Baby Penguins and Hollandaise Sauce

Julia Child Please credit Paul Child, courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

When asked if there’s one thing in my kitchen I can’t live without, I can’t help but want to answer, “water” – I mean duh. But OK. OK. I’ll play along and as I do, I can’t help but drift off to the strange but wonderful land of French cooking … the one where butter reigns tall and the imagination soars.

A few years ago my mother in law gave me Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. (Slight sidebar here … I know what you’re thinking – that it was a hint about my cooking skills, or lack thereof – well you are wrong. I am a good cook – really. I think the gesture was based on the fact that I loved the movie “Julie and Julia” … at least that’s what I’m going with.) So I, like Julie, made my way through a good portion of the book – skipping, of course the aspics and a few other areas that wouldn’t go over so well at my dinner table, or most anyone’s in my humble non-French opinion (I mean liver? Who eats that these days anyway?). And alas, I found myself stumped by the ever mysterious hollandaise family. Page 79. It was sure to be the death of me. I know, I know … restaurants make it look so easy – you’d think the damn sauce came in a can the way they slather it on eggs Benedict, steamed asparagus, etc.

Because making the velvety smooth sauce that literally melts in your mouth isn’t easy. And, well, opening a can would be. My first few attempts at creating the lovely condiment were, well, absolutely horrid. Awful, in fact. My saucepan looked like it was holding some one-time frozen concoction that baby penguins eat (I hear their mothers regurgitate directly into their young offspring’s mouths). Still, I persevered – yes, eventually I conquered the art of emulsifying melted butter with egg yolks and lemon. And my poor family paid heavily for it as I, proud of my newly found culinary skill, suddenly found it necessary to accompany every meal with a topping of hollandaise.

Anyhoo, to answer the question, “Is there one thing in my kitchen I cannot live without?” I say yes. Yes there is. But it’s notcook book just the pale green covered book – it’s the ever watchful eye of a master and feeling like I can scream at her when things don’t work out, toast her with wine when they do, but even more, gain inspiration to experiment, try new things and watch the magic – also known as cooking – happen. Besides, isn’t it the process – the stumbles and falls, the victories and triumphs, where we learn the most?

Bon Appétit! This post inspired by the great Julia Child and The Daily Prompt – Ingredients: “What’s the one item in your kitchen you can’t possibly cook without? A spice, your grandma’s measuring cup, instant ramen — what’s your magic ingredient, and why?”

13 comments

  1. I’ve always felt that way about Elizabeth David, but she can be frustrating, because she assumes you already know the basics. Picture me, wooden spoon in hand, custard dripping off it, screaming “How thick? When do I stop?” Hollandaise sauce is still one of my favourite things, especially with asparagus.

  2. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited this blog before but after browsing through a few of the
    articles I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m certainly pleased I stumbled upon it
    and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!

    • It is a cool book – in all honesty a lot of the stuff isn’t anything I’d ever cook BUT I love the sauces … and man. oh man – the French use a LOT of butter!!

  3. The title is great – I was expecting to learn what wines I should pair with a meal of penguin ala hollandaise. I enjoyed your posting more than I would have enjoyed that. Thanks and keep up the great work.

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