Hollandaise Sauce, The Concoction of

Hollandaise Sauce, The Concoction of

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  1. Ephemeral

    Of cooking’s many mysteries, Hollandaise sauce is one of the most magical. The stuff is made of eggs and butter, but it looks nothing like eggs and butter. Most people may just look at it and accept it as mysterious and their curiosity ends there. But for some folks, Hollandaise sauce is an ephemeral mystery they want to solve, and lucky for them the sauce is very simple and very easy to make.


    Start with some eggs. A couple will be enough for a couple of people, and three eggs will do the trick for four. First you separate the yolks from the whites. If you have some use for the whites you can keep them of course, but I always throw them away or let them slither down the drain. The yolks you want to put in a metal bowl or a sauce pan. The bowl is nice because it has no corners, but if you lack the bowl, the sauce pan will do the trick, especially if you can get a wire whisk into the corners.


    To the yolks, add a touch of water. One touch in this case equals something like a quarter teaspoon of water. You want just a little water to thin the yolk some and to help regulate the temperature. The water seems to keep the temperature of the yolks lower longer. At least that’s the main reason I add a little water. It could be pure superstition for all I know, but it works for me and so I stick with it. Whisk the water and the yolks together until uniformity has been achieved.

    Mild fury

    I am giving the metal bowl technique, and the next thing you need to execute it is a pan of water on the stove that is well on its way to the boiling point. If your pan is big enough or you have enough water so that your metal bowl sets directly on, or in, the water, that’s fine. If the bowl does not reach the water, that’s fine too. The steam will do the job. Put the bowl on the pan of water on the stove and start stirring with a wire whisk and keep stirring with a mild fury.

    Doing fine

    If you do not stir, the yolks will coagulate, which is not what you’re looking for. You want a smooth creamy yellow liquid that slowly thickens as you stir with mild fury. As the yolks cook, they will become lighter yellow in color, and they will become foamy. Like anything, preparing egg yolks for Hollandaise sauce takes some practice before you will recognize the done point. But don’t sweat the done point too much. As long as you do not have curds of egg yolk in the mixture, you’re doing well. If you do have curds, you’re still doing fine, but you will need to start over with new egg yolks. It’s no big deal to start again, and there’s no need to cry because you overcooked the yolks.

    Soak your finger

    Your next move is adding melted butter. I am a bit vague on the correct amount of butter myself, but if you have a couple of yolks, plan on using a quarter pound of butter. Melt it in a pan on the stove or in a bowl in the microwave, and just melt it. No need to heat the butter, and if you can’t soak your finger in it comfortably it’s too hot and you’ll have to wait for it to cool before adding it to the yolks.

    No guilt

    Put a little butter into the yolks as you stir.The butter should disappear. If the butter does not disappear keep stirring with vigor until it does. Once that first dose of butter disappears, add some more as you stir the yolks until it too disappears. Continue that process until the butter is all gone, and if you can convince yourself that a quarter pound of butter has actually disappeared you’ll feel less guilt than you would if you were completely aware of the fact that you and your fellow diner will have eaten an entire stick of butter if not more.

    Simple or complex

    You should now be in possession of a thick, creamy, yellow sauce. Into this sauce you need to squeeze a half a lemon or so. It’s entirely up to you. If you like lots of lemon, put in lots. If you don’t like too much lemon, go easy on it. Add a little salt, taste the sauce, and if it’s good, you’re done. If it’s a bit bland, hit it with a little more salt. This is simple sauce. Keep it that way. However, one complexity you may want to consider is a drop or three of Tabasco.

    Asparagus love

    Hollandaise goes on Eggs Benedict, and that may be its most famous purpose. Asparagus loves Hollandaise as does fish like cod or flounder. Scallops can be quite tasty with some Hollandaise sauce. The amazing thing about Hollandaise is … well, it’s hard to describe. It’s just that there seems to be no sauce there when you eat it. It’s just flavor and richness will little texture or other sensory stimulation that would let you know it exists at all. The Incredible Lightness of Hollandaise Sauce would make a good title for a book.

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