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Hollandaise sauce is a favorite of most chefs and culinary critics. In its classic form, it is a rich egg yolk-based sauce, butter emulsified with a hint of lemon juice or white wine vinegar and a dash of cayenne. There are as many variations as there are palate preferences and this sauce has become the base for a myriad of wonderful unique recipes.
Dating back to 1651, Francois Pierre de la Varene included an unnamed sauce in his famous Le Cuisinier Francois that had similar ingredients and cooking techniques to hollandaise sauce. This famous French cuisine cookbook began a new chapter in modern French cooking and contained many new signature dishes that are considered classics today.
In 1758, a sauce a la hollandaise was included in Marin’s Dons de Comus. This cookery book was considered the manual on service and repertoire of dishes. The recipe involved butter, bouillon, flour and herbs. Egg yolks were not part of the original recipe.
The thinking was that proper use of butter emulsified the consistency properly. It was not until the 19th century that the familiar egg yolk and butter recipe re-emerged. The key to making hollandaise sauce properly is using a double boiler and a wire whisk. It is an acquired skill emulsifying the ingredients to a smooth, rich, creamy texture. It is initially the same as preparing a sabayon or zabaglione.
The water in the bottom pan must not reach a boiling point. A consistent light simmer needs to be maintained while adding and emulsifying the ingredients. The danger in adding the ingredients too quickly is that the sauce will “split.”
Hollandaise sauce is fun to experiment with and many variations can be created. By exchanging lemon zest with lime, it adds an extra element to seafood and fresh water fish. Adding chopped basil creates a perfect sauce for topping fresh asparagus and other vegetables.
You cannot think of hollandaise sauce without thinking of béarnaise sauce. By simply adding tarragon, chervil, parsley and black pepper to your hollandaise sauce, you have the perfect red meat sauce. Adding blood oranges, whipped cream, Dijon mustard or white wine are some other options.
Primarily a breakfast or brunch favorite, hollandaise sauce is most famous as the topping to eggs benedict. Poached eggs are layered on top of an English muffin, with a layer of Canadian bacon, topped with hollandaise sauce. Some chefs add a layer of turkey as well.
Other variations of this brunch favorite include eggs sardo, which is an artichoke heart base, covered with steamed spinach, layered with poached eggs and topped with hollandaise sauce. Hollandaise sauce is also is served over fish and vegetables at other meals.