Hollandaise Sauce

769px-Jehan_Georges_Vibert_-_The_Marvelous_Sauce,_ca._1890,_Albright-Knox_Art_Gallery

Jehan Georges Vibert “The Marvelous Sauce” 1890 (oil on wood) in the collection of the Albright Knox Art Gallery

There are many variations on how to make a good egg sauce.  Cook books and website will promote various techniques, some of which are benign, some which are completely wrong.  You do not want to even try to make the “easy” blender or food processor aided techniques to emulsify a sauce. The “simple blender Hollandaise” recipes (more often than not) result in a lumpy, odd textured sauce. The idea of making a Bernaise sauce by making a basic mayonnaise (same concept, both are an emulsification of egg yolk and oil), then heating it often results in a strange texture.  I’m not saying it cannot be done, but I am saying that I have yet to find anyone who has succeeded with these techniques.

Just like making mayonnaise, though, there are many recommendations.   Some cooking experts will tell you to start with nearly frozen butter, cut into small cubes, and let the butter melt as you blend it with the yolk over heat.  (It works. It can take a long time for the butter to melt, but the end result is fine.)  Some recipes make no distinction on the temperature of the butter, but instruct one to use the pan directly on low heat, and move it off the heat when needed to control the temperature.  Other recipes recommend an extra step, to start, by clarifying the butter first (which I prefer) and then mixing the oil into the yolk similar to how to make mayonnaise, only over a double boiler (bane marie).

Actually, these emulsified sauces are nearly identical to mayonnaise in technique and in texture. The only difference is the added heat during the making of the sauce, and the resulting warm sauce.   The reason to not make the sauce cold and then heat it, is that the emulsified cold sauce (except under the most gentle of heat) will break frightfully easy.

My husband insists that clarified butter is an unneeded step. That any butter will work, salted or not, although the only butter he usually has on hand is unsalted butter.  He has made Hollandaise and Bernaise sauces hundreds of times. I, on the other hand, have only made the sauce with a clarified butter, but have made mayonnaise many times, and I like a liquid oil to mix into the egg yolk, because I find it easier to control, and more familiar.   Since we both come up with the same basic end result, I suppose it’s only a matter of which directions you care to follow, and practice with. One thing is for certain, this is a sauce that you have to be prepared to practice, and make routinely, until you get the techniques foolproof, or nearly so. The key is to not get frustrated. Once you have the hang of it, its an easy, and elegant sauce to “whip up”.

I always use a bain marie (double boiler) to make a Hollandaise or Bernaise sauce.  The gentle heat slows the cooking time, and provides more even, gentle heat.  (A double boiler is also necessary if you need to “hold” the sauce to wait for the rest of the meal to finish cooking.) It also allows more time to fix a “break”.  And, it also reminds me to “go slow” and to not rush.

If the egg in the sauce begins to curdle, you can strain the sauce through several layers of cheese cloth, return the liquid to the pan, and add a new egg yolk, and try again.  Addition of some very, very cold water (a teaspoon to a tablespoon) can cool the sauce temperature down enough to stop the break.  (Then, whisk energetically to get the egg proteins to smooth out, and accept more oil.)   If a sauce breaks, it breaks.  Everyone has it happen, sometimes.  When it does, just start over, and go slower and you’ll find success.

How to Make Clarified Butter

Clarified butter, also known as drawn butter, (similar to ghee, which is heated at low temperatures longer) is butter that you have removed all residual whey, and milk solids from.  Butter, in the stick, from the carton, has a pale yellow color because milk solids (aka whey and leftover bits of milk solids) are still mixed in.  These remaining bits scorch at a lower temperature (250-300 degree smoke point) than the butter fat alone (325 to 450 degree smoke point).

