I’m assuming you guys have mastered white sauces by now. Your roux is second to none, and you’ve pulled together some of the cheesiest creations on this earth. Maybe you’ve served cheesy white sauce over roast potatoes, and maybe your eyes have been opened to the fact that there is a whole world of bechamel and cheddar and parmesan sauces you didn’t even think about before last week. You laugh smugly whenever you pass those Kraft dinner boxes in grocery stores, knowing that your macaroni and cheese reigns supreme.
Now I have to admit something to you… I cheated a bit. I reeled you in and tried to play you like a sap, but I promise it was for the greater good. You have mastered a white sauce, and you’ve seen the variations you can make by adding cheese and other flavors to it. White sauce is incredibly customizable, and it is a necessity to master in any kitchen. The customization and the variation of this sauce make it one of the five French mother sauces. These sauces are absolutely awesome because they can zing any dish right into the taste stratosphere. But I cheated because white sauce is the easiest one to master, and we’re taking a steep jump in difficulty with our next Mother sauce, Hollandaise.
Now, before you start backing away in terror, let’s all just relax a moment. Hollandaise is notoriously difficult to master, but it doesn’t have to be that way. All the cookbooks I’ve come across with Hollandaise seem to indicate that egg yolks thicken with only the tiniest bit of coaxing, but the fact is, it takes some work. Even Julia Childs is like, “whisk for a minute over heat, that SOB will thicken like none other.”
Obviously, I’m paraphrasing Julia, but when you’re constantly whisking and your sauce still hasn’t thickened after almost five minutes, you’re obviously going to think that you’ve done something wrong. You haven’t, and you just need to be a little vigilant and patient. Show Julia who rules your kitchen.
Before we go any further, I apologize to any Julia Childs enthusiasts. I wouldn’t be able to roast a chicken properly without her guidance, and my stocks and broths would just not be as awesome. That lady rocks behind a chef’s knife, but I just want you to know how to make a Hollandaise without the intimidation. Come on, she was over six feet feet tall, and I’m still intimidated by her.
Now, in order to properly make a delectable Hollandaise, I suggest you prepare everything you want to pour it over before you prepare your sauce. The fresher you can serve your sauce, the better, and it will be the most lively part of the flavors on your plate. However, if you let it sit out for more than fifteen minutes or so, it will start to lose some of its heat and some of its charm. If you insist on preparing your Hollandaise beforehand, have a thermos on hand that you’ve profiled with water just off the boil. Once your sauce is done, you can empty the water out of your thermos and pour the Hollandaise in a temperature controlled environment. That buys you about an hour, but beyond that I wouldn’t push it.
Hollandaise in my mind screams for two accompaniments: asparagus and poached eggs. Poached eggs and Hollandaise, along with our cured Canadian bacon and English muffins, will make a fantastic Eggs Benedict. Alternately, for the tasteful vegetarians in the room, you can sauté some onion, spinach, tomato and Parmesan to substitute for the Canadian bacon to create a fantastic Eggs Florentine. If you’re indecisive like me, you just end up making both.
Let’s say you’re on top of things in the kitchen on a beautiful weekend morning. You’ve toasted some English muffins and you have them in a cloth-lined bowl keeping warm. You’ve browned your Canadian bacon and your spinach/tomato/cheese is still warm on the stove. You’ve got a saucepan of salted water with a teaspoon of white vinegar simmering on the stove, waiting for you to poach some eggs (we’ll cross that bridge later, too, but you’ll have time before the Hollandaise starts separating if you have simmering water ready to roll for your eggs before you start the sauce). Time to get rolling on your sauce!
3 large egg yolks
1 tbsp cold water
1 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp cold butter, split in half
8 tbsp melted butter, in a warm saucepan
Salt and additional lemon juice to flavor the sauce
As you can see, this is not a low-calorie sauce. Some things are worth it, and I promise this is one of those things. A few pointers for when you start out with your Hollandaise: first, you will want to use a double boiler. This will ensure that you more gently heat your sauce, and it will avoid scrambling and breaking the eggs within your sauce. Second, prepare a large pan of cold water, that way you can plunge the bottom of your pan into it if your hollandaise shows any sign of curdling. Lastly, RELAX, and we will take this one step at a time.
First things first, put some water in the saucepan portion of the double boiler and put it over medium heat. Once it starts simmering, lower the heat so you have a gently bubbling source of heat. Next, put your egg yolks in the bowl portion of your double boiler before you place it over your bubbling water, and you want to make sure you’ve discarded as much of the white as possible. Whisk your egg yolks for about a minute until they turn pale yellow and get slightly sticky. Next, add the tablespoon of cold water and the tablespoon of lemon juice, and whisk it together for about thirty seconds longer. Throw in one tablespoon of cold butter without mixing it in, and you’re ready to throw the bowl over the heated water.
This is where you really need to be patient. With the mixture in your simmering double boiler, whisk gently as the butter begins to melt and keep going. It will take a while to thicken, just make sure you’re constantly whisking. If your sauce starts to get the least bit lumpy, put the bottom of the bowl part of the boiler in your pan of cold water and keep whisking to cool off the mixture. You’re looking for a gentle but noticeable emulsification, and you want the sauce to be thick enough that your whisking causes the bottom of the pan to be visible between strokes. Once you’re at the desired thickness, pull the sauce from the heat and whisk in your last pad of cold butter to cool off the sauce a bit and stop the cooking.
Next, while beating the sauce, add a few droplets of melted butter at a time until the sauce starts turning into a thick and heavy cream. Once it’s becoming quite thick, you can add your melted butter a bit quicker in a drizzle whilst still whisking, just make sure it’s incorporating well and avoid pouring the white milk solid residue from your melted butter pan. You’ll use between six and eight tablespoons of the melted butter, depending on the size of your egg yolks at the beginning of the sauce formation. Once you’ve incorporated your butter, congratulations! Add a bit of salt and a few droplets of lemon juice if you feel it’s necessary, and your sauce is done! Set it aside, and now you can finish your eggs.
These will be quick. Make sure your water has at least a teaspoon of vinegar and is well salted, at a rolling boil. Add your eggs one at a time, at most four per pan of salted, vinegary water. As soon as your eggs are in the water, begin to stir the water around the edge of the pan, making the agitation and swirling water mix up your eggs. If you like runny poached eggs, keep them in the water for two minutes or so. If you prefer them a bit more tacky, keep them in for three or four minutes. Gently pull them out with a slotted spoon.
Why the vinegar, you ask? The vinegar will keep the eggs from separating into egg drop soup, something to do with the acid content. After your eggs are done, you’re ready to assemble a killer breakfast by starting with an open faced English muffin, topped with either slices of Canadian bacon or your spinach mixture, followed by a poached egg and finished with as much Hollandaise as your cholesterol count can handle. Don’t have it every day, but a few weekends a year call for this kind of excess. Freaking yum.