Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cooking Class, Part V

I had my last cooking class on February 23, and we learned the mother sauces. This alone was confusing to me because we then took the mother sauces and made small sauces. Mother sauces are also called grand sauces, and are used to make the small sauces. Or, in other words, small sauces are derivatives of the mother sauces. According to my notes (which were confusing enough in the hand out, and somehow not improved by my additions), the mother sauces consist of Bechamel, Veloute, and Espagnole. We also learned a Ragu, Hollandaise, and a caramel sauce (which is decidedly not a mother sauce, but was wonderful). We ate sauteed chicken breast with Robert sauce (which, as far as I can tell is a Veloute), salmon with sauce supreme (which I originally thought was a mother sauce...I mean, it's called "supreme," but it's actually a Veloute), steamed seasonal vegetables with Mornay sauce and Hollandaise sauce (Mornay sauce is a Bechamel with cheese added), and linguine with a Ragu sauce.

I was not moved by the Ragu sauce. Like I said in Cooking Class, Part I, I already have a pasta sauce that we all really like. However, the Ragu was served on fresh pasta, which was very good. Additionally, with the exception of the Ragu and caramel sauces, you can't save these sauces--they don't reheat well. So you have to use all of them, or toss them. This, I consider to be an annoying state of affairs.

I really liked the Mornay sauce. It's a cheese sauce, so what's not to like? But it somehow managed to not be heavy. As in, I didn't feel my arteries clogging. Although, I'm pretty sure if I made it on a regular basis, they would.

This morning I tried to make Hollandaise sauce. It was sort of a lot of work, because you steam the eggs, so you have to keep whisking ALL THE TIME because otherwise, it starts to cook like scrambled eggs. Also, we didn't have cayenne pepper, so I used ground pepper. Cayenne would have been better, but Captain America didn't hesitate to eat it all, so it must have been fine. And this is the first recipe I've ever made where, when I got to the part that says "salt and pepper to taste" I actually thought it needed salt and pepper. Maybe I'm becoming the world's slowest foodie!

I put my Hollandaise sauce on poached eggs and toast, which Captain America helped to make. I have an electric stove, and our burners turn themselves on and off. I learned in class that this is because an electric stove is trying to think, and it thinks it's maintaining the temperature you want, whereas on a gas stove, you can actually dictate what you want. (It was nice to learn this, because I had been thinking that there was just something wrong with my stove.) I have always preferred cooking with gas, and my house has a gas hot water heater and a gas dryer, so why it has an electric stove, I have no idea. At any rate, my egg poaching style is never going to make it to the cooking channel, as I spent a few minutes yelling at my boiling water. Poached eggs are supposed to be cooked in a slow boil. But when your burner thinks it can think, this is really hard to manage.

Okay, for Hollandaise sauce, you need:
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 sticks butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste (or vinegar)
salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Here's what you'll do:
Combine the eggs and cream in a heatproof glass bowl or the top of a double boiler. Stir with a wire whisk until well blended. Then you can put this pot over the double boiler. The water in the double boiler should not touch the bottom of the pot containing your egg yolks.

Stirring eggs constantly, bring the water slowly to a simmer; do not let it boil. This is the part that is a lot of work: if the water is too hot, your eggs will cook too quickly and will start to look like scrambled eggs. This is bad! So, if, like me, your water gets to hot because your burner thinks it has a brain, immediately pull the egg pot from the double boiler and whisk like crazy (so yes, now you'll be standing in the middle of your kitchen whisking eggs, while swearing at the pot of still boiling water on your stove for not doing what you told it to do. It's a good thing that the only people ever in my kitchen this early in the day already think I'm a little nuts!).

Continue to stir and warm the eggs until they are thickened and the consistency of very heavy cream. The eggs should lighten in color, and should taste like a cooked egg yolk.

Now, add the butter, a little at at time while stirring constantly. I added my butter in 1/4 cup increments, and this seemed to work fairly well.

When all of the butter has been added, add the lemon juice (or vinegar) a drop at a time and immediately remove from heat. This seemed like a very silly step to me. You're adding butter to make the sauce thicker, and lemon juice to make it thinner. It seems to me that you could just stop adding butter when the sauce was as thick as you wanted it to be, but I'm not sure if the acid in the lemon juice is also doing something useful. So I added a little lemon juice, and removed the pot from the heat. Then season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

You can let this pot sit in a hot/warm water bath, which is good to know, because it is very hard to make poached eggs (or anything else for that matter) while you are constantly whisking something.

The sauce turned out just fine, but like I said, it was a lot of work. And it called for two sticks of butter, so I'm not sure how often I'll repeat it. Oh, and if you're interested, it's supposed to serve six. Captain America and I put it over four poached eggs and toast, and still had some left over.

One other thing we learned in class pertains to that gross skin that cream sauces sometimes form. You can put a piece of saran wrap on top of the sauce (as in literally touching the sauce, not on top of the pot) and this will act as a false skin, and prevent the gross one from forming. I think in class, they even had the pots over low heat like that, but I would worry about melting the plastic. I'll let that be your call.

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