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).
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.