Hollandaise

“Hollandaise” was the first French word I could remember and pronounce, since asparagus with hollandaise sauce was an early passion. It is a pure sauce, and I feel purist about it: lemon juice, salt, pepper or cayenne, butter, and egg yolks are its only 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 an easy one for me. The use of clarified butter in hollandaise comes from the nasty habits of restaurants and hotels (which have endless vats of it on hand): it produces a quicker hollandaise, but the result is oily in texture, less fresh in taste, and harder to digest.

Here are the secrets for a successful hollandaise: First, make a sabayon-like base by beating the yolks with the lemon juice and then cooking the mixture slightly over simmering water, never letting the sauce get too hot and scrambling the eggs. Add the cold butter gradually and keep the sauce warm when finished. If the sauce breaks, start the process again with a couple of new yolks, adding the broken sauce gradually while whisking. A tablespoon of hot water does wonders for critical moments (like the sauce breaking) and texture (if too thick).

Make this sauce with butter imported from France or some of the new American high butter-fat ones, and you will soon become an addict.

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Ingredients

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon chunks
  • 1 pinch cayenne

Method

Put the egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt in a stainless-steel, enamel, or other nonreactive bowl over simmering water, and whisk until foamy. Continue to whisk until the yolks thicken and increase in volume like a sabayon.

Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the butter one piece at a time. After incorporating the first two pieces of butter, return the sauce to the simmering water and continue whisking in the butter. If the eggs look like they are becoming scrambled, remove the bowl from the water and let the egg mixture cool a bit while whisking.

After all the butter has been added, remove the sauce from the heat and season with the cayenne. Taste and adjust salt and lemon juice. Keep the sauce warm and use it within an hour.

Variations

For hollandaise with fish essences: reduce ½ cup fish stock by half and whisk with the yolks initially before continuing with the recipe. Serve with fish, since the addition of the stock unites the flavors of the fish and the sauce. Whipped cream hollandaise: hollandaise folded together with whipped cream. It is lighter and richer, with a less pronounced taste than hollandaise, and perfect with fresh poached fish. Whip ½ cup very cold heavy cream until soft peaks are formed. Fold the cream into the warm hollandaise just before using the sauce. Season the hollandaise heavily, since the cream will dilute the flavors.

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