Hollandaise

“Hollandaise” was the first French word I could remember and pronounce, asparagus with hollandaise sauce being an early passion. It is a pure sauce, and I feel purist about it: lemon juice, salt, pepper, butter, and egg yolks are its proper components.

The sauce is made with five to seven yolks (depending on egg size) per pound of butter, and the question of whether to use clarified or whole butter is easy to answer, to my mind. Clarified-butter usage comes from nasty habits of restaurants and hotels, which have endless vats of clarified butter on the backs of their stoves; it also produces hollandaise more quickly, but the result is oily in texture, less fresh in taste, and not very digestible.

Here are the secrets to a successful hollandaise: Make a sabayon-like base first by beating the yolks with the lemon juice and then cooking slightly over simmering water; never let the sauce get too hot or you will have scrambled eggs; add the butter gradually and keep the sauce slightly warm when finished. If the sauce breaks, start the process again with a couple of yolks and add the broken sauce gradually; a tablespoon of hot water does wonders for critical moments (breaking sauce) and texture (too thick).

Make this sauce with imported French butter and you will become an addict.

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Ingredients

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into tablespoon-size chunks
  • 1 pinch cayenne

Method

Put the egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt in a stainless steel, enamel, or other noncorrosive bowl over simmering water and whisk until foamy; continue to whisk until the yolks thicken and increase in volume like a sabayon. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter one piece at a time. After the first 2 pieces of butter, return the sauce to the water and continue whisking in the butter. If you think the eggs are getting too hot, remove the bowl from the water and let them cool a bit. After all the butter has been added, remove the sauce from the heat and season with the cayenne. Check to see if it needs more salt or lemon.

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