Thursday 26 September 2013

Saucy September: Hollandaise

Of the five sauces we are going to look at this month, Hollandaise is clearly the most fattening. Therefore, it is arguably the most delicious. This sauce is a treat, so as long as you're not eating it every day then there's no point in wasting your calories by worrying about it. Hollandaise is made up of egg yolks, butter, a little acid and seasoning. It's very rich, but really compliments fish, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli and is the sauce used in the classic breakfast dish, eggs benedict (and its vegetarian version, the eggs florentine). I'm going to show you one simple way to do it. Some chefs/cooks use a little vinegar, some use a little mustard... I'm not using either this time. A Hollandaise almost always has lemon, rarely just vinegar, or sometimes a little of both. It's important that you do include some element of acidity to brighten the sauce up. Otherwise it will be just way too heavy on the palate.


10 tbsp butter (1 1/4 sticks)
3 large egg yolks
1/2 lemon

1 tsp warm water
Cayenne pepper (optional)

First, melt your butter. It's up to you whether you want to use your stove or a microwave but don't bring it to a boiling point and certainly do not brown or burn it. When your butter is fully melted, there will be a white froth on top. Carefully skim the froth off the top of the butter. The result will be clarified butter, which will emulsify much better. Once your butter is clarified, set aside and keep warm.

Next, you'll want to set up a bain marie as if you were going to melt chocolate. Fill a saucepan or small pot 1/4 way with water and place a heatproof bowl over it. The bowl should fit snugly in the saucepan and the bottom should not come in contact with the water. It's very important that the water is not boiling. You only want it at a gentle simmer. If your water is too hot, you'll end up scrambling your yolks. A hollandaise is all about gentle cooking. If your eggs start to scramble, you can remove them from the heat and place the bowl in an ice bath while whisking vigorously. If you catch it soon enough, you should be able to emulsify everything again. Once emulsified you can return the bowl back to the heat. 

Add the egg yolks and a tbsp of warm water (just to thin them a bit) to the bowl. Squeeze some of the lemon juice in the yolks as well but set aside in case you want to add more later. When the yolks are over the simmering water, whisk constantly. You could use an electric mixer or even a blender if you want to save yourself the workout. Otherwise you'll be whisking for a good seven to eight minutes. 

We're whisking, we're whisking, we're whisking... all the while, the yolks will gradually become thicker and lighter in colour.

The yolks will become a blonde colour and when you lift the whisk the yolks should form pale ribbons (not drops). At that stage, remove the bowl from the heat and begin to incorporate your melted butter.

The trick is to pour the butter in evenly and gradually while whisking constantly with the other hand. What's that? You're tired of whisking? LOL. I haven't said you could stop just yet. The butter and egg yolks should emulsify. The sauce should become thicker and shiny. Every now and then, cease pouring the butter so the mixture has a chance to emulsify completely. Either one of two things is going to happen: hopefully you will achieve this result. Otherwise, your yolks and butter will split and not emulsify. That would very likely be because your yolks are too hot. If you follow these instructions you should be fine, but hollandaise is one those sauces that may require a bit of practice on your part (my very first hollandaise was not a success, FYI). Don't be too discouraged if your sauce splits. You learn from experiences like that. They make you a better cook. These aren't terribly expensive ingredients so worst case scenario is you'll just have to start over. Again, if you follow these steps and cook with confidence (sauces can sense fear) you should be just fine.


I have some great news. Once your butter is completely incorporated you can finally stop whisking. Season your hollandaise with salt, pepper and some cayenne. Give it a taste and adjust if necessary (if you feel it needs more lemon then now is the time to add it). The end result should be thick, creamy, buttery, rich and slightly lemony. Just a note about the pepper, in restaurants chefs will usually use white pepper in a hollandaise. If you don't mind flecks of black pepper in your sauce then don't worry about it. If you want to be a little more refined, then I would opt for the white pepper so the sauce remains one solid colour but you still get all the flavour. 

Ladies and gentlemen, that's how you make a hollandaise sauce. As with all of the other French Mother Sauces, a hollandaise can be adapted into many other varieties.

A common variation is the famed sauce béarnaise, which is a hollandaise with reduced vinegar, shallots, chervil and/or tarragon.
You could add a meat glaze to a hollandaise to make sauce valois.
You could add dijon mustard to make Sauce Dijon (or sauce Girondine).
You could add orange juice and zest to make sauce maltaise.

You could add crème fraiche to a make sauce crème fleurette.

There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of other variations. Of the five sauces I'm showcasing here, this one is probably the most difficult but in the grand scheme of things is really not that bad. If you can nail this sauce then you're in a whole new league of cooking, my friend. Give this a shot, practice it a couple of times and you'll be on your game. 


PS: Very important note, guys! When your Hollandaise is finished, serve it immediately. If you can't serve it immediately, keep it warm and serve within an hour. If not, you'll risk bacteria forming and you could get sick. Please keep that in mind and don't say I didn't warn you. lol

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