Chef Notes: Hollandaise Sauce

Chef Notes: Hollandaise Sauce

We’ve talked about the five French mother sauces before. They are béchamel, espagnole (brown sauce), hollandaise, tomato, and veloute.  Virtually all sauces, with the exception of quick pan sauces, are derived from one of the five mother sauces. We’ve cooked together béchamel and a variation of the tomato mother sauce. It’s time to talk hollandaise.

Hollandaise is really just an emulsion. Basically, an emulsion is the blending of two or more liquids that do not typically want to hang together. Vinaigrette’s are also emulsions as they are the blending of oil and vinegar. Often in vinaigrettes, as is the case with hollandaise, you will add an emulsifier. Emulsifier’s are substances that are used to stabilize the emulsification process so that the liquids do not separate. Some commonly used emulsifiers in food are egg yolks, protein (like heavy cream), mustards, and soy lecithin.

I’m not going to bullshit you–Making hollandaise is a pain in the ass. It’s not that it takes that long or is all that difficult but you need to organized and have “everything in its place.”  The French call this mise-en-place (pronounced meeze-on-plass) and is something we spent most of our time working on in culinary school.  The majority of our lab time was spent “mising” so that the last hour or so we were ready to actually cook.  This is a good habit to get into when preparing anything but certainly when attempting a sauce as delicate and easy to screw up as hollandaise.

You will need the following equipment:  double boiler, glass or metal bowl that will rest on top on top of the double boiler, pot holder, whisk, thermos filled with very hot water, and an assistant.

Recipe for 12 oz of hollandaise:

¼ tsp white peppercorns, crushed
3 T white wine or champagne vinegar
2 T water
3 egg yolks
1 ½ T fresh lemon juice
16 oz melted clarified butter (milk solids and water separated from the fat)
Kosher Salt & ground white pepper TT
Cayenne pepper TT
½ t Worcestershire sauce

Combine white peppercorns, vinegar & water in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce slightly. Strain and set liquid aside to cool. Place the eggs in the bowl and add the vinegar/water liquid. You want ½ fluid oz of acid reduction for each egg yolk used. Whisk well. Add a couple inches of water to the bottom or your double boiler and bring to almost a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium, put the top pan over the water and the bowl on top of that. Whisk the egg yolk mixture vigorously until thick enough to leave a trail across the surface when the whisk is pulled away. The egg yolks should also be a creamy yellow color.  Do not overcook the egg yolks. I hold the bowl with the entire time moving it on and off of the heat every few seconds. This doesn’t take long at all, just a few minutes.

Whisk in the lemon juice to immediately cool the egg yolks. Begin to add the fat from the butter a few drops at a time, whisking constantly (this is where the assistant comes in handy). Once the emulsion starts to form you can gradually speed up the addition of the butter fat. A rule of thumb, by the way, is that one egg yolk can emulsify about 6 ounces of butter. Continue until all of the butter fat is incorporated, whisking constantly. Then whisk in the milk solids from the butter being careful not to get too much of the water that will have separated from the solids, salt, ground white pepper, cayenne pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.  Pour into your prepared thermos and serve right away.

See, not that hard and not that time consuming just a little bit of a pain in the butt. So how about serving suggestions? The most obvious is eggs benedict but hollandaise is also a heavenly sauce on asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, scrambled eggs or omelets, pasta, poached salmon, steak, sautéed shrimp or scallops, french fries, and just eaten by itself with a spoon.

There is a bit of a myth out there that hollandaise cannot be reheated. This is NOT true. Store your hollandaise in the fridge in small, one meal serving containers. When you are ready to reheat, use a double boiler over  low heat. As it begins to melt, whisk in a bit (start with a tablespoon) of heavy whipping cream or about one teaspoon of Dijon mustard to add some extra emulsification and prevent the sauce from breaking. Hollandaise will keep in the fridge for about two weeks because the fat from the butter is a preservative. I recommend making a double batch. If you’re going to go to all that trouble, make it last for a bit.


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  1. Randy Clements.
    January 11, 16:01 Reply

    Sounds simple enough. Thanks for the tip on having EVERYTHING Ready before starting. I normally just run all over the kitchen while cooking.

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