Now that carnival season is over, the trouble is just about to begin: Lent is upon us. Well – not upon me. I do not believe in fasting. I live by the motto ‘either you live, or you are being consistent‘ (‘Entweder man lebt, oder man ist konsequent’) by the German writer Erich Kästner. In my opinion, life is way too complex to live by strict rules: balance is everything, and consequently, you have to live on your tippy-toes. This, of course, requires energy, which demands one or the other indulgence now and then (Also, to be honest, I’m really bad at self discipline). To keep balance, I trust my cravings. And this post-carnival week, I was craving artichokes. Conveniently, they are one of the vegetables with an impressive reputation in terms of healthiness: They are packed with antioxidants, are said to help regulate your cholesterol levels and aid your detoxing functions (especially valuable after carnival). More importantly for the lust-seeking self, though: They taste great. I wanted mine all pure and simply boiled, but with a delicious sauce to go with them. Although modesty is not my strong suit, I went for a sabayon that is really virtuous (a.k.a. very low in fat) – but still sexy.
To round out a dish, sauce is everything. To perfect it, the right sauce and the right amount of it are called for. As far as amounts go, I tend to define ‘perfect’ as ‘a l-o-t’. Where varieties are concerned, it really depends on the dish, mood, and moment for me: I equally enjoy deep, dark and concentrated gravies, acidic, mustardy and herbal vinaigrettes, and luscious, fluffy and aerated emulsions, like the one I’m telling you about today. A few weeks ago, I made a classic Sauce Béarnaise to go with an oven-roasted fillet of beef, which came out just perfect, if I say so myself (beefstagram here). Making emulsion sauces is stove side therapy: The moment when I gradually added the the golden puddle of molten butter to the emulsion of egg yolks and the tarragon-vinegar reduction, and it slowly began forming a rich and aromatic blanket for the beef was just bliss. And there’s a l-o-t of bliss in a Béarnaise. And it has to be and has every right to be. However, now and then a dish or intuition calls for a sauce that also has a rich feel to it, but is lighter, not as buttery. And this is where sabayons come in.
Zabaglione, as you most likely know, is a classic Italian dessert made of egg yolks, sugar and some sweet wine like Marsala or Moscato d’Asti, whipped warm over a water bath until fluffy and often served with lady fingers or biscotti to dip in. For a savory version, I stick to the basic principle and simply omit the sugar. With the base liquid, your imagination is the limit, really. You could use wines, sparkling or not, stock, vegetable juices, soy sauce – whatever and more to make a sabayon that suits your dish and to give it a seasonal twist. The last time I made a sabayon sauce, which was for my mother-in-law’s birthday dinner in December, I used a bacon & fish stock reduction as the base. Sounds weird, but is so delicious with butter-poached trout, black salsify and gingerbread crumbs. For the future, I have a definite plan to do a tomato sabayon with Parmesan biscotti, once tomato season is back.
For now, while spring is kind-of here already, and winter still lingers round, I wanted warm flavors and went for the sour-bitter taste of saffron with medium-sweet sherry. And again: to give the whole affair good balance, I add some heat in the form of cayenne pepper and some freshness provided by lemon. As for the keeping balance part: a serving of this sabayon (if you share by four) contains just about 6 grams of fat. But anyway: Throw your modesty and too tight clothing over board and dive in.
Saffron Sherry Sabayon
Active time (cooking): 15 minutes
Ingredients (yields about 500 ml, enough for 4 people and 4 fat artichokes)
400 ml vegetable stock (or chicken stock), not too salty
3 cl medium sherry
1 garlic clove
saffron, salt, cayenne pepper
3 egg yolks
optional: 1 tsp butter (coldish, not fridge-cold)
1 First, prepare your liquid. Combine vegetable stock and sherry in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the whole garlic clove (you can leave the skin on if you want the garlic flavor to be very subtle) and let it reduce to about 150 ml. Then take it off the heat, take out the garlic clove, and add the saffron. Give the saucepan a swirl or two to help the flavors and color extract.
2 Making the actual sabayon is quite simple, it just takes a bit of care with temperatures. Prepare a water bath: Put on a pot of water and select a (preferably: nonreactive metal) bowl that can sit on top of the pot and sink a bit into it, but which does not touch the water surface. To be safe, you can also fill your kitchen sink with cold water or have a larger bowl with ice water at the ready, to quickly cool down the sauce when it gets too hot. Add the flavored stock to the bowl and add the egg yolks. When the water is simmering (don’t let it boil too fiercely), place the bowl over the steam and whisk away in a vertical-circular motion. Keep whisking constantly as the liquid begins to thicken and build a foamy mass. Avoid too much heat (indicated by scrambled eggs forming on the bottom of the bowl). Regulate by removing the bowl from the steam now and then, in case of emergency quickly cool down the bowl in cold water.
3 When the sauce is thick and lush, take it of the water bath and whisk in the butter until it has dissolved. Adjust seasoning with salt (be careful here: depending on the original salt content of your stock the sabayon may not need any additional salt at all), cayenne pepper and lemon juice and serve immediately.