Christmas is a time of perfection. From the baubles hung lovingly on the tree, to that one ‘ ideal’ present you’ve agonised over for weeks; it’s a time when we should aspire to the best in all we do. And for me, that aspiration begins in the kitchen.
For a few precious days, we finally have the time to cook old favourites & prepare things which are just that little bit special. And what could be more special than classic poached salmon with hollandaise sauce?
Hollandaise is a thing which many people fear; but in actual fact, it’s really rather simple. The key is to understand what you’re doing, so you’re aware why & how things could go wrong. Once this is clear, so many of the classically ‘fiddly’ things we tend to avoid suddenly become easy. You’ll wonder what all the fuss was about, and achieve flawless results every time.
Hollandaise is also a ketogenic dream – a rich, velvety-smooth sauce consisting largely of melted butter and egg yolks. There’s precious little carbohydrate here, so diabetics, paleo-followers and gluten-intolerants can equally share in the luxury without fear of impact to blood-sugar.
There’s a saying that a bad workman always blames his tools. Well in the case of hollandaise, this is not quite strictly true. If your cooker has poor temperature control, or your pan is thin with ‘hotspots’ on the base; you’ll struggle with this. Why? The trick is a slow heat, where the sauce thickens evenly throughout. So many failures can be attributed to inadequate equipment – in this instance they’re in no way a reflection on the cook!
So what is it we’re doing when we make hollandaise…? I’m assuming you’ve made scrambled eggs before. The mixture starts runny, then the eggs solidify and form lumps as they cook. This is exactly the process that will lead to a lumpy ‘separated’ hollandaise. We don’t want the sauce to reach a temperature where the eggs go solid. Instead, we want the low heat to merely thicken the egg yolks so that the sauce is rich and velvety, like custard. The pan should never reach the point where you can no longer touch the outside because it’s to hot. Abide by that teaching and you’ll never go wrong!
My recipe for this is uncomplicated and simple to follow. There’s no need for bain-maries or several different saucepans. Just the one will do . I aim to keep things as ‘pared down’ as possible. There’s enough washing-up at this time of year without adding to it unnecessarily.
Start by separating 3 eggs and placing the yolks into a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. I use copper because of the heat-conductivity, but anything of quality will suffice. Add white-wine vinegar to the yolks; my guide as to quantity is visual. You want the same volume of vinegar by eye as the size of one of your egg-yolks. Whisk this together and grind in pepper and a pinch of salt.
On the cooker’s lowest heat, warm the mix through, whisking slowly the whole time. Stick your little finger into the pan, if it feels around body-temperature, you’re there. Weigh out 4oz of salted butter (the butter must be at room-temperature!) and break this into little chunks into the pan, whisking as you go. At this point it will resemble a nightmare of yellow lumps in a slightly unattractive yellow foamy liquid. Do not worry; the butter will melt in nicely. Squeeze in a teaspoon of lemon-juice and place the pan back onto the hob, still at lowest heat.
Whisk the contents continually. You don’t want the mix to turn to scrambled eggs. This will happen if any of the mix catches on the bottom of the pan or the heat is too high. Remember the ‘outside of the pan rule’. As the butter slowly melts, the sauce will become smooth. You’re now at the point where it will gradually begin to thicken. Keep the pan on the hob and whisk until you have the texture of custard. If it doesn’t thicken after two minutes, turn the heat up very slightly – you’ll get there in the end. It is just a matter of patience. The sauce should end up a creamy yellow, on account of the egg-yolks. It will be glossy with a fine shine. Once achieved, you have every right to feel incredibly proud of yourself! Lift the pan off the heat and leave at room-temperature, whisking occasionally.
Now for your salmon. Whenever you’re poaching something delicate like fish, it’s best to place a sheet of silicone or tin-foil in the pan to serve as a ‘cradle’. This means you can lift the contents straight out, without needing a fish-slice or palette-knife to ‘scoop it up’. The latter method risks breakage, which is unsightly and unnecessary. You want your sheeting to stick out a good couple of inches either side of your pan, to form two handles.
Place the pan on the hob and pour in a small glass full of white wine or vermouth. Add some water, so that you have half a centimetre’s depth. Grind in some pepper and drop in a bay-leaf. As the liquid comes to the simmer, lower in your fish, then place the lid on the pan for 3 minutes.
After this time, lift off the lid to check on progress. If it looks nearly cooked-through, tumble in your prawns and replace the lid for two minutes. Remove from the heat and let the prawns heat up in the remaining steam.
Lift your fish from the pan, using your tinfoil handles. Do this at a slight angle, so that the liquid drains back into the pan. Transfer the salmon to a pre-warmed serving-platter, either by rolling it off the foil, or lifting carefully with a fish-slice. I prefer the rolling method; you have more control.
Spoon your hollandaise liberally over the fish and garnish with fresh salad leaves, a slice of lemon and the chopped herb of your choice. I used basil because I love the stuff!
Voila – your dish is ready! Transfer to the table and dig in whilst still warm. A perfect festive dish, that’s as fine and elegant as the occasion deserves!
Be sure to keep reading for more festive recipes over the coming weeks! Check out The Low Carb Christmas for details.
Enjoy the festive season and thank you for reading,