thoughts on hollandaise

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Hollandaise.The time I took to do Hollandaise was a moment of meditation between setup and service. I could relax and focus on one thing, gather my thoughts, prepare for the onslaught. The others looked at the task as a major chore and stayed out of my way, but I saw it as a gift.

Service started at 5:30. On a busy weekend, the cooks would start rolling in sometime before lunch, depending on responsibilities or hang-over. Without prior agreement Lin and I would arrive within a few minutes of each other. We'd check the walk-in and try to figure out what was needed for the night.

There were major items; a box of tenderloins could be sitting on the walk-in floor after early morning delivery, or salmon might already be in the prep room laying whole in the boxes of ice they were delivered in. It would all have to be cleaned and portioned- the beef for the following week, the salmon for the night's service. We both knew what to do and were able to carry on a completely unrelated conversation while we worked through the procedures, completing each others actions.

After the major tasks were taken care of we'd start carrying supplies up to the service coolers and prep sinks. Fifteen pounds of shrimp frozen in five pound blocks would go under running water. A dozen dover sole would go in beside them. I'd de-bone ducks that were partially cooked, pound fifty or sixty chicken breasts, then grab the sole to clean and fillet as soon as it was pliable. Every trip downstairs let us grab something extra: a bucket of chicken stock for soup, racks of lamb to french, a bucket of turned potatoes.

It was six hours of very focused non-stop work; no one sat. When you walked you never walked empty handed. You kept every one's needs in mind, and knew where each stood on their list of tasks. If for some reason any of us needed to stop- to wait for a burner, wait for table space, wait for ingredients- we filled the time by helping with someone else's set-up, or by carrying someone else's supplies up for service or down for storage. We all did it; someone would put something on my table that I didn't know I needed yet, or I'd grab something for someone else because I saw them close to running out.

Service was about five hours of a different sort of focus. On very busy nights, I'd expedite. I called orders and pick-ups. I followed what was going on in each station so that if something was needed I could grab it, or work the station while the assigned cook made a run. Again, it was a time of focus on a very dispersed set of information, both from cooks and from wait staff. Six hours to set up camp, five hours for battle, and an hour to count the dead. Hollandaise was my moment of respite right in the middle.

At 4:45 the wait staff arrived. I'd grab a flat of eggs and put 24 yolks into a large steel bowl. For each yolk I'd add a dash of tobasco and a scant handful of water, and for every four I'd squeeze in the juice from half of a lemon. McGee claims that the recipe isn't as important as the technique when building hollandaise. The man doesn't need my approval, but I certainly agree. The water and acid raise the temperature at which the proteins coagulate. That's important not for flavor but because the steel bowl goes onto a searing hot charcoal grill while I use a balloon whisk to bring the yolk mixture up past ribbon to three times the initial volume. For fifteen minutes I gather my thoughts while I beat the yolks- switching hands without stopping, spinning the bowl with my other hand while trying to avoid catching my rag on fire. When I hit the right consistency, I can move to the griddle where Lin has a large container of melted butter that I ladle in while continuing to beat. At this point the bowl is so hot that stopping would scorch the sauce. One hand grips the ladle, the other the whisk and I hold the bowl against the side of the griddle with my hip. If the sauce is too thick, I dip deeply into the butter scooping water from the bottom. Too thin and more butter corrects it. It's all technique.

And wonderfully relaxing.

Penn State
April 18, Symposium 2009; reimagine.
New content. Symposium 2008.Digital Commons at Penn State. Improve the workplace; hire for variety.

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