Better Cooking Through Chemistry: R2D2 Hollandaise

Oh, Molecular gastronomy. You have so much to answer for. So many starry-eyed home cooks and would-be Ferran Adrià’s, myself included circa 2012, loading up on syringes and sodium alginate. Subjecting friends and family to trembling mango spheres and cucumber juice “caviar.” Making sauces with too much xanthan gum and not enough love.

This… thing is from an ill-fated meal at a Michelin-starred place in Florence, Italy. Gummy potato foam? Check. Charcoal sponge? Oh, yeah. Powders for their own sake? Uh, huh.
Same meal: a gimmicky cold sweet-pea sponge cake in a hot carrot emulsion. Basta!

But… time passes. We grow, and we learn. Chefs and food scientists toil in the background, refining tools and methods. And from time to time, a good food idea and a new way of doing things meet up and sparks fly.

A couple of years ago, David took me for a birthday dinner at one of my favourite Toronto restaurants, La Banane. Since it was a special occasion, we got a plateau de fruits de mer. There was a dipping sauce that stayed with me. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it made me think of a cold hollandaise sauce. But that didn’t make sense. Hollandaise would seize up in the fridge. I did a bit of half-hearted research, came up empty, and shelved the idea.

I revisited the idea a couple of months ago, and – woot! – found a recipe for Horseradish Lemon Chilled Hollandaise Sauce on Modernist Pantry, my go-to source for obscure ingredients. The recipe uses a sketchy sounding substance called 210S. Some digging revealed that it is a “system of hydrocolloids widely used in food and beverage applications including salad dressings, instant beverages, barista foams and frozen desserts… designed to provide suspension, increase viscosity,  control ice crystal formation and stabilize emulsions and foams. It is cold water soluble for use in instant applications.”

Romantic, huh? Well, I took a chance, ordered some, and tried the recipe the other day with some king crab legs we had chilling out in the chest freezer.

I decided I’d eliminate the horseradish because I wasn’t sure how it would work with crab, and we already had some horseradish aioli on hand. I started by melting a whack of butter. I blended lemon zest, juice and salt with egg yolk powder and water. Egg yolk powder is frequently used in the industry because it’s pasteurized (unlike raw egg yolk) and you can control the amount of water and hence the viscosity of the product.

I then slowly added the melted butter to the running blender. Whenever I need to make an emulsion with oil or melted fat, e.g. Caesar salad dressing, I always put the fat in a squeeze bottle. That lets me control the flow rate, and it prevents spills and accidental BLORPS of oil.

The sauce was quite runny while warm… runnier than hollandaise. I put it in bowls to chill, and busied myself cracking crab.

An hour later, we sat down to eat. And it was delicious. The butter goes from semi-solid to melted as it hits your tongue, and the sauce is creamy and all kinds of bright with lemon. It’s a perfect use of food sorcery: to produce something surprising but also familiar.

But it needed a better name… something space-age, but approachable. So R2D2 Hollandaise was born. It’s a keeper, and we’ll be using it on chilled first-of-the-season asparagus as soon as that comes in.

Oh… a postscript: I just looked at the menu at La Banane, and I think that sauce was plain old crème fraîche with brown butter solids mixed in. I’ll have to do a head-to-head taste test soon!

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