Last Sunday I went out for brunch for the first time in months over at Masa in the South End. It totally reminded me how much I love brunch and breakfast food in general. Of the eight of us at the table, I noticed that six of us ordered the Eggs Benedict; the king of the brunch menu. As the plates came out, I stared at all of the creamy Hollandaise sauce, slowly flowing over the perfectly poached eggs and I said to myself… I want to use Hollandaise in a non-breakfast food situation. A sauce that tastes this good shouldn’t be reserved for only eggs and english muffins. Last night I brought out the whisk and had my chance to make it happen.
I picked up some always fresh pieces of Cod from Yankee Lobster that were super thick and decided to pan roast them and serve them on top of sauteed asparagus. I must say, the only other time I have ever seen Hollandaise sauce outside of the breakfast food realm was in a small, lonely gravy boat that accompanied my side of asparagus at a steak house. I also had a bag of Fregola that had been sitting in my pantry for a while, so I figured I would make a simple risotto-like side dish. Fregola is a Sardinian pasta made from semolina and water, rolled into pellets, and slightly toasted, which adds a unique nutty flavor. If you’re looking for a good arm workout this winter, try making a batch of Hollandaise sauce every night. This technique brought back painful memories of culinary school, and after I was done my right forearm looked like Popeyes’.
Hollandaise sauce looks simple on paper… egg yolks, clarified butter, lemon juice, and salt, but it requires tons of constant whisking over something called a Bain Marie. A Bain Marie is just a fancy name for a double boiler or water bath. I simply placed the bowl over my pot of simmering Fregola to warm the contents of the bowl gently. The goal is to eventually suspend the lemon juice and butter into the fat of the egg yolk and create an emulsion which happens at a certain temperature… not too cold, and not too hot that you have scrambled eggs. I wanted to put my own twist on this classic French sauce so I added a handful of freshly chopped Tarragon. The result was amazing! The delicate Cod was moist and flaky, smothered with the rich, buttery sauce that had a hint of anise flavors from the Tarragon.
The sauce overflowed onto the asparagus and tasted equally as good with the vegetable. The Fregola was al dente and added some texture and nutty aromas. Pairing this dish with a wine was the most difficult task of the night because of the vegetable I chose. Wine Experts will tell you that asparagus (and artichokes) are wines worst enemy because they contain a sulfurous amino acid that when combined with the natural grassy flavor of the vegetable and wine… the result is just plain weird. I thought long and hard and decided to pair this dish with an Arneis, which is translated into “a little crazy”, because wine with asparagus is a little bit crazy. Arneis is sometimes otherwise known as Nebbiolo Blanco and is very difficult to grow in the Piedmont region of Italy because when on the vine, the small grapes are very sweet and birds love to snack on them.
I think that the rich Hollandaise sauce helped in toning down the clashing of the wine and vegetable because I didn’t notice any problems… in fact, I thought that this wine was perfect with this dish. The Arneis was hay yellow in color and bone dry with a decent amount of acidity and hits of wild herb aromas that were surprisingly pleasant. It didn’t overpower the fish and certainly had enough acidity to cut through the creamy sauce. The dish was an all around homerun in my book, and if I keep up this Sunday morning brunch streak, you might start to see maple syrup for dinner as well.