Hollandaise Sauce, like Bearnaise and Mayonnaise, is part of the emulsion family of sauces that really should be taught in high school chemistry for their amazing combining effects and delicate nature. Even though my attempts at Mayonnaise failed a couple of years ago, and I've never tried to do it again, Hollandaise is one of those things that I was able to make on the first go. Don't ask me why, as the principles are basically the same.
This velvety, slightly tangy sauce is perfect over vegetables, like now-in-season asparagus, and lovely over poached eggs for an indulgent Sunday brunch (New York Times optional). Below, I've listed several tips that can help lead you to success in preparing this sauce. It's not fool-proof, but once you've made this from scratch, you'll never use pre-made versions again. Once you understand the tricks to it, it goes very quickly and you can adjust to avoid culinary disaster and scrambled mess (much the same as with making a custard sauce).
Before you try this recipe, make sure someone is watching the kids, turn off the TV and radio, and make sure that you can concentrate fully for 15 minutes on making this sauce. You cannot afford to be distracted, not even for an instant. That's my word of warning. This is very easy to make and even easier to make a hash of in seconds. So, how is that for scaring you off of making it before you've even started?
Tip 1: Get everything together and laid out (mis en place) before starting the recipe. Allow the butter to have cooled for just a bit before starting.
Tip 2: Put the burner on the lowest possible heat, even if it doesn't seem very high just by looking at it. If cooking with a gas fire, the residual heat from melting the butter will be enough to warm the mixture.
Tip 3: Don't be afraid to take mixture off of the heat, if it seems as though it is starting to curdle. Whisk vigorously to recombine ingredients if it looks like this is happening. You have mere moments to avoid the sauce collapsing once it has started.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Serving size: makes about 1 cup sauce
2 egg yolks at room temperature
2-3 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. water
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. cold unsalted butter
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
In heavy saucepan over lowest heat setting on stove, beat together egg yolks, lemon juice, water, salt, and pepper until thoroughly combined for about 2 minutes. Add cold butter and whisk in until completely incorporated, about another 2 minutes. Be careful not to let the sauce start to break up or look like scrambled eggs.
The mixture will start to get thicker, like heavy cream, as you whisk it continuously. At the point where you start to see the bottom of the pan between strokes, start adding the melted butter 1/2 tsp at a time. Incorporate each addition of butter thoroughly before adding the next portion and stir constantly to keep the sauce from breaking apart.
You can take the pan on and off the heat, whisking all the while, to keep it stable during this process (which I sometimes do). When all the butter has been added, remove from the heat and taste for seasoning. The mixture should look like a thick golden custard. Serve immediately while still warm.
Here's a serving suggestion, or at least one of my favorite ways to eat asparagus.