Astonishingly I managed to make my way through culinary school and three subsequent jobs in restaurants (getting all the way to holding the position of sous chef) without once having to make a cooked egg emulsion (a la hollandaise, béarnaise or any of their variations such as choron or sauce paloise). This isn’t to say I don’t know how to make them, after all they’re not that different from making a mayonnaise or aioli. The main difference being of course, that heat (but not too much) is applied in order to cook the eggs. And because of the application of heat there are more chances for things to go wrong (overcooking the egg, overheating the emulsion, etc).
So this past Monday after the United win over Blackburn, I made us steak with béarnaise, pomme dauphinois, and asparagus for dinner. The béarnaise came together slowly, if only because I’d never made it and wanted to be deliberate so I didn’t fuck it up. But come together it did, quite nicely in fact and I kept it over low heat on a back burner to keep it warm so I could turn my attentions to finishing the steak and reheating the previously blanched asparagus in a beurre fondue.
While the steak was finishing in the oven I peered into the bowl set above the pot of hot water only to see fat rising to the top; the water beneath was at a rolling boil. ‘Fuck’ I thought as I said it aloud. And in a second my beautiful sauce was broken.
After a few seconds of dismay, I then thought ‘Why can’t this be fixed so long as the egg hasn’t curdled?’. So I grabbed another bowl, strained an egg through my fingers, placed the yolk with a little water in the bowl and started to whisk vigorously (by this point I had turned the heat off on the pot so that the water was no longer at a boil). Once the yolk and water mixture was just frothy enough, I started to whisk the broken sauce into the new bowl, and voila, I had brought my béarnaise back to life once more.
This may not sound like a magical moment to you, but in essence this means that a hot egg and cold egg emulsion can be salvaged in exactly the same way (if you haven’t overcooked the egg that is). If your sauces never break then I guess it really doesn’t matter, but just in case they do, it’s important to know how to fix them so you don’t have to start all over again and use a whole load of butter, which is kind of expensive (especially if you’re using clarified butter).
In the end dinner was wonderful and perhaps tasted even better (to me) because I resisted the temptation to throw the sauce out and start anew. And now that I know that it doesn’t take all that much time and effort, I see us having a lot of hollandaise with asparagus season on the horizon.