Hollandaise deconstructed

Hollandaise deconstructed

The scary sauce that never was

Have you ever been scared by a recipe?

I have! 

I got scared by one just this week. So much that it almost put me off.

Even though my default attitude in the kitchen is that everything is easy and nothing is a failure. But some recipes use language that is right out scary, so it can easily happen.

Here's the story:

We had a bunch of asparagus ('tis the season!), and I fancied a Hollandaise sauce: a bit of silky luxury on an otherwise ordinary weekday night.

I have made this many times before, but not for quite for a while (no idea why!), so I thought I better look up a recipe to be sure I remembered the concept correctly.

So I consulted one of my cook books... and the recipe confronted me with this opening line:

"Hollandaise is the scariest sauce to make..." 
(Nigel Slater in Appetite, if you're wondering. I'm sure he didn't intend to scare anyone, but...)

Now... it was quite late on a busy weekday (vegbox day in the shop!) and we needed some dinner quick. 

Not the day for a scary sauce, surely? Maybe I was getting carried away with fancy ideas here? Hollandaise sauce on a Wednesday night? Look, it says it's scary, you are tired , surely it will all go wrong. Who do you think you are to think that hollandaise is easy? And so went the chatter in my head...

For a minute I was about to give up on the idea. I'm not taking any risks on a Wednesday night. What will my husband think of a botched dinner?

But then I pulled myself together: Look, you have made it before, you know it's not really that scary at all. It's delicious and it's exactly what you fancy right now. What is the worst that can happen? (Fact: a curdled sauce still tastes delicious.) Why on earth would you allow a recipe to put you off?!

So I got over the recipe, go over myself, and just got on with it: I made my sauce.

Of course it was delicious! And no, it didn't take ages to make, and it didn't go wrong.

Note to self: Must make that more often!

If you have been put off making Hollandaise this asparagus season, read on: it's is all about that scary sauce simplified.



If you remove all the faff and the fear, it really is quite simple: whisk eggs yolks, butter, some acid and flavourings in a warm (not hot) environment until thick and silky.

* The basic concept: the sauce thickens through completely mixing (emulsifying) the yolks & butter, with the help of a little acid.

* Basic ingredients: egg yolks, butter, acid, salt, flavourings. Start with mixing the egg, butter and acid, add salt and flavourings later in the process.

* The one thing to remember: Do not overheat (this will cook the eggs and make them curdle).

* The solution: Mix it in a bowl that sits over a pot of just simmering hot water (you want to avoid direct heat, so the bowl should not touch the water).


Btw, this simplified version is exactly what Mary Berry shows in this video. Yes, it's so simple that everyone can do it!


Extra tips

  • The butter needs to completely dissolve so it needs to be at room temp (in small bits) or just melted: add slowly while you whisk, one cube or one drizzle at a time.
  • The whisking might take 10 minutes (probably less): this isn't really a long time, but it can feel like a while: be patient.
  • When it starts to thicken, add your flavourings. Don't forget to season with salt! 
  • Keep tasting and adjusting until it's just right. 
  • Important: Make sure you have added enough acid to cut through and lift the rich sauce.
  • Depending on the acid used the sauce takes on many names (lemon: classic Hollandaise, white wine vinegar: BĂ©arnaise, orange juice: Maltaise, etc) - sounds super fancy but it's up to you (use what you have or what you like).
  • Classic flavourings are shallots, pepper and tarragon, but you can use other herbs or spices as you please! Some ideas: mustard, garlic, fennel (to mimic the tarragon), all kinds of pesto, tomato paste, miso... (my favourite: wild garlic pesto).
  • The sauce is best served straight away, but it can sit for a little while while you set the table. Keep it warm - take the pot of the heat and set aside with the sauce bowl on top (make sure it does not touch the hot water). It will thicken further as it sits - if it thickens too much, add a spoonful of warm water and whisk till smooth again.


A final note on 'complicated' Hollandaise recipes:

Vinegar (or wine) are more intensely acidic than citrus juice, so some recipes call for a reduced liquid to be prepared. Not difficult to do but it's an extra step that is entirely optional

You can use straight vinegar (like Mary Berry does in the video above) - just use a dash and taste before you add more.

To make a reduction: flavourings (chopped shallot/onion/peppercorns/herbs) are boiled with the vinegar or wine until most of the liquid evaporates, reduced to just a couple of spoonfuls. Discard flavourings, and use this highly flavoured but less sharp liquid as the acid in your sauce. 

Categories: : (RE)THINK, COOK


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