Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hollandaise Sauce

“It's 'Hollandaise Sauce,' honey. Not 'Holiday's Sauce.'” I told her with a smile. “Here. Try some.”

My daughter blew on the spoon so she wouldn't burn her mouth, just like I taught her. “Mmmm!” she said. “That's good!”

Now, I'm sure there are many of you that just gasped. (I could feel the air intake from here.) That's okay. I understand your concern. For those who don't know, I had given my daughter a spoonful of what amounts to butter and thick, but still runny, eggs yolks. I can't say that I don't completely share your concern. Anytime you consume raw eggs there is a small (very small) chance that you will get food poisoning. I will contend that eggs cooked in the manner aren't entirely raw, but I'll also admit that the sauce doesn't get to temperature that will kill salmonella bacteria, either.

Let me stress that I don't use eggs like this very often. Let me also stress that you need to be careful whenever eating raw eggs. Some people say you shouldn't eat them at all. Make sure you're using the freshest eggs possible (like I did) to minimize the risk even further. Because of this risk, I recommend consuming it the day you make it.(1)

Okay, now that the obligatory health warnings are over, let's discuss hollandaise.

Hollandaise sauce is one of the “mother sauces.” It's great on it's own, but can also be used as a base to make other sauces. Add a little white wine vineagar, onions, and tarragon and it becomes a bearnaise. Add some tomatoes to the bearnaise and it becomes a choron. There's plenty more variations, I'm sure. Maybe you know a few to share with us.

Normally hollandaise sauce is made with clarified butter. I've tried a couple variations and I prefer those made with regular old unclarified whole butter. Supposedly this makes the sauce a little thinner, but I've never had that problem. Unclarified butter definitely gives it a creamier taste.


4 eggs
1 tablespoon of lemon juice(2)
1 tablespoon of water
2 sticks (8 oz.) of butter, broken into about 8 peices
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper(3)

Separate the eggs. Put the whites in a good zipper lock sandwich bag and freeze them to use later in a meringue or something. Put the yolks, lemon juice, and water in a small sauce pan.

Beat the mixture over (mostly) low heat, for about 5 minutes, or until the eggs start to thicken a little. (Please don't laugh at my dirty stovetop. Better yet, tell me how to get that crud around the back burner off too stove.)

The secret, here, is getting the right temperate, and constant stirring. You want the mixture to get hot, but if it gets too close to a boil, you'll get scrambled eggs. If the temperature is too low, it'll start to get foamy, and you want to avoid that as well. You'll get volume, but the mixture will stay too thin and the emulsion you're making will separate. Make sure you get the the whisk into the “corners” of the saucepan. If the eggs want to scramble, this is where it will start. You'll know it ready for the next step when you start seeing the bottom of the pan between strokes.

Start adding the butter, piece buy piece, whisking each piece in completely before moving on to the next. Keep the temperature very low when you add the butter, maybe even taking off the heat for just a moment as you add each piece. Once all the butter has been incorporated, add the pepper and whisk it in, as well.

Don't whisk too quickly! We don't want to add air (remember the whole “destroy the emulsion” thing?). We just want it nicely incorporated.

The sauce should be creamy, smooth, but somewhat thin at this point. Turn the heat up very slightly, and continue whisking until the sauce thickens enough to stick to a wooden spoon, and not run right off. Be patient. It will take several minutes for this to happen.

Don't let it get too hot, or the emulsion will break down. If you start seeing an oily residue around the edges of the pan, pull it off the heat, add another tablespoon of water and keep whisking, returning it to the heat and hoping for the best. If you're careful about keeping the heat low in the first place, you won't have this problem.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly. Place plastic wrap over the sauce to keep a skin from forming before you're ready to serve.

Hollandaise sauce is great served with with cooked vegetables, chicken, fish, or eggs.

Pictures by my daughter, Writer Girl!

(1) If you don't want to use raw eggs, you can make a “mock” hollandaise sauce by combining 1/3 cup of sour cream, 1/4 cup of commercial mayonnaise or salad dressing, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon of yellow prepared mustard. Cook and stir over medium heat until hot and creamy. It won't give you the luscious creaminess and mouth feel of regular hollandaise, but it will do in a pinch.

(2) If you want to leave out the lemon juice, you can replace it with another tablespoon of water. I prefer it with the lemon juice.

(3) Most recipes I've seen call for ground white pepper, so you don't see black flecks of pepper in the sauce. I prefer the more intense flavor of black pepper, and don't mind the few flecks. You can also add a dash of cayenne pepper if want, but I leave it out.


Sandie Law said...

As a self-proclaimed food safety freak, I understand the concern about raw eggs. I swear there wasn't an audible gasp...instead, I think it's delightful that you are providing interesting foods for your kid. Not many kids have tried hollandaise sauce. :)

The freshness of the eggs isn't really the problem. It's the raw-ness. Salmonella may be in super fresh eggs or in really old, nasty ones. Fortunately, there's an easy way to kill this big, bad bug. Cook it.

Contrary to popular belief, hollandaise sauce is cooked. It's just not cooked quickly or over high heat. If you get it hot enough, you will kill the vast majority of bad, foodborne bugs.

If it helps, you'd be more likely to get sick if you didn't wash your hands properly before cooking or eating. That goes double for kids since they have smaller bodies, meaning it takes fewer bugs to make them sick, and because they tend to get very dirty without washing up very often. :)

John Newman said...

I appreciate the raw egg info, Sandie. Yes! I did wash my hands first. :)