Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hollandaise? Holla!

I was talking brunch with some of my readers on my Facebook fan page (have you checked it out yet?), and got a request for a hollandaise sauce recipe. This is a bold undertaking, my pets. Hollandaise has a reputation for being really moody and unpredictable if its not handled right. Its pretty much the Mickey Rourke of sauces. But that's not going to stop me from taking this heavy hitting question and punching it in the face.
Having a good hollandaise recipe isn't as important as having good technique. How you handle the sauce is going to be what will make, or literally, break it. That's what so fussy about hollandaise- if its not made just right, it separates or "breaks," and turns into a gloppy, disgusting mess.
So, lets start with a recipe and I can elaborate from there. This is my favorite hollandaise recipe: I used it when I ran a hotel kitchen in Telluride and had to make hollandaise every morning. Every cook has their own method of making hollandaise (and of course they all think theirs is the best because they're usually arrogant butt heads), but my recipe eliminates half of the steps that you'd normally use and doesn't involve whisking in a bowl over a double boiler. Only pansies do that. And you're not a pansy, are you?

1/4 cup water
1/2 lemon, juiced
salt to taste
6 egg yolks
4 ounces clarified butter

First, lets talk about the clarified butter. Clarified butter is butter that has all of the milk solids and water cooked out of it- its just pure fat with nothing else to get in the way. In restaurant kitchens, there's usually a big batch of clarified butter made every few days and you can grab from that. At home, that's usually not the case. If you want to clarify your own butter, its not impossible. All you're really doing is melting butter in a pot, letting it simmer, and then skimming the white foam off the top. I looked up instructional videos on it, and the least obnoxious (everyone thinks they're a natural born cooking show host these days...) I've found is here. If you want to buy butter already clarified, you can find it next to the butter at the grocery store, sometimes called "ghee." Same thing.
Alright, so now that you've got your clarified butter, lets go.

1. In a small pan, melt the clarified butter. The goal is to have it ready and warm, but not screaming hot. This is why I melt the butter first so that it has time to cool off a little.
2. Separate the egg yolks from the whites (save those for an omelet) and have them ready in a bowl.
3. In a small pot, bring the water, salt, and lemon juice to a simmer over medium heat. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low and add the egg yolks. Here's where technique matters: whisk the daylights out of those eggs. The goal here is to whisk air into them to get them light and foamy. If you whisk too slow, the eggs will start to cook and will make the sauce gritty. Gross. So whisk whisk whisk! And when the color gets lighter and they start to look fluffy...
4. You can start adding the warm clarified butter very slowly. This is the second part of the recipe where technique matters. If you dump all of the butter in at once, you're just adding fat to more fat (yolks) and it won't emulsify. (What's emulsifying? Check out one of my older posts here.) So add the butter in a very small, slow stream, and keep whisking like a banshee. Once you've added all of the butter, your sauce will ideally be smooth with no lines of oil in it. Then you can add whatever seasonings you want: cayenne pepper, black pepper, Worcestershire, weed... whatever suits your fancy pants.

I know, I know... you tried making it and are wondering why it separated. Here's what you may have done wrong.
Temperature is so important when you emulsify. So remember that you have to turn the heat down to low when you add the eggs. Also, was the clarified butter too hot? If its too hot, the hollandaise will break as soon as you add it. (You weren't listening to me earlier, were you?) Also, did you add the clarified butter too fast? Slow down, buddy.
So now what? Did you break the sauce and want to cry because you wasted half a dozen eggs and all that clarified butter? Well, you don't have to toss it. Get a new bowl and put a couple of tablespoons of warm water in it. Then slowly add the broken hollandaise into the bowl of warm water while whisking it. That trick usually works for me, and one of my CIA instructors, Chef Pardus, always swore by that fix-it. He was a smart man. He also teased me a lot because I was always cutting my fingers open. Just make sure you add the hollandaise to the water, not the water to the hollandaise. Chef Pardus will be proud.

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