Making a traditional Hollandaise, yolks in a vinegar reduction (all photos by Donna).

[Please note additional thoughts following comments here and on Twitter]

Elise emailed a couple weeks ago to ask if I’d posted on Hollandaise.  She’d posted the blender version, first popularized by Craig Claiborne in the 1970s in The New York Times, and wanted to link for contrast to an old-school version.  The blender version is unquestionably a no-brainer and results in a delicious Hollandaise-style sauce, a lemony yolky butter, thin enough to pour.

A classical French Hollandaise sauce is an emulsified butter sauce that is almost like a mayonnaise, nearly that thick, and, as I was taught it, includes an additional flavoring step, a vinegar reduction.  It’s considered difficult and temperamental but it’s neither, as long as you pay attention and don’t let it know that you’re afraid of it.  Emulsified butter sauces can sense fear and will break on you if you let them (if it does, just whisk the broken sauce into a clean teaspoon of water and you’ll have it back in moments).

The key is to make sure it’s got enough water in it; water keeps the oil droplets separate, which is why the sauce is thick and opaque and so lovely to eat.

Ingredients are as follows, the recipe, ratio and variations on it are in Ratio; I’ll describe method with pix below: 1 tablespoon minced shallot, 10 or so peppercorns, cracked, a crumpled bay leaf (parsley, thyme if you have some), three-fingered pinch of salt, 1/4 cup good vinegar, 3 egg yolks, lemon juice to taste (1 to 3 teaspoons), 8 ounces (two sticks) of butter melted in vessel you can pour it from in a thin stream,  cayenne to taste (optional).

First make the reduction, which is the step that gives the Hollandaise its unique flavor (otherwise it’s just lemon butter, which is good, but not traditional Hollandaise).  Combine the shallot, cracked pepper, bay leaf, salt and vinegar in a pan and simmer it till it’s dry (you’ll sometimes see this referred to as sec, the French term).

Notice I’ve just roughly chopped the shallots; they’ll be strained out later.  You do want them small enough to impart their flavor however in the brief time they’re cooked.

This is the reduction taken to sec.  All the strong acidity is gone, leaving only the flavors, and a little caramelization in the pan.  Now you need to capture those flavors by adding the amazing ingredient we call water to the pan, about a quarter cup.  Bring it to a simmer, and strain it into a sauce pan.  Taste this, so you know what you’re talking about.  Add the egg yolks to the reduction (top photo).

Next step is to cook the yolks.  This gives them volume and changes their flavor (it should kill any bad bacteria too if you’re using industrial eggs; I highly recommend organic if they’re available).  Eggs are best cooked over simmering water but any heat will do, just keep it low.  You don’t want scrambled eggs.  I hold a pan in a pot filled with simmering water; this allows me to control the heat easily.  Add a good squeeze of lemon juice here.  They’re done when you can see that if you cooked them more, they’d be hard, not creamy.  Don’t over think it and don’t worry about under cooking the eggs.  You can over cook them, though.

Traditional Hollandaise uses clarified butter.  I simply melt my butter in the microwave, spoon off the froth at the top and pour all the clear butter fat directly into the cooked yolks off the heat.  You don’t need to cook this sauce anymore.  As with a mayonnaise you need to first add just a few drops of the melted butter, whisking it in quickly to establish your emulsification.  Once it’s going you can pour butter in a steady stream, whisking continuously, till all the butter’s in.  Don’t worry if some of the watery whey goes in as well, it can only help (I discard what’s left when all the butter’s in).

This is the most important photo of the bunch.  Notice how the sauce has become rough on the surface?  This is right before it’s going to break.  When I see this, I dribble in some cool water.  The sauce immediately smooths out.  Again, if it breaks, put a teaspoon of water in a clean bowl and start whisking again. I’ve never lost a best of three with an emulsified sauce. When the butter is in, taste it, add some more lemon (it should be distinctly lemony), and I add a pinch of cayenne.

We had some beautiful asparagus from the market, which is why I made the Hollandaise (that and Elise’s suggestion!). It’s beautiful with artichokes, on fish, on eggs. I love a good Hollandaise sauce.  It should be part of the first from scratch challenge, suggested by Matthew and a few others.  Eggs Benedict.  Doesn’t require a growing season.  A starter challenge.  Details to come.  Until then grab up the remaining asparagus while it lasts and serve it with a traditional thick Hollandaise.

Update: Thoughts and comment following questions in comments here and on Twitter, 6/16:

Many people have questioned the reduction in this Hollandaise, even the redoubtable Hunger Artist, so clearly this is worth addressing.  Some reliable sources, from Larousse to St. Julia, use only lemon juice for flavoring.  Again, as there are no absolutes this is fine. I’m sticking with using a reduction for a few reasons.  First, because Escoffier, the first person to codify and classify contemporary French cuisine in Le Guide Culinaire, includes a reduction in his Hollandaise.  That alone seals the deal for me as he created the standard.  Second, it was the way I was taught it at The Culinary Institute of America, which prides itself on fundamentals and tradition.  Third, and equal if not more important than reasons one and two: it tastes better, more complex, more interesting, has more depth.

So, my bottom line is a traditional Hollandaise does use a reduction (and besides it’s a fun technique to have in your arsenal).  But: a Hollandaise made only with butter, egg yolk and lemon, is justifiably called Hollandaise as well (as opposed to, say, vodka and vermouth being called a martini).

A correction: Julia Child does give a blender Hollandaise technique in her landmark book, so she is likely the first to publish it (if anyone knows different, please say so).

And finally, the difference between a Hollandaise and a Bearnaise is that a Hollandaise has no tarragon.  Bearnaise has abundant tarragon.  I use good fresh dried tarragon in the reduction, and add plenty of fresh chopped tarragon just before serving.

Update: Reheating Hollandaise

A couple people have commented on reusing Hollandaise.  If you have left over Hollandaise, you can refrigerate it and reuse it.  To reuse, melt it in a microwave, then simply reemulsify it into a little bit of water, just the way you would fix a broken sauce.

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66 Wonderful responses to “Classic Hollandaise Sauce”

  • Amy

    I find if I use European style (higher butterfat) butter I don’t need to bother with straining or clarifying it.

    • ruhlman

      I just melt it and spoon the froth off the top. I don’t strain or clarify. But I do like the flavor the mostly pure butterfat gives it.

      • Matthew

        That’s a wonderful anecdote!

        This is great. I’ve recently realized that I’ve been cooking too long to have not made an Hollandaise.

  • Glenn

    My first hollandaise was for poached eggs over english muffins