July 7, 2015
Holland Days (part 1)
Recently I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans to compete in a culinary event. Like any chef visiting New Orleans I was looking forward to trying out some of the local restaurants— perhaps one of those hidden gems that the locals all know about but never seem to make it onto the main travel guides. I was fortunate in that I had other foodies along who knew the local haunts and had made reservations in advance with some of the well-known chefs in the area. When I looked back on this trip, there was one common thread throughout the competition and my restaurant excursions: Hollandaise Sauce is hot and on everyone’s menu as much today as it ever was.
We all know the classic Hollandaise dishes. Eggs Sardou, invented at Antoine’s down on Rue St. Louis, was named for the dramatist that penned Puccini’s TOSCA. It’s been around since before Emeril’s grandparents ever met in the Garden District. And who can forget the timeless Eggs Benedict? One theory is that it originated at the Waldorf Hotel back before the turn of the 19th century. That version seems to have more than a grain of truth to it. After all, the famous Maître d’ hotel at the time was none other than the same Oscar Tschirky who had left his post at Delmonico’s to take the reins at the Waldorf. He was later credited with inventing the Waldorf Salad, so he surely knew a great dish when he saw one! It’s been said that Sweden’s King Oscar II also developed quite a taste for the dish that was later named for him, Veal Oscar. It features veal cutlets topped with asparagus tips, crabmeat and a béarnaise sauce (a variation on Hollandaise). It’s such a winning combination I think it could have been named after a shoe salesman and still been an awesome dish!
Fast forward to the present and you can’t help but see a resurgence of the classics as a growing number of chefs learn that famous dishes are celebrated for a reason. In the case of Hollandaise, the combination of a warm, creamy, rich sauce is like nothing else in the savory kitchen. It has the uncanny ability to combine with a myriad of ingredients while continuing to please and fascinate diners with its flavor and flexibility. One of the five ‘Mother Sauces’ of French cuisine, Hollandaise and its derivatives are up to the task when it comes to pairing with even the most expensive ingredients. What other sauce can you name that you could serve with lobster and filet mignon, jumbo lump crabmeat and sea scallops, frogs legs and chicken? It’s a workhouse sauce if ever there was one. You can use it as a go-to sauce on your everyday menu, but you had better have it on the menu for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day!
That being said, it should have surprised no one at the culinary competition when the featured recipe was revealed and it turned out to be Trout Pontchartrain—one of the signature dishes from a local Chef’s restaurant (the one with the hot new cookbook, remember?). This dish involves sautéing a nice fillet of speckled trout (taken from nearby Lake Pontchartrain) and serving it with sautéed porcini mushrooms, herbs and crabmeat mixed with, you guessed it, a nice Hollandaise sauce! What’s not to love in a dish like that? Of course the guy’s popular! Sure his restaurants are trendy and modern (and it does not hurt that he’s got another glossy new cookbook on every shelf in NOLA) but if you ask me he’s popular because he knows enough to respect the classics and give people combinations that work.