Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hollandaise Sauce

I suck at sauces. And as a result, I tend to avoid recipes that call for them. Also, I love Eggs Benedict. So, I threw myself into the breech and gave it a try. I have several recipes in various cookbooks, but I went with the one in Jame's Peterson's The Essentials of Cooking.

The result? Not so good. My third and final try for the day was not thick enough and ended up separating a bit. It tasted okay, though. Will definitely have to try this a few more times to get it right.

The recipe called for sloped side sauce pan, which I didn't have, but Peterson seemed to make a good case. While whisking, you don't want sauce trapped in the corner of the pan where you can't get at it. Made sense, so I used a braiser as it seemed deep enough and not too wide (like an omelette pan might be). That was pretty workable.

I had clarified butter already (Indian ghee), so I went that route.

The first two tries, the egg started scrambling before the froth went down as described. The third time, I think I overcompensated and pulled it off the flame too fast. I think the mixutre didn't thicken or emulsify enough as a result.

I ended up putting about 5 times the amount of lemon juice the recipe called for, just to get it to taste like the sauce I'd had before.

It was also kind of gritty. That may have been undissolved salt, though now that I think about it... I ran it through the blender and that semed to help.

I suspect that part of my problems was that I was using old (but not rotten, of course) eggs. They were kind of small, too. I used to use Jumbo size eggs for everything because, well, more is better, right? But I read somewhere that recipes are actually geared to regular sized eggs and combining that with the other pearl of wisdom I picked up that "baking is chemistry," i.e. proportions need to be exact for it to work, I switched. I think I'm switching back. More on that later.

Next time around, I'm also going to only use one yolk, as two or three makes a LOT of sauce.

And I'm going to cut back on the butter. I think that "bulk" is what made me have to add such an insane amount of lemon juice.


Hollandaise is a light, airy sauce made by whisking butter and lemon into an emulsion of egg yolks and water. The principles for making hollandaise (and its derivatives, such as bearnaise sauce) are almost the same as for mayonnaise, except that the egg yolk emulsion for a hollandaise is hot, and butter is used rather than oil. A classic hollandaise sauce is made with clarified butter, but whole butter can also be used for a thinner consistency. Clarified butter produces a very thick sauce, almost the consistency of a mayonnaise, because it contains no water. Use clarified butter when the sauce must be thick enough to coat foods like oysters that are to be gratineed, or to top eggs Benedict, or when the sauce is to be served on top of a steak. Whole butter contains water and so makes a thinner hollandaise. Whole butter can be added as melted butter or whisked into the sauce in chunks, as though you were making a beurre blanc. Use whole-butter hol­landaise to sauce seafood and other dishes that are too delicate for a thick sauce.

To make a hollandaise, first make an emulsion of eggyolks and water (professional chefs sometimes call this emulsion a sabayon) by beating the egg yolks and water together until frothy, then beating the mixture over heat until barely stiff. Whisk in melted or clarified butter in a constant thin stream (or whisk in chunks of whole butter) until it's all been absorbed by the yolks and the sauce is thick. Once all of the butter has been added, flavor the sauce: A small amount of lemon juice is used to finish a hollandaise, and a strained infusion of tarragon, cracked pepper, shallots, and vinegar flavors a bearnaise, the most famous hollandaise variation.

Hollandaise Sauce

1. Combine 1 tablespoon cold water per egg yolk in a sauce pan with sloping sides (sometimes called a Windsor pan) or in a metal mixing bowl off the heat.

2. Whisk the egg yolks rapidly until frothy, about 45 seconds.

3. Place the pan or bowl over medium heat and continue to whisk rapidly. As you're whisking, the egg yolks will increase in volume. As soon as they start to lose volume slightly and you see streaks on the bottom of the pan, take the pan off the heat.

4. Whisk for about 20 seconds more to cool the pan and keep the yolks from curdling. Whisk in clarified butter or whole butter, melted or in chunks.

5. Add lemon juice to taste­ - about 1 teaspoon for a 4-yolk hollandaise - and season with salt and white pepper.

Peterson, James. Essentials of Cooking. New York: Artisan, 1999, p. 44.

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