May 14, 2020
by Bruce Neyers
Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon vines – Looking north towards the ridge line
by Bruce Neyers
The shelter in place program has begun to grow tedious to many of us, but it seems to have brought out the best in Barbara, allowing her to focus on her cooking. I was more than a little pleased when she came home on a recent Friday with a bundle of fresh asparagus – it was the heart of the season in many parts of California. She offered to make Hollandaise Sauce to accompany it, so I was, of course, thrilled. I immediately thought back to one of my Kermit Lynch trips to France – March of 2011, I think – when with a dozen fellow travelers, we finished up a long two-week road trip with dinner in Paris.
My French colleague, then, was Nadege Lanier, who coordinated our travels for years. She arranged for us to have our last meal together at a favorite stop of mine, Chez Villaret, hidden away in a quiet neighborhood in the 11th. Chez Villaret had everything we looked for after a busy road trip – great food, a spacious dining room (for Paris anyway), and a first rate wine list. They seated the twelve of us at two rounds in the far corner of the room and brought out several bottles of water, stacks of fresh levain bread, and a few bottles of the white Burgundy we ordered. Our server returned with menus, and announced that asparagus season had just begun, so fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce was the day’s special. Every one of us ordered it to start.
Our server asked me to choose a wine to accompany the asparagus course. When I briefly hesitated, he directed me to the red Bordeaux section of the list, stating emphatically that’s where the best options were. The choices were many, most of them fairly priced, and I selected three bottles of a familiar St. Estèphe. Our server gave the order to the bartender — who was also the owner and the sommelier — and he looked at me, smiled, and gave a thumbs up. We were going to be fine. The wine was served, and after a brief wait, a cadre of kitchen staff and servers began to work their way to our table with platters loaded with fresh asparagus steamed to perfection. Each of us received a healthy portion. The chef himself followed and, pouring from a large ceramic pitcher, covered each mound of asparagus with a generous serving of the most beautiful hollandaise sauce I’ve ever seen – rich and aromatic. The wine too was delicious, and I couldn’t recall ever enjoying a red Bordeaux more.
Ever since then, I haven’t been able to look at a plate of asparagus without thinking of Chez Villaret, hollandaise sauce, and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. I knew hollandaise sauce was something that even talented cooks find difficult, but Barbara’s recipe was easy, she assured me, and an hour or so later, we sat down to dinner. The California-grown asparagus was magnificent, Barbara’s hollandaise sauce was extraordinary, and the bottle of 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon that I opened has never tasted better.
I suggested that Barbara share her recipe, and it’s copied below. I wish we could have each of you join us at our Conn Valley Ranch for a platter of fresh California asparagus smothered with Barbara’s hollandaise sauce and served with a glass of our 2016 Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe one day we will.
Please stay healthy, keep safe, and try to maintain a sense of good will during this test of our collective spirits. Continue to watch out for one another as well.
4 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup unsalted butter melted
Pinch of salt
Whisk egg yolks and lemon juice in a stainless-steel bowl until the mixture is thickened. Place the bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (you can use a double boiler). The water should not touch the bowl. Continue to whisk and slowly drizzle in the melted butter until the sauce is thickened and doubled in volume. Remove from heat and whisk in the salt.
Yields 1 cup