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Hollandaise Anyone?

Have you wanted to make Hollandaise, started looking at recipes, and just given up, afraid you'd mess up this 'last minute' sauce? The recipes vary wildly. The proportion of egg yolk to butter, what else goes in, is not really ironclad, but leaves room for your taste and interpretation. There are so many plates of spring asparagus, servings of eggs Benedict, and filets of local salmon (the season starts, if all goes well, on the first of May) to put it on, that I thought I'd share my slightly odd, but successful method. Including how to make it in advance, and avoid the stress.

Yes, it's a touchy sauce to make — it’s easy to break. Also, almost without exception, the opinion from recipe writers is you have to make a substantial quantity, or it won't work. Yet I do it in two-person quantity. I save and revive leftovers, which I'll show you because it's a perfect way to reduce your anxiety, and make it the day before you need it. Just follow my simple directions to reheat and serve. And, if the worst happens, and the sauce breaks as you're making it, I'll also tell you how to fix it. The result of my method is a pourable, emulsified sauce, not thick like mayonnaise, but perfect for coating whatever you’re putting it on. It breaks a few rules, but only one egg, unless, of course, you're feeding a crowd. In which case you and double or triple the recipe.

Yield: about ½ cup

  • 1 large farm fresh egg yolk*
  • 3 oz. butter, cubed (3/4 stick), room temperature
  • Lemon juice to taste (minimum, a few teaspoons plus more to your taste)
  • Salt (amount depends on whether you’re using salted or unsalted butter, taste your sauce)
  • Cayenne pepper to taste (at least a pinch)

*Use the freshest, best eggs for this sauce. The yolk is not completely cooked. I go to the farmers market for mine. This time of year, the farmers often bring 'pullet' eggs — the first layings from young hens. As the hens age, the eggs get larger. These little eggs are so delicious, I often buy them; just use 2 yolks if you do, to equal one larger eggyolk.

Find a small pot, and a metal bowl that sits up a bit from the bottom, and that has a rim that extends above the pot, so you can easily pull the bowl off the pot, if it gets too hot. Put ½ inch of water in the pot, and warm it to a bare simmer. Put the egg yolk in the bowl, add a teaspoon of lemon juice (which stabilizes them a bit) then whisk like mad, until they are creamy yellow and well emulsified. Place the bowl over the pot of simmering water, and continue to whisk actively until the eggs are pretty warm, and starting to thicken a bit. DO NOT cook the eggs and hard boil them, please. You will never make sauce that way!

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Add 2 chunks of butter and whisk until they are melted into the egg. Add another chunk just before the last of the first disappears. Keep that up until all the butter in incorporated. Pull the bowl off the pan, if at any time it seems like the mixture is getting too hot. Whisk to cool it and keep the emulsion. Whisk in a teaspoon of water if you need to, to slightly cool the eggs. Just don’t overcook the egg yolks and curdle them.

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Once all the butter is whisked in, your sauce is ready to season and serve. Add more lemon, salt, cayenne to taste.

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Keep the sauce warm, not hot — I usually add a little cold water to the pot to cool what’s in it to bathtub temperature, and sit the bowl on top. The sauce is not served hot, or cold, but just warm enough to keep it from getting thick.

Secrets to Share

What happens if, while you’re putting butter in, it starts to separate? Pull the bowl from the pot, and put a clean bowl with a teaspoon of cold water in it, in the first bowl’s place. Start drizzling in the broken sauce, whisking. It will come back together. This is also how you can reheat it, if you’ve got refrigerated leftovers. Or if you've made it in advance. I just did that with some Bearnaise sauce. I took the cold sauce, and using two spoons (it's thick and sticky!) started whisking it into a teaspoon of water that's in the bowl, over simmering water. It's too hard to add the sticky stuff and leave the bowl on the pot — I took it off for each addition, then put it back on, and whisked. The finished sauce was just perfect. (Bearnaise: chop one shallot. Sauté in a small bit of butter, seasoned with salt and pepper, until soft. Add a tablespoon white wine or Champagne vinegar, cook until almost dry. Use this to start your Hollandaise instead of lemon juice (or in addition to it). Finish the sauce as you would with some lemon and cayenne, but also with a tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon.)
Here's some pictures of my "revival."
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What to do if you overcook it and curdle the egg yolk? Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, without pressing, and prep another egg yolk with more lemon, and then whisk the salvaged butter in, just like you’re making the sauce from scratch. Discard the curdled yolk that's left in your sieve.