By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
France is the birthplace of sauces, so we couldn't very well spend time in France with our food appreciation classes without aquainting ouselves with some of the finer sauces in the French lexicon. But how to incorporate that with the notion of spring?
Why, asparagus, of course. What could be better than a plate of freshly poached asparagus smothered in Hollandaise?
The trick with this sauce is not to scramble the eggs before they become a sauce. They need to be heated, but not cooked. This was not lost on the kids in my classes. "You mean we're going to be eating raw eggs?"
Well, not exactly. As I said, they will be heated, just not cooked through. But that's a brilliant observation nonetheless. Even kids in elementary school seem to know enough not to eat raw eggs. Into beaten eggs yolks clarified butter is incorporated. Our first attempt failed because I did not wait long enough for the clarified butter to cool, and when I urged one third-grader to "drizzle" the butter into the beaten yolks, she sort of dumped it in. The eggs immediately curdled.
Oh, well. Lots more butter and eggs where that came from. But you do need to be very careful with this sauce each step of the way.
First, you can trim your asparagus. I showed the kids how to bend an asparagus from both ends until it snaps at the tender point. Compost the tough ends, then poach the asparagus in water seasoned with salt that forming bubbles but not yet boiling. When cooked through, transfer the asparagus into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process. You can do this hours or even a day ahead if you like. Pat the asparagus dry with paper towels.
For the sauce, gently melt a stick of butter (1/2 cup) plus a little more in a small sauce pan. To clarify it, skim off all the milk solids that float to the surface. Pour the liquid fat into a measuring cup until you have 1/2 cup. Set aside to cool.
Separate three eggs, placing the yolks in a glass or stainless mixing bowl. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons cool water and whisk until the yolks are light and frothy. Gently heat the yolks by placing the mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water. Continue whisking until the yolks thicken. Remove from the heat from time to time so the yolks don't cook. Off the heat, whisk the yolks a bit more to cool, then drizzle in some of the clarified butter. Continue whisking and drizzling butter until it is completely incorporated. Then whisk in 2 teaspoons lemon juice and season with salt and white pepper to taste.
You can now arrange the asparagus spears on plates and dress with Hollandaise. This is quite a treat. You might even get kids who normally don't like asparagus to try it.