Eat, drink and be merry

England has 3 sauces and 360 religions, France has 3 religions and 360 sauces. That is, according to Napoleonic diplomat Talleyrand. I don't know much about religion, but I assume that times have changed since then. With regard to the sauces, however, I'm not so sure. The variety of sauces is truly something special to French cooking. It was Talleyrand’s personal chef, Marie-Antoine Carême, one of the first celebrity chefs known in history, who devised a system for classifying sauces. This system of so-called mother sauces (béchamel, velouté, espagnole and allemande) is, with some updates (emulsifications, tomato and butter sauces) still used today. Most sauces in French cooking don't come out of the blue, but are variations of these sauces. If you never explore the world of sauces, you are truly missing out on something!
Some of these sauces are very time-consuming to prepare, but here's a suggestion for a classical emulsification which is easy, yet very rewarding: white asparagus with sauce hollandaise. For four people, you need about one kilogram of asparagus (peeled and cooked for 15 to 20 minutes), two fresh egg yolks, 180ml of melted butter, some vinegar or lemon, and some spices. It's very important that you use proper butter and not margarine. Many people don't seem to be aware of the difference, so check your fridge; if you only have margarine, go and get some real butter - it's superior to its substitutes in almost every way.
Crack some black peppercorns, and cook them in a small pan with a bit of water and vinegar (and white wine if you like) to make a reduction. Add the egg yolks and whisk them over a larger pan with barely simmering water until they are thick and warm (60-70°). Be careful not to let them get too hot, if you see that they start to coagulate, remove them from the heat immediately and let them cool down a bit. When the yolks have doubled or tripled in volume, remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour in the butter, while whisking at the same time. If the sauce becomes too thick – or starts to break because you are adding the butter too fast – add some water and whisk until the sauce is smooth again before adding more butter. Finally, season with salt, pepper, cayenne and some lemon juice. Sounds complicated, but really only takes a few minutes and you won't ever want to go back to industrial sauce.


Tim Aretz

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