As one of the “mother” sauces, this egg yolk, butter and lemon juice based emulsification is always popular among restaurants with a French flair or heritage. So many variations abound from the basic template including Bavaroise, Béarnaise, Chrone, Foyot, Paloise, Crème Fleurette, Dijon, Maltaise, Mousseline or Chantilly, and Noisette. One of the side passions that I have with ingredients and preparations in particular is learning about the history and development of the particular item or recipe. In the case of hollandaise, it goes back to the foundations of French cuisine with references to a similar sauce as far back as 1651 by François Pierre La Varenne, who stated in his cookbook Le Cusinier François: “…make a sauce with good fresh butter, a little vinegar, salt and nutmeg, and an egg yolk to bind the sauce.” However, the widespread use of egg yolks and butter in the preparation did not appear until the 19th century.
From the book A Guide to Modern Cookery – Part I, and found on page 23, by G. A. Escoffier, the foundation recipe for hollandaise consists of quantities for preparing one-quart of the sauce and the ingredients listed for this 1909 version include the following.
1 ½ lb. butter, the yolks of 6 eggs, 1 pinch mignonette pepper and ¼ oz. salt, 3 tablespoonfuls of vinegar.
The only ingredient I am not familiar with in this listed in the pepper. According to Penzeys Spices, mignonette pepper is a classical blend, also known as “shot pepper,” of cracked Tellicherry black pepper, Muntok white pepper and flavorful Moroccan coriander, and traditional in French-Canadian cooking and roasting.
Escoffier preparation procedure is described – Put the salt, the mignonette, the vinegar, and as much water in a small saucepan, and reduce by three-quarters on the fire. Move the saucepan to a corner of the fire or into a bain-marie, and add a spoonful of fresh water and the yolks. Work the whole with a whisk until the yolks thicken and have the consistence of cream. Then remove the saucepan to a tepid place and gradually pour the butter on the yolks while briskly stirring the sauce. When the butter is absorbed, the sauce ought to be thick and firm. It is brought to the correct consistency with a little water, which also lightens it slightly, but the addition of water is optional. The sauce is competed by a drop of lemon juice, and it is rubbed through a tammy (a fine sieve or cheesecloth). He also provides a set of remarks – The consistence of sauces whose processed are identical with those of the Hollandaise may be varied at will; for instance, the number of yolks may be increased if a very thick sauce is desired, and it may be lessoned in the reverse case. Also similar results may be obtained by cooking the eggs either more or less. As a rule, if a thick sauce be required, the yolks ought to be well cooked and the sauce kept almost cold in the making. Experience alone – the fruit of long practice – can teach the various devices which enable the skilled worker to obtain different results from the same kind and quality of material.
Escoffier had a way of breaking down descriptions of culinary preparations that were never done before, made them easy to understand and follow. Documentation of procedures and making them repeatable, and even 100 years later we find that the basic hollandaise has not changed very much. To the novice unfamiliar to certain terms may not know about “bain-marie”, simply it is a hot water bath, or commonly known as a double boiler. Typically, one of the first sauces that a culinary apprentice will have to master is the art of making a hollandaise, as it takes skill, stamina, patience and practice to hone one that will hold up during service hours.
When working the line at a restaurant that has hollandaise on the menu, typically it is prepared just before service time as the shelf life is not very long, it usually sits out a room temperature to avoid becoming to thin or too thick. Too much heat will cause it to break and separate, and too cold it becomes a solid mass and unable to pour smoothly. Finding the right spot in the kitchen for service storage is always a challenge. Ladling a portion of hollandaise sauce on a plated Trout Pontchartrain is depicted in the image on the left.
Here is the recipe for a typical hollandaise made at the start of service every day when working on the kitchen front lines.
|6||Large||Egg yolks, room temperature|
|1||Tsp.||Crystal hot sauce|
|1½||Lb.||Butter, melted and clarified|
|1.||In a large stainless steel bowl set over a pot of simmering water (bain-marie), add the egg yolks, lemon juice, water, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and cayenne pepper.|
|2.||Whisk the ingredients with a wire whip until it becomes a pale light yellow color, the volume increases to almost double and when the whip is lifted, it creates a slightly thick ribbon effect.|
|3.||Remove the bowl from the hot water bath and while continuing to whisk, slowly add the clarified butter in a slow steady stream. Start with just a few drops of the butter first, and then gradually increase the amount as incorporating, but not too much at once. This is creating the emulsification of the butter into the egg yolks, but speeding up this process will result in a broken hollandaise. This is the tricky part of the whole process, ensuring that the eggs are ready to accept the butter, and that the butter is not added to quickly.|
|4.||If the hollandaise seems too thick then gradually add more water to thin out some.|
One tip to keep your stainless steel bowl from moving around while whisking in the butter is to place it onto a damp towel, this will keep it stable as you whip with one hand and add the ladles of butter with the other hand.
Several menu items served with a hollandaise sauce include the Veal Oskar with crawfish tails and white asparagus on the left and Sweetbreads with Hollandaise on the right.