In keeping house for many years with my husband Doug, there are three things I never do – cut grass, wash cars and make Hollandaise sauce.
As the woman of the house (and we all know a woman’s work is never done) I felt I had to declare certain jobs off-limits or I would have never gotten it all done. In the case of Hollandaise, he simply does it so well that I defer to his expertise.
In New Orleans, where brunch is a ritual, Hollandaise and our famous egg dishes stand out. (Have you noticed the increase of eggs on restaurant menus? I’ve seen fried or poached eggs on gumbo and hamburgers.)
March is a timely choice for a brunch with flowers blooming and temperatures reaching the comfort zone. And some Creole brunch dishes do not require meat and fit perfectly into Lenten menus.
Eggs Sardou, founded at Antoine’s, is a favorite of mine, although my version does not include anchovies or truffles as the original, created by Antoine Alciatore, did. The restaurant founder also sprinkled chopped ham over the poached eggs when he designed this dish for French playwright Victorien Sardou.
Creamed spinach forms the base of this Lenten version. Next comes artichoke bottoms as nests for poached eggs, and Hollandaise blankets it all. After making this luscious sauce and keeping it warm, the key to Sardou is poaching the eggs correctly. The secret? Vinegar. Before discovering this magic, I stuck eggs to the bottom of pans, punctured many yolks and tossed several poaching pans into the trash. Just by adding a spoon of white vinegar into simmering water in any small pan that you have, you can turn out beautiful poached eggs every time.
Artichoke bottoms come in a can, are easy to use and are acceptable for this dish. If you are ambitious, by all means cook your own artichokes and remove the bottoms, reserving the leaves for an appetizer or another time.
But if brunching for an Irish parade or a basketball playoff and you prefer meat on the menu, just add chopped ham over the Hollandaise or sliced ham on the side. Serve with hot French bread or pain perdu (see below).
Hollandaise sauce (see recipe)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 10-ounce bags fresh baby spinach
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
8 artichoke bottoms, cooked fresh or canned
8 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1. Make Hollandaise sauce.
2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot and saute onions for about one minute. Stir in spinach and cook over low heat, stirring, until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat.
3. In a small pot, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter, mix in flour and gradually stir in cream until smooth. Set over medium heat, stirring, until thickened. Stir into spinach mixture and set aside.
4. To poach eggs, fill a large, flat skillet or shallow pot with 3 inches of water. Stir in vinegar. Bring almost to a boil. Add eggs one at a time, placing each in a small cup and gently dropping into the water just at water level. You may have to do this in two batches. Let the eggs cook over hot (not boiling) water, until they rise to the top of water. At this point, you can turn them gently over to cook evenly, if necessary. Cook until white is done and yellow is still soft or runny. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a plate, remove any water with a paper towel, sprinkle with salt and pepper and keep warm.
5. To assemble, heat artichoke bottoms and spinach mixture. If Hollandaise needs heating, warm slowly and stir gently until just warm. Do not overheat or it could curdle. Place 2 beds of spinach on each plate. Top with 2 artichoke bottoms. Place poached eggs on artichoke bottoms, and spoon Hollandaise over all. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
4 extra-large egg yolks
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and white pepper
2 sticks butter
1. Prepare a double boiler with warm water on the bottom. In the top of the boiler, whisk egg yolks for several minutes. Gradually add lemon juice while whisking and about ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper.
2. Adjust water in boiler to hot but not boiling. Whisk continuously while adding 1 tablespoon at a time of butter, waiting for each to melt before you add the next. When all butter is added, continue whisking until sauce is thickened. To keep warm, add some cool water to the bottom boiler so that it is warm, not hot, cover and stir frequently until using. Taste to adjust seasonings.
ON THE SIDE
If you were born in south Louisiana in the early to mid-20th century, you probably grew up eating pain perdu for breakfast. French for “lost bread,” the name refers to the staleness of day-old bread before preservatives. Not ones to waste, French cooks soaked the bread in milk and eggs, then fried and browned it in a little butter, then sprinkled it with powdered sugar. Later in the day, Creoles finished off any remaining stale bread by making bread pudding. Try pain perdu, commonly called French toast, to accompany eggs Sardou.