How to make perfect hollandaise sauce

Overlook weddings or, even, dare I say it, the employees of the world: the primary inexperienced shoots of spring are what will get my coronary heart leaping at the moment of 12 months. Not like, say, sizzling cross buns, asparagus is so superbly simple to organize that I can fortunately gorge on it morning midday and evening throughout its temporary season – initially simply drenched in butter, after which, as soon as the primary frenzy has worn off and I can bear to attend greater than 5 minutes for my repair, in additional adventurous methods: baked with ham, steamed and served with anchovies and lemon zest, topped with a poached egg, or, after all, dipped into a giant, grasping bowl of wealthy yellow hollandaise. And there, after all, is the lone fly on this mouthwatering ointment. Hollandaise is, I believe, the one biggest factor a spear of asparagus can aspire to, but the trail to perfection is fraught with hazard for the cook dinner. British asparagus deserves higher than curdled eggs.

The principle issue, I believe, just isn't that hollandaise is especially tough to make, when you perceive the science of it; it is the cult of the Sauce, by which I do not imply tomato ketchup and its ilk, however the spine of the traditional French repertoire, the type of recipe which feels like one ought to have a legion d'honneur to even dare trying. Ignore the hype, neglect the breathy MasterChef-style commentary in your head, and simply do not forget that hollandaise, like its steak-friendly cousin béarnaise, is nothing however a sizzling egg and butter sauce.

The trick, based on meals science god Harold McGee, is "warmth the egg yolks sufficient to acquire the specified thickness, however not a lot that the yolk proteins coagulate into little strong curds and the sauce separates". Warning, subsequently, is sweet: concern, nonetheless, will nearly actually curdle your hollandaise faster than the evillest of eyes.

The bain marie

The commonest strategy to preserving your sauce cool is to make use of a bain marie, as Nigel Slater advises. This, after all, has the good thing about preserving your delicate eggs away from direct warmth, however, as a flip facet, creates extra washing up.

I set a heatproof glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, after which add three egg yolks and slightly water, then steadily pour in 200g of "almost-melted" butter (by which I assume he means stuff which has a number of lumps swimming it it), whisking furiously. It takes bloody ages to thicken, after which I am going and spoil it by squeezing in an excessive amount of lemon juice to loosen it, however it tastes nearly as good as yolks and butter should. A great secure technique for the nervous cook dinner.

Carême technique

Harold McGee offers plenty of methods for making hollandaise, a few of which, together with the "butter mayonnaise" which does not even start to cook dinner the yolks and the sabayon-style, which makes a foam, moderately than the unctuous sauce I am in search of, do not strictly qualify as such. Nevertheless, Carême, the "king of cooks, and chef of kings" (thanks Wikipedia), piques my curiosity with a very tricksy technique, during which the egg yolks and water are heated gently till thickened, and "pats of entire butter" are then whisked in to emulsify the butterfat and skinny the cooked eggs. McGee cautions that "the small quantity of the preliminary egg combination is definitely overcooked", which sounds suspiciously like a problem to me.

I put the yolks and water on a ridiculously low warmth, and anxiously stir them collectively, lifting the pan off the range periodically to appease a rising paranoia that strands of scrambled egg lurk beneath the floor. This will clarify why they take so lengthy to thicken, however barely thicken they finally do, which is my cue to chuck within the clods of butter. At this level, one thing goes a bit mistaken, and a number of the melted butter resists my makes an attempt at emulsification, leaving me with a recognisable hollandaise, and a good quantity of grease. Not an outright success then, and a proper problem besides.


Delia, all the time one to reassure the anxious cook dinner, suggests utilizing a blender, which undoubtedly falls foul of my moratorium on pointless washing up, however I give her technique a strive. I mix seasoned eggs yolks within the meals processor for a minute, whereas heating a combination of lemon juice and white wine vinegar to a simmer. Then, with the motor working, I pour this on to the eggs. This course of is repeated with the butter, and voilà, I've hollandaise. And an entire lot of clearing as much as do. It really works, however actually, why hassle?


I save the only technique till final, as a result of, if I am sincere, I am slightly bit hesitant about it. It comes from McGee's On Meals & Cooking and, moderately than faffing about, merely sticks all of the substances in a single chilly pan, heats gently, and stirs till the sauce cooks. "The butter steadily melts and releases itself into the egg section as each warmth up collectively, and the cook dinner then continues to warmth the fashioned sauce till it reaches the specified consistency". That is the speculation anyway. I am anticipating catastrophe, however in some way, miraculously, it comes collectively right into a satiny pool of deliciousness – and all with only one pan and a whisk. I am a convert.


I'd have anticipated there to be debate over the very best technique for us amateurs, however I am shocked to search out disagreement amongst cooks over the sauce's principal ingredient, butter. Historically, it might have been clarified – heated till the water, milk solids and fats have separated, after which drained to present pure milk fats. As a result of entire butter is about 15% water, based on Mr McGee, it has the impact of thinning the sauce as you whisk it into the thickening eggs, whereas clarified butter is all fats, and thus thickens the sauce with every addition.

Utilizing clarified butter appears, subsequently, like a no brainer, as they are saying in his homeland – Ramsay, Rhodes and Roux are all followers, however Carême, Elizabeth David and Richard Olney all name for entire butter, which, based on posters on, offers a superior flavour.

I have been lazily chucking in extraordinary butter up till now, however I give the clarified stuff a strive, and even pressure it in, in obedience to Michel Roux Jr's significantly pernickety technique. The ensuing sauce is certainly thicker, however, though tasty, in a side-by-side comparability, it undoubtedly lacks the wealthy flavour of the others, and anyway, I purpose, I would like this sauce to be pourable, moderately than stiff like mayonnaise.

Escoffier finishes his hollandaise with vinegar, moderately than lemon juice, and Roux begins his with a vinegar discount, however I believe this takes it too near béarnaise territory: a small squeeze of lemon juice is a fresher-tasting technique to stability the richness of the fats.

Anthony Bourdain, by no means one to mince his phrases, has this recommendation in terms of this household of sauces. "Know this. If you have not made [it] earlier than, you'll certainly fuck this sauce up. Don't fret. Simply do it once more." I am not so positive. He is proper that these concoctions can odor concern, however go into the kitchen with confidence in your skills and even the first-timer can knock up a silkily unctuous sauce that does our homegrown asparagus proud. Go one, present that sauce who's boss. That is additionally, by the way in which, excellent with sprouting broccoli, or just grilled fish – and is, after all, the star attraction of eggs Benedict and its ilk.

Good hollandaise sauce

Makes 300ml

four giant free-range egg yolks
250g chilly unsalted butter, diced
¼ lemon

1. Put the yolks, butter and a pair of tbsp water in a heavy-based pan and warmth very gently, whisking on a regular basis. Because the butter melts, the sauce will start to thicken; do not be tempted to rush issues alongside by turning the warmth up, the perimeters of the pan ought to be cool sufficient to the touch always. Don't go away your submit at any time: this sauce will brook no postmen or tea-making.

2. As soon as the butter has melted, flip up the warmth to medium-low and whisk vigorously till it thickens: if it begins to steam, take it off the warmth, however don't, beneath any circumstances, stop whisking.

3. When the sauce is thickened to your style, stir in 1 tbsp lemon juice and season. Style and regulate if mandatory. Serve instantly, or retailer in a heat place or a vacuum flask till wanted: it would not take kindly to reheating.

Is being doused with hollandaise the very best ambition to which asparagus can aspire, or a elaborate French affectation that has no place on one in all our best seasonal substances? Why does it have such a fearsome fame, and what do you prefer to serve yours with?