Tricks of the Trade
One of this episode’s near-disasters lightens the mood a bit downstairs. And, it’s taught your friendly blog editor not to fear making hollandaise, thanks to research by Tara Austen Weaver:
Alfred may be the first footman to have won a kitchen maid's favor with an egg, but he’s not the first person to use one to fix a broken hollandaise sauce.
The sauce, a simple emulsion between egg yolk and butter with lemon, is said to have been invented in the Netherlands, thus the name. It’s made by whisking eggs on top of a double boiler, slowly adding melted butter so it turns creamy.
When Alfred moves the pot onto the stove, the heat breaks the emulsion; this curdles the sauce and Daisy goes ballistic. That’s when he steps up with the egg. Anyone who has spent time in a hotel kitchen, as Alfred has, might have learned that adding a bit more yolk would renew the emulsion and result in a newly smooth sauce. He causes the problem, then solves it so Ivy can take the credit and Daisy will hopefully lay off. Very clever, Alfred. You’re setting yourself up to be a prince among footmen.
The sauce isn’t complex, but it is a bit tricky with whisking and temperature. That said, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which is likely the bible Mrs. Patmore relied on (and is being used by the TV crew on Downton), makes it all sound a breeze.
"Put all the ingredients, except the lemon-juice, into a stew-pan; set it over the fire, and keep continually stirring. When it is sufficiently thick, take it off, as it should not boil..."
Yes, don’t let it boil, unless you have a footman nearby to save the day.