To remove the whey and milk solids, melt the butter on very low heat until the butter simmers. As the butter simmers three layers will develop. The foamy scum on the surface (the whey) and a darker layer on the bottom of the pan (milk solids).  Carefully remove the foam with a spoon (and reserve for other uses. It’s fantastic on vegetables, or popcorn).  Then strain the butterfat through several layers of cheesecloth to remove the milk solids that have collected, and hardened at the bottom.   The clarified butter, in the center, will be an amber color.     This extra step will make a huge difference in sauce creation.   (Never use salted butter as the salt can cause the yolks to curdle.  Once salt is in butter, it cannot be removed.)

1lb of butter will yield, roughly, 1½ cups of clarified butter.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE RECIPE

This is a sauce that has a lemony flavor. It is butter and eggs emulsified over heat. The sauce is rich and smooth, but not oily. It is served hot over vegetables (asparagus, broccoli) red meats, fish, game, and eggs (like Eggs Benedict).

Hollandaise Sauce

½ cup clarified butter

3 raw egg yolks

4 tablespoons boiling water

1½ teaspoons heated lemon juice

Few grains cayenne

(2 tablespoons ice water, if needed)

Start with ¾ cup butter, and heat slowly on low heat.  Let the butter separate into whey, butter fat and milk solids.   Skim off whey, strain to remove milk solids.  Measure ½ cup butter, and set aside

In a separate pan heat 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice and heat until boiling.  Remove from heat and strain to remove seeds and pulp.  Set aside.  Heat ½ cup of water.  Set aside

In a bowl separate egg yolks from whites.  Whisk yolks for several seconds to blend well. Put egg yolks into double boiler, over boiling water.   Whisk until they begin to thicken. Add ¼ teaspoon of water, and mix in well.  Add ¼ teaspoon more, until all is mixed in to the yolk.

Turn off heat, but let yolks remain in double boiler over simmering hot water.  Whisk the egg yolks constantly.  Add several drops of the warmed lemon juice. Whisk in well.  Then, add warm melted butter in a thin stream, in small amounts, and continue to whisk until the egg absorbs the butter, then add more.  The more completely the yolk can absorb the liquid the better.

Slow down if the emulsification starts to “break” (curdle), and add a small amount of ice water to cool the sauce, if it does start to break.

Keep adding a drop or two of lemon juice, and then small amounts of butter until it is all incorporated into the yolks.  The mixture should be creamy and smooth. Once all the butter, yolks, and lemon juice are one smooth, thick emulsification add cayenne.

Fernand Point’s Fried Egg

Fernand-Point1

Fernand Point

Thomas Keller (an American chef, restaurateur of his landmark Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry) said that: “I believe Fernand Point is one of the last true gourmands of the 20th century. His ruminations are extraordinary and thought-provoking—he has been an inspiration for legions of chefs.”

The only book attributed to Fernand Point was  ” Ma Gastronomie”.  (It was  published after his death, in France, in 1968.) It’s not quite a cookbook, in a normal sense, but a collection of recollections about dishes, and a the essence of the recipe.  A reprint of the 1974 English edition was printed by Rookery Press in 2008 with an introduction by Thomas Keller,

Chef Point, known to his peers as le roi (the king), believed in using the best ingredients possible: regional ingredients, in season, quality-grown. His culinary philosophy was simple: The easiest dishes are often the most difficult. An often-told story is how he would always invite visiting chefs to show off their skill by cooking a simple fried egg. They would, inevitably, fry the egg too fast, in too hot a pan, and he would insult them and show them his way. His way was slow, careful cooking with plenty of butter.

In fact, his favorite saying was “Du beurre! Donnez-moi du beurre! Toujours du beurre!” (Translated: “Butter! Give me butter! Always butter!)

Chef Point’s Fried Egg Recipe

Place a lump of fresh butter in a pan, and let it melt just enough for it to spread and never until it is browned. Open a very fresh egg onto a small plate or saucer, and slide it carefully into the pan. Cook on heat so low that the white barely turns creamy and the yolk becomes hot but remains liquid. In a separate saucepan, melt another lump of fresh butter, remove the egg onto a lightly heated serving plate; salt and pepper it; and then very gently pour the fresh, warm butter over it.

