Finicky and tempermental, the Hollandaise is the most catastrophe-prone and unstable of all sauces. A degree too warm or too cold and you have a mealy butter/egg yolk monstrosity. A draft and the emulsion breaks. A chef, cook, or epicurean can spend tearful hours in the kitchen asking “why me” when brunch guests are expected and dozens of sauceless eggs benedicts sit drying out and getting cold while Hollandaise after Hollandaise breaks (not that I’m speaking from any personal experience or anything). For all the trouble one silky smooth taste of a good Hollandaise makes all the anxiety and effort seem nothing at all. Hollandaise is, quite simply, delicious. It is also not that difficult to prepare when you know what to do and where things can go wrong. Think about preparing Hollandaise like white water rafting, it’s treacherous and scary but when you know where the rocks are you know what to do to stay in the boat.
Ingredients for 1/2 cup of Hollandaise
1 tablespoon of white wine
1 tablespoon of water
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
1 1/2 sticks of butter
2 egg yolks
freshly cracked black pepper
one lemon cut into wedges
1. Clarify the butter
Place the butter in your smallest saucepan and melt very slowly over the very lowest possible heat. If the heat is too high you will color the butter (this is called brown butter) and you do not want the butter to have any color at all for this preparation.
When the butter is completely melted take a spoon and carefully skim the white sum off the top taking care not to remove too much of the lemon-yellow butter oil in the process. The pure butter oil is what we're after when we clarify butter.
When you have removed all of the white scum you will be left with lemon-yellow butter oil.
Carefully pour the lemon-yellow butter oil into a small cup or glass measuring cup, be careful that none of the denser white milk solids at the bottom of the pan come up and end up with your butter oil. Clarified butter is the pure butter oil with all of the milk solids and impurities taken out of it.
These white milk solids are what you don't want ending up in your clarified butter.
Skim the clarified butter one last time.
These white milk solids are what you will have removed. They're the crap militant vegans are always telling us is in dairy. It's nasty, nasty stuff when you think about it...so don't think about it too much...just remove and discard it. Return the clarified butter to a small, clean saucepan and keep warm but not hot over very low heat while you prepare the rest of the sauce.
2. Prepare the Sauce
Begin by combining the water, vinegar, and wine in a small saucepan. Heat over high heat and...
...reduce au sec, au sec meaning until the pan is almost dry. The liquid will reduce rapidly so keep the pan swirling in a clockwise motion and make sure not to burn the liquid.
transfer the reduced liquid to a large stainless steel bowl, allow to cool for just a moment.
whisk in the egg yolks, the mixture should be well whipped and frothy before continuing.
place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, this is a double boiler, whisk vigorously and constantly so that 1.) the yolks don't turn into scrambled eggs and 2.) you are now going to begin emulsifying the warm clarified butter into the warm yolk-and-liquid mixture, it is imperative that the two are of roughly equal warmness....the emulsification will be held together by heat, the protein in the egg yolk, and the constant motion of your whisk. Begin by just flicking a few droplets of clarified butter in at a time, whisking constantly to start the emulsion
slowly, and I mean slowly, add more and more droplets of the clarified butter to the mixture being constantly and vigorously whisked in the bowl
once half of the butter is emulsified you can go from whisking in droplets to whisking in a very slow, steady stream of the remaining butter...like whisking the oil into a vinaigrette.
You should end up with a tightly bound, silky Hollandaise. Keep the sauce warm in the double boiler, whisking constantly until you pour it over your dish. The sauce will break if it cools down or gets too hot so work quickly. You want a pretty, tightly bound Hollandaise when you set the plate in front of whoever else will be eating it...there is nothing less appealing to the eye than a broken Hollandaise on a plate.
Today I made eggs benedict with sweet potato hash, the Hollandaise was made for this dish. Bon Appétit!