It is so named because it was believed to have mimicked a Dutch sauce for the King of the Netherlands’ state visit to France. Hollandaise sauce is well known as a key ingredient of Eggs Benedict, and is often paired with vegetables such as steamed asparagus.
In appearance, it is light yellow and opaque, smooth and creamy. Its flavor is rich and buttery, with a mild tang added by an acidic component such as lemon juice, yet not so strong as to overpower mildly flavored foods.
There is debate as to who originally developed hollandaise sauce. Some historians believe that it was invented in the Netherlands, and then taken to France by the Huguenots.
In 1651, FranÃ§ois Pierre La Varenne describes a sauce similar to hollandaise in his groundbreaking cookbook Le Cuisinier FranÃ§ois: “avec du bon beurre frais, un peu de vinaigre, sel et muscade, et un jaune dâÅuf pour lier la sauce” (“with good fresh butter, a little vinegar, salt, and nutmeg, and an egg yolk to bind the sauce”).
Alan Davidson notes a “sauce Ã la hollandoise” from FranÃ§ois Marin’s Les Dons de Comus (1758), but since that sauce included flour, bouillon, herbs, and omitted egg yolks, it may not be related to the modern hollandaise.
However, Larousse Gastronomique states that, “in former times fish ‘Ã la hollandaise’ was served with melted butter” (implying that at one time egg yolks were not a part of the designation, hollandaise).
Davidson also quotes from Harold McGee (1990), who explains that eggs are not needed at all and proper emulsification can simply be created with butter. He also states that if one does wish to use eggs they are not needed in so great a quantity as normally called for in traditional recipes.
The sauce using egg yolks and butter appeared in the 19th century. Although various sources say it was first known as “sauce Isigny” (a town in Normandy said to have been renowned for the quality of its butter), Isabella Beeton’s Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management has recipes in the first edition (1861) for “Dutch sauce, for fish” and its variant on the following page, “Green sauce, or Hollandaise verte”. Her directions for hollandaise were to put all the ingredients, except the lemon-juice, into a stew-pan; set it over the fire, and keep continually stirring.
When it is sufficiently thick, take it off, as it should not boil…”
“The easiest way to get perfect Hollandaise Oscar sauce is to use a blender. What!, the blender?
This recipe has all the same ingredients as the classic, but no double boiler and no chance of the sauce separating. I love the lemony flavor on fresh steamed asparagus!”
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Pinch of pepper (I use a small pinch of cayenne)
- 1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (I use closer to 2 tbsp)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
Servings: 3/4 cup hollandaise sauce
- In the container of a blender, combine the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce. Cover, and blend for about 5 seconds.
- Place the butter in a glass measuring cup. Heat butter in the microwave for about 1 minute, or until completely melted and hot. Set the blender on high speed, and pour the butter into the egg yolk mixture in a thin stream. It should thicken almost immediately. Keep the sauce warm until serving by placing the blender container in a pan of hot tap water.
Have you ever noticed that as your relationship with a person evolves, your assessment of their personality goes up and down in waves? When I first met my wife, our relationship went through its “oh my goodness, this is so simple and easy!” phase, soon followed by the “WTF? She is the most complicated and impossible to understand woman in the world” phase, before settling down into its current “OK, once you get to understand the underlying issues, it’s actually all rather simple again” phase.
My relationship with Eggs Benedict followed a similar course. Ingredients list? Simple. Eggs, butter, lemon juice, Canadian bacon, and English muffin. Just throw them all together and you’ve got the world’s greatest brunch, right?
That was before I realized that poaching eggs is the most difficult way to cook them and that hollandaise will curdle or break if you accidentally look at it wrong. Eggs Benedict, I said to the eggs one day while working on the line in the middle of a brunch service, I will never understand you, and maybe it’s time we reevaluate our relationship and perhaps take a step back to the stage where we’re merely providing carnal pleasure for each other, with none of the messiness that comes with more serious intimacy.
But no, we sought counseling in the form of incessant testing, practice, and research, and have now successfully managed to achieve that state in our relationship where things are finally simple again.
Once you’ve mastered a couple of basic techniques and learned a few tricks, you’ll be happy to know that this same relationship is firmly within your grasp as well. You too will be able to partake in the pleasure of puncturing a snow-white, perfectly-shaped poached egg, napped in light, buttery-smooth hollandaise, and watching as that golden yolk spills out and spreads slowly over the crisply fried ham below, dripping over its edges and getting caught in the nooks and crannies of a toasted English muffin.
Foolproof Poached Eggs
The first step to perfect Eggs Benedict is poached eggs. I like to poach my eggs in advance. They can be stored in a bowl of cold water in the fridge for up to a few days before you serve them. All you need to do is reheat them in hot tap water for a few minutes before serving.
The real difficulty with poached eggs lies in the fact that there is a lot of loose, liquid-y egg white that floats and sets in thin wisps as the eggs cook. The key to perfect poached eggs? Use a fine mesh strainer to remove that excess white before you lower the eggs into a pot of not-quite-simmering water.
Putting it All Together
Once the eggs and hollandaise are done, you’re pretty much home free. All that’s left is to fry up some slices of Canadian bacon or ham steak (I find that frying gently in butter produces the crispest edgiest and best browning for the tastiest results), then toast a couple of split English muffins, and you’re ready to assemble the unrivaled King of Brunch.
If you must, you can adorn his head with some black pepper and chopped herbs like parsley or chives, but only if you really must.
Pro-Tip: learning how to get to this stage with your Eggs Benedict will greatly facilitate your journey towards reaching the equivalent stage with your partner.