Hollandaise, the traditional sauce made with eggs, is the most difficult sauce for me.
Not for the reason you think, but one of taste, because I do not like eggs. I can cook them, add them as ingredients to recipes, hard boil them or throw them at someone who drives me crazy, but I will not eat them.
I think it goes back to a day in my childhood when my mother made them for me and I got really sick.
The first key to a good sauce is starting with quality butter because it's made by an emulsion of melted or clarified butter, and acid such as lemon juice or vinegar with partially cooked eggs.
Melted whole butter provides a rich foundation, imparting a creamy flavor that goes best with meat, vegetable, fish and egg dishes. Clarified butter gives a stiffer, more stable sauce that can stand up to heat a bit and take browning in an oven to finish a dish.
The second key to a perfect hollandaise is what the French call "mise en place," or everything in its place. You must have all your ingredients ready to go because this sauce is made in one step and is quite fragile.
Butter must be warm at about 145 degrees but not too much hotter or you will cook the eggs when you combine them with the butter.
Lastly, a quality acidic addition such as lemon juice or vinegar blends well with the sauce, so make sure what you choose is as fresh as possible. I prefer adding a few drops of hot sauce and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, but in the end, that decision will be made by you when you create your own hollandaise.
This sauce is straight from the Culinary Institute of America — with a twist of spice from my pantry.
I give you hollandaise — Chef Scott style.
— Scott C. Anderson is associate food service director and chef with Shepherd University dining services in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
3 ounces apple cider vinegar (See cook's note)
3/4 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
3 ounces filtered water
8 egg yolks, fresh, no whites
18 ounces melted or clarified butter at 145 degrees
1/2 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 dash Worcestershire
2 dashes hot sauce (See cook's note)
Salt, as needed
Ground white pepper, as needed
Combine vinegar and peppercorns in a small pan and reduce over medium heat until nearly dry.
Add water to the reduced mixture, and then strain it into a stainless-steel bowl. In a separate pan, boil water. Whisk the egg yolks together until light and creamy with the reduction and place them over simmering water.
Continue whisking constantly until the eggs are thickened and form ribbons when they fall from the whisk (similar to cake batter). Take egg mixture off the heat and place on the counter. Wrap a towel around the bottom of the bowl to keep it from moving.
Gradually add the melted butter, pouring in a thin stream from a ladle, while you are whisking to incorporate the butter into egg mixture. Continue doing so until all the butter is added into the egg mixture.
Taste the sauce and add lemon juice, Worcestershire, hot sauce, salt and pepper.
As the sauce is ready to serve and can be held warm safely for about 2 hours, it's too delicate to trust holding that much longer and it can't be stored in the refrigerator. So plan on using what you make.
Makes 1 quart.
Cook's notes: White balsamic vinegar can be substitute if desired. Chef Scott prefers Cholula Hot Sauce, or a pinch of cayenne or chipotle pepper can be used.