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A New Hollandaise Method

For most special occasions around our house, whether it's Christmas, a birthday or an anniversary, we have Eggs Benedict for breakfast.  The recipe is pretty straightforward.  Toast and butter English muffin halves, top with ham or Canadian bacon slices and a poached egg, and nap the whole thing with Hollandaise Sauce.  That is, straightforward except maybe for making the Hollandaise Sauce, which can be a bit fussy.  I have had it turn out runny, I have had it separate on me while cooking, and I have had the eggs poach too firm while I was trying to make the Hollandaise.

Today for Valentine's Day I was inspired to try a different method, recommended by Jennifer McLagan in her book Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, and based on Harold McGee's book The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore.

The traditional method requires cooking the egg yolks and liquid(s) over a double boiler, mixing in the butter slowly like as if you were making a mayonnaise, and then cooking until it is thickened.  Depending on the recipe, you may use melted butter, or cold butter out of the fridge, cubed and added one piece at a time.

The method McLagan uses is brilliantly simple.  Put everything into a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until its done.  At first the butter will soften and melt into the other ingredients, and then after a few more minutes the eggs will thicken.  In order to control temperature and avoid having the residual heat in the pan overcook the eggs, I continued to whisk while I put the bottom of the saucepan into a bowl of water to cool it off.  The method is incredibly simple, the results were as good as any Hollandaise I have ever made and the timing worked perfectly.  Just as I finished cooling the saucepan down, the eggs finished poaching and it was time to assemble the dish.

So, here's the recipe in detail:


Egg Yolks
tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice

1/4 tsp Salt

Fresh Ground Pepper, to taste

3/4 cup Cold Unsalted Butter, cut into about 12 pieces

Prepare a bowl of cold water and have it close by.

Whisk the egg yolks, lemon juice and seasoning together in a saucepan just until they are evenly mixed.  Break apart the pieces of butter and add them to the pan.

Place the pan over medium heat and whisk.  If the butter is melting too fast, you may need to lower the heat.  The intent is to have the butter melt and blend into the yolks without puddling on top.  Continue to whisk, being sure to work into the corner of the pan.  In a minute or so, the sauce will start to thicken.  Continue to cook until it clings to the whisk and would coat a spoon, about another minute or two.

Place just the bottom of the saucepan into the bowl of cold water and continue to whisk for another minute until the the pan has cooled down somewhat.  Taste, and if necessary adjust the amount of lemon juice or seasonings.

Since I was poaching eggs at the same time, I found it convenient to put the yolks into the pan, and combine the lemon juice and seasonings in a small dish until I was ready to make the Hollandaise.  If you combine them too soon, there is a chance that the acid and salt will cook the proteins in the eggs while it is sitting, like a ceviche.

If you are using salted butter, reduce the salt in the recipe by half or more.


Couple more thoughts:A) You said to reduce salt by half or more if using salted butter - I'd not use ANY add'l salt. Acid (lemon/vinegar) adds perception of saltiness even though it's technically sour, plus most salted butter is plenty salty. And whatever it's served on is usually salted (steak, canadian bacon, etc.) People can always add it at table.B) I think you're maybe a wee-bit egg-yolk-heavy. McGee shows how much fat one yolk can bind (emulsify), and it's a LOT. This morning's sauce used 2 yolks for a stick of butter, but that turned out to be more than plentiful: sauce got even thicker than I wanted and I didn't have a cold bath handy -- I'm sure I could've done a whole 'nother stick of butter w/o trouble. (And acid plays a big role, but that's another issue.) OTOH - it makes it a little more failsafe - just richer/eggier. (And I'll never say that THAT'S a Bad Thing. >;-)

So - you start out by saying "brilliantly simple. Put everything into a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until it's done".You could've stopped there. :) Because it IS brilliantly simple. I've done this countless times - including this morning - NEVER failed. I reread McGee just this morning, in fact (book: Curious Cook). My version:Whisk 1 yolk w/ 1T water; heat gently (over barely-simmering water) w/ 1/2 stick of butter and 1T lemon juice. Stir occasionally until butter melts then sauce thickens. Add pinch of pepper and cayenne. DONE.Just keep it well-mixed, and heating gently - that's the only trick. If it breaks, it got too hot or wasn't mixed/stirred enough, OR (as McGee points out) too much water evap'd. (Easy to fix, he says: put a TBSP of warm water in a bowl, whisk in your broken sauce bit-by-bit until it's all smooth again. It'll be thinner, but saved.)

I found this video to be useful as well. Thanks for sharing.

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