Friday, May 30, 2008

On the Café Menu

It's a fine weekend morning here, and I've been considering things culinary in the Café's kitchen.

Mr. Muscato and I have been eating out a great deal lately, and perhaps we've had a run of bad luck or perhaps it's a sign of the fallen times in which we live, but my goodness don't some restaurants - including many that should know a great deal better - serve up a disgusting Sauce Hollandaise?

In some places it's lemony library paste; in others it appears to have been made by adding red pepper to raw egg yolks. All this makes us that much happier that the Café Muscato relies so heavily on the old standbys taught us at our mother's and grandmothers' knees, and that we exclusively prepare the kind of Hollandaise popularized by the marvelous Miss Julia Child, seen here in the full flower of her gifts:

Hammer Time!

Miss Child has had a special place in my heart for a very long time, if for no reason other than her response to a journalist's query as to the secret of her long, healthy life: "Gin and butter!"

Sauce making, done correctly, is an exercise involving all the senses; it is both a kind of high-wire act, involving the need for split-second decisions, and infinitely calming. And at the end you have something that ennobles the simplest foods. If you haven't had a nice Hollandaise lately and can't drop by here in the next day or two, why don't you try this:

  • Whisk three egg yolks and a tablespoon each of water and lemon juice in the top of a double-boiler;
  • Continue to whisk at reasonable speed, slowly raising the heat, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the pan to avoid having mixture become overcooked and lumpy. The mixture will slowly become lovely and frothy, both increasing in volume and thickness. When the eggs are thick and smooth, turn the heat off or very far down;
  • By spoonfuls, add up to two sticks of very soft butter, whisking constantly to incorporate each addition. As you proceed, and the sauce becomes itself, you will find you can add the butter in slightly larger amounts, but always whisking in each new addition until it is fully incorporated;
  • When you have a lovely, velvety, silky sauce, you now have a few moments to adjust the final flavor to your taste. Still whisking, season the sauce lightly with salt and a dash or so of cayenne pepper. A little final lemon juice can add more tang, or a quick grind of black pepper will sharpen things up nicely.

Hollandaise is, of course, a classic with asparagus and an essential ingredent of Eggs Benedict, both of which we adore. It's equally lovely, however, over delicate fish, with perfectly steamed green beans, or, as in my own kitchen in more indulgent moments, licked reflectively from fingers while reading Mastering the Art of French Cooking.


  1. O my dear, you bring tears to my eyes. A recipe that refers to the impending sauce as " lovely and frothy" is just perfect.

    I'm a fool for Mme. Child's Potatoes Dauphinois, thinly sliced potatoes boiled in cream and then baked. Heaven.

  2. Nothing original or witty about it, but I've always *adored* Julia.
    She was a formative influence on me, I'm sure.

  3. Ah, Mr. P., just as I'm a fool for phrases like "boiled in cream."

    One of my favorite museum moments of recent years was visiting JC's own kitchen, now on display at the Smithsonian in Washington. And soon we'll have the remarkable chance to see her played by Miss Streep!