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Sauce Hollandaise: Egg Yolk and Butter Sauce flavored with Lemon Juice
Hollandaise sauce is made of warmed egg yolks flavored with lemon juice, into which butter is gradually incorporated to make a thick, yellow, creamy sauce. It is probably the most famous of all sauces, and is often the most dreaded, as the egg yolks can curdle and the sauce can turn. It is extremely easy and almost foolproof to make in the electric blender. But we feel it is of great importance that you learn how to make hollandaise by hand, for part of every good cook’s general knowledge is a thorough familiarity with the vagaries of egg yolks under all conditions. The following recipe takes about 5 minutes, and is almost as fast as blender hollandaise. It is only one of numerous methods for hollandaise, all of which accomplish the same result, that of forcing egg yolks to absorb butter and hold it in creamy suspension.
Two points to remember when making hollandaise by hand:
1. The heating and thickening of the egg yolks
So that the egg yolks will thicken into a smooth cream, they must be heated slowly and gradually. Too sudden heat will make them granular. Overcooking scrambles them. You may beat them over hot water or over low heat; it makes no difference as long as the process is slow and gentle.
2. The butter
Egg yolks will readily absorb a certain quantity of butter when it is fed to them gradually, giving them time to incorporate each addition before another is presented. When too much is added at a time, particularly at first, the sauce will not thicken. And if the total amount of butter is more than the yolks can absorb, the sauce will curdle. About 3 ounces of butter is the usual maximum amount per yolk. But if you have never made hollandaise before, it is safer not to go over 2 ounces or ¼ cup.
- 6 to 8 ounces of butter (¾ to 1 cup or 1½ to 2 sticks)
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 Tb cold water
- 1 Tb lemon juice
- Big pinch of salt
- Salt and white pepper
- Drops of lemon juice
- 2 Tbs cold butter
- A small saucepan
- A 4- to 6-cup, medium weight, enameled or stainless steel saucepan
- A wire whip
- A pan of cold water (to cool off the bottom of the saucepan if necessary)
Cut the 6 to 8 ounces butter into pieces and melt it in the saucepan over moderate heat. Then set it aside.
Beat the egg yolks for about 1 minute in the saucepan, or until they become thick and sticky.
Add the water, lemon juice, and salt, and beat for half a minute more.
Add 1 Tb of cold butter, but do not beat it in. Then place the saucepan over very low heat or barely simmering water and stir the egg yolks with a wire whip until they slowly thicken into a smooth cream. This will take 1 to 2 minutes. If they seem to be thickening too quickly, or even suggest a lumpy quality, immediately plunge the bottom of the pan in cold water, beating the yolks to cool them. Then continue beating over heat. The egg yolks have thickened enough when you can begin to see the bottom of the pan between strokes, and the mixture forms a light cream on the wires of the whip.
Immediately remove from heat and beat in 1 Tb cold butter, which will cool the egg yolks and stop their cooking.
Then beating the egg yolks with a wire whip, pour on the melted butter by droplets or quarter-teaspoonfuls until the sauce begins to thicken into a very heavy cream. Then pour the butter a little more rapidly. Omit the milky residue at the bottom of the butter pan.
Season the sauce to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Keeping the sauce warm
Hollandaise is served warm, not hot. If it is kept too warm, it will thin out or curdle. It can be held perfectly for an hour or more near the very faint heat of a gas pilot light on the stove, or in a pan of lukewarm water. As hollandaise made with the maximum amount of butter is difficult to hold, use the minimum suggested in the recipe, then beat softened or tepid butter into the sauce just before serving.
A restaurant technique
A tablespoon or two of béchamel or velouté sauce, page 57, beaten into the hollandaise, or a teaspoon of cornstarch beaten into the egg yolks at the beginning, will help to hold a sauce that is to be kept warm for a long period of time.
If the sauce is too thick
Beat in 1 to 2 tablespoons of hot water, vegetable cooking liquid, stock, milk, or cream.
If the sauce refuses to thicken
If you have beaten in your butter too quickly, and the sauce refuses to thicken, it is easily remedied. Rinse out a mixing bowl with hot water. Put in a teaspoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of the sauce. Beat with a wire whip for a moment until the sauce creams and thickens. Then beat in the rest of the sauce half a tablespoon at a time, beating until each addition has thickened in the sauce before adding the next. This always works.
If the sauce curdles or separates—“turned sauce”
If a finished sauce starts to separate, a tablespoon of cold water beaten into it will often bring it back. If not, use the preceding technique.
Leftover hollandaise may be refrigerated for a day or two, or may be frozen. It is fine as an enrichment for veloutés and béchamels; beat it into the hot white sauce off heat and a tablespoon at a time just before serving.
If the leftover sauce is to be used again as a hollandaise, beat 2 tablespoons of it in a saucepan over very low heat or hot water. Gradually beat in the rest of the sauce by spoonfuls.
© 1961, 1983, 2001 Alfred A. Knopf
This recipe serves 6 and includes 1/2 teaspoon of added salt.