccoli the other night, inspired by Suzanne's beautiful eggs. (OK, Suzanne's chicken's eggs, ha,ha).
Keeping chickens is very "in" these days of global apocalypse and shopping local. Fortunately, here in Vermont, nearly every one of my neighbors has a chicken or 12 and sells the eggs they don't use. Chicken husbandry is one of those country skills that I like in theory but am perfectly happy to let others practice.
You can tell a free egg from a caged egg by the bright, brilliant yet deep, sunset-orange color of the yolk, and that's what you make hollandaise with -- the yolks, plus butter and a little lemon (basically). It's not high up on the heart-healthy diet. But the color of those yolks -- goldenrod? saffron? sunflower? -- made into the sauce, against the bright green, blanched broccoli -- emerald? kelly? grass? -- is so remarkable, and if the hollandaise gets you to eat the broccoli, how bad could it be?
I've always thought a job with Pantone or the Cotton Council, where you get to Name That Color, would be a lot of fun. I am endlessly entertained reading the color names in catalogs or on nail polish bottles, and learning that last year's claret is this year's merlot.
Sometimes, the names are really bad, like "pool," which was really a lovely aquamarine, but not a big seller. There are color names in the world of beauty products that are totally fanciful, like Cherries On Snow or Vintage Vamp.
Companies like Pantone make their money by standardizing the subtle differences between last year's and this year's color palettes, and selling the swatches to fabric and graphic artists. To the untrained eye, cadet might look like navy, but to Pantone the difference will cost you. You can actually trademark a color, like Tiffany Blue or John Deere Green, although you can't trademark a color usage, as Christian Louboutin Shoes learned when they tried to trademark their signature red soles.
Tempera paint used during the Rennaisance for frescos was made with pigments bound, or "tempered," with egg yolks. The yolks didn't color the paint so much as give the pigments a glossy depth. Hollandaise sauce is similar in that the yolks bind, or emulsify, the butterfat and lemon and create a smooth sauce. That is, as long as you do it correctly.
Hollandaise, one of five so-called "mother sauces" in French cooking, is notoriously tricky to make, because it is so easy to scramble the yolks and curdle the sauce. I first learned how to make it from Tom Bassett, my beloved friend who died 14 years ago of AIDS.
We had carefully whisked and combined, then Tom got a phone call from his brother and left the sauce to me. As I heard him bragging about the perfect sauce we had just made, I took a sip of wine, turned back to the stove and watched our sauce curdle. He never let me forget it, even though I made several other hollandaises and bearnaises for him in the following years.
Nowadays, I rarely make or eat such rich foods, but I'm sure that Tom would agree that it's worth it once in a while. After all, we only live once!