The Yolk

Egg yolks are colored by xanthophylls, a yellow-orange pigment in green plants, yellow corn, and bugs. Yolk color is influenced by feed, exercise, and the lifestyle of the chicken.  Yolk color can be influenced by feed alone. In fact, a chicken running around in a yard, eating whatever it finds, is going to have varying yolk color intensity, depending on what is in season. Alfalfa creates a very light yellow yolk, whereas yellow corn can give a deeper yellow. More-intense-colored yolks are the result of feed with a heavy dosing of annatto or ample greens such as clover or kale; rye pasture; weeds such as mustard, pennycress, and shepherd’s purse; or feed that is high in beta-carotene vegetables such as carrots and beets. A quantity of red fruits can intensify the red-orange color of the yolk.

Exercise, pecking order, and bug eating contribute to the natural deep orange and/or red tones of a naturally colored yolk.

In the “modern world” we mess with mother nature.

Poultry raisers have long discussed influencing yolk color with various feed combinations to please their consumers. In 1919 a popular paper entitled “The influence of specific feeds and certain pigments on the color of the egg yolk and body fat of fowls,” by Leroy S. Palmer and Harry L. Kempster[1], was widely read. What the authors found was that “yellow corn is the best winter food for keeping up the coloring of adipose tissue during fattening” and that it was also what kept the egg yolks a nice sunny yellow color. Not too dark, not too light. People liked to purchase dressed chickens with a deep yellow skin color, and corn filled the bill. Corn, along with annatto (a derivative of the achiote tree, of tropical regions of the Americas, used in food dyes), is used heavily—to this day—in chicken feed to give a faux “healthy” yellow glow that normally could be found only in chickens raised in sunshiny fields.

A side note: Annatto has been linked with many cases of food-related allergies and is the only natural food coloring believed to cause as many allergic-type reactions as artificial food coloring. However, because it is not one of the “Big Eight” allergens (cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat) responsible for more than 90 percent of allergic reactions to food, its use is not regulated nor is a consumer able to avoid it easily (it’s rarely listed in labeling as anything other than “natural coloring”). Many people who consider themselves allergic to chicken eggs may, in fact, be allergic to the annatto feed additives.

Artificial egg coloring is still a very hot topic in poultry farming. Articles appear frequently in trade and scientific journals regarding the use of artificial and natural coloring agents in feed to intensify the yolk color of eggs and the skin color of chickens. One such article, “Formulation of Annatto Feed Concentrate for Layers and the Evaluation of Egg Yolk Color Preference of Consumers,”[1] in the Journal of Food Biochemistry (January 13, 2010), lays out the trickery that is rampant in the poultry industry:

Visual appearance, especially color, is one of the most important characteristics of foods and determines the acceptance or rejection of the product by the consumer. This statement is also true for poultry products, in which the color of skin, meat and egg yolk plays a fundamental role to some ethnic and regional consumers (Chichester, 1981; Hencken, 1992; Williams, 1992; Macdougall, 1994). The preference for well-pigmented poultry products is still evident in some markets, and thus, poultry producers add colorants to broiler and layer diets as a means of improving the attractiveness of these products (Klaui and Bauernfeind 1981; Hencken 1992; Liufa et al., 1997).

The interesting thing about the authors’ analysis is their assertion that the average consumer in the United States prefers a yolk that is a lighter yellow than what European consumers favor. This is presumably because those consumers have never eaten an egg from a chicken that pecks, scratches, chases bugs, and eats greens and weeds in a natural setting. The flavor and quality of eggs from a backyard chicken are vastly superior to what you get with commercially laid eggs.


[1] I. Ofosu, E. Appiah-Nkansah, L. Owusu, F. Apea-Bah, I. Oduro, I., and W. Ellis, “Formulation Of Annatto Feed Concentrate for Layers and the Evaluation of Egg Yolk Color Preference of Consumers,” 2010. Journal of Food Biochemistry, 34: 66–77. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-4514.2009.00264.x


[1] The Dairy Chemistry Laboratory and Department of Poultry Husbandry, University of Missouri, Columbia)