Making hollandaise is essentially the same process as making aioli (with warm butter instead of oil), so once you’ve mastered aioli, this will be a cinch. Don’t let the length of this recipe intimidate you. Hollandaise is easy to make, but I have explained the process in detail so you know what to look, feel, and taste for when making it by hand.
The big difference between hollandaise and aioli is that here you need to temper the egg yolks with a little warm butter. Melt the butter and whisk it in gradually, as you do with the oil in aioli. Start with room-temperature eggs and use warm (but not hot) butter. If it’s too hot, you’ll break the hollandaise; if it’s not warm enough, the sauce will be overly thick. Serve the sauce over warm or room-temperature dishes, because again, if the food is too hot, the sauce breaks, and if it is too cold, the sauce will congeal.
You can make plain hollandaise with lemon and spring herbs; you can add sherry vinegar, as we often do at Beast; or you can even fold in black garlic (see Variations) for a blast of umami. One of my favorite additions is pickled mustard seeds (see Variations); this version is shown served with the spring vegetable hash.
- 10 tablespoons butter, cut into 1 tablespoon chunks
- 3 egg yolks, at room temperature
- ¾ teaspoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon sherry vinegar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2½ to 3½ teaspoons warm water (not hot)
- Place a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the butter and heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter is completely melted and warm but not boiling or separated. Pour it into a clear liquid measuring cup or a bowl with a spout and set aside to cool slightly. (The butter should be warm, not hot, when you use it. If it’s too hot, it will break the mixture; if it’s too cold, the hollandaise will be too firm).
- Fill a 2-quart saucepan one-quarter full with water, bring the water to a boil, and turn off the heat. Add the egg yolks to a small- to medium-size bowl that can rest inside the rim of the pot without touching the water. Ideally, you’ll have a bowl with a gradual curve, as the natural curvature of the bowl will help you get a better motion with your whisk. On a countertop (rather than over the water), whisk the egg yolks vigorously for about 20 seconds, or until they begin to get foamy. As you whisk, try to keep the beaten yolks on the bottom of the bowl as much as possible, rather than splashing them on the sides, as any egg stuck to the side can overcook in the next step.
- Place the bowl over the pan holding the hot water and continue to whisk, incorporating as much air as possible into the yolks and stopping and checking every 5 or 6 strokes, until the yolks are pale and have increased in volume, 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure the yolks are not beginning to scramble or cook. Take the bowl off the heat and check the temperature with your finger: it should feel warmer than body temperature but not hot. It’s important to warm the yolks to nearly the same temperature as the melted butter, so the two ingredients emulsify properly.
- Drape a Dutch oven or other big pot with a damp kitchen towel and place the bowl inside the pot to help stabilize it as you whisk. Very slowly—a drop or two at a time—add half of the melted butter into the yolks while whisking constantly; the mixture will gradually thicken. Stop pouring periodically while continuing to whisk to ensure proper emulsification. You don’t have to, nor do you want to, work fast. It’s more important to whisk and pour consistently and slowly to get an emulsified sauce. Be attentive to the butter’s temperature throughout. You may have to move the bowl back and forth from the warm pot on the stove top to the cool countertop as you whisk to maintain the right texture.
- Once half of the butter is fully incorporated, slowly drizzle in the lemon juice and vinegar, whisking at the same time, then whisk in the salt. Again working slowly, drizzle in the remaining butter while whisking constantly. Continue moving the hollandaise between the warm pot and cool countertop if needed to maintain the right emulsified texture. With a proper emulsification, there is no separation between ingredients. You should see one completely smooth and consistent substance with no beads of oil.
- In a broken emulsification, the surface isn’t uniform; it looks a little scrambled and has oil droplets. Some milky white solids will have separated from the melted butter and fallen to the bottom of the measuring cup. You don’t want these in the hollandaise, so incorporate all but the last 1 to 2 tablespoons of the butter into the eggs, then simply stop pouring and discard the solids. Taste the sauce for salt, then thin the mixture by whisking in 2½ teaspoons warm water, or up to 3½ teaspoons if needed for a smooth and pourable consistency.
- Serve warm over warm or room-temperature dishes. If not serving right away, hold the hollandaise in a thermos (do not preheat the thermos with hot water) in a warm place for up to 2 hours. When you’re ready to serve the hollandaise, you may need to very carefully warm and loosen the sauce if it has cooled too much and thickened. Use the same double-boiler method (see photo) to warm the sauce over boiling water that has been removed from the heat. Whisk in about 1 teaspoon warm water to thin.