Mastering hollandaise: Have no fear, making French sauce can be very easy
Holly Herrick can make a from-scratch hollandaise sauce in five minutes, and saute scallops in less. Voila! Main course done.
Add a bit of wilted spinach, a little rice, and everything is finished in no time. No wonder she wrote a book on French sauces.
With me watching Holly make this traditional hollandaise from her new book, “The French Cook: Sauces” (Gibbs Smith, 2013) was the photographer, who was as spellbound as I. He confessed he loved hollandaise and used packaged because he couldn’t make it from scratch.
We both frowned. Truly, as Holly shows and tells, it is easy to make hollandaise.
Hollandaise is one of the five French “mother” sauces, and as such it has many variations, Holly explained. Most of us have heard about eggs Benedict, and putting hollandaise on broccoli, but Holly adds a bit of this and that, and, suddenly, a new sauce appears. In our mini-class, she made a saffron hollandaise sauce.
Holly uses a traditional French slope-sided pan, right on her gas stovetop, but concedes any heavy pan will do. She feels in a slope-sided pan it’s easier to get to all the edges and bottom with the whisk to try and prevent the eggs from coagulating.
It’s the eggs that are tricky about a hollandaise. They are, as my teacher told me, like a love affair. Too hot and they curdle, too cold and they don’t go anywhere.
Holly had all her ingredients ready to go when we got there. Lemon juice, egg yolks, butter and, for the saffron sauce, saffron.
First, she whisked the egg yolks in the pan over the heat. It would, she explained to us, take about three minutes until it was thick enough to add the butter. With the butter cut up into pieces, she continued to whisk while adding part of the butter, some lemon, and the rest of the butter, moving the pan off and on the heat until it was thick. A taste, the saffron, some salt and pepper, and it was done. Five minutes flat.
Then she showed us another trick, pouring the hollandaise into a Thermos bottle that would keep it ready for use up to two hours later.
She sauteed some fat fresh local scallops and suddenly we had a dish of scallops with saffron sauce. It could have had some spinach under the scallops, she explained, or the sauce could have gone on any fresh green vegetable, crab, fish, a juicy steak or chop.
Concerned about those who fear making it from scratch, she showed us how to correct a hollandaise that has broken or curdled. An emulsified sauce will separate if the fat is added too quickly, or if the liquid in the pan has evaporated.
She added some butter willy nilly, and the sauce broke as predicted. In seconds, she pulled out some store-bought Dijon mustard, and whisked the broken sauce into 1 tablespoon of the mustard, which reconstituted the emulsion.
She made it look easy, and it was!
Nathalie Dupree is the author of 13 cookbooks, most recently the James Beard award-winning “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.” She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.
Yields 11/2 cups
3 egg yolks, room temperature
14 tablespoons cool, unsalted butter cut into 1⁄4-inch cubes, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Sea salt or kosher salt
Ground white pepper
Whisk the eggs together vigorously in a slope-sided saucepan over low heat until it starts to thicken, about 3 minutes.
You will begin to see the eggs leaving space at the bottom of the pan as they start to cook.
Remove from the heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons of the butter until melted. Whisk in the lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
Return to the heat, and whisk in and melt the remaining butter in 2-tablespoon increments.
Continue until the butter is gone.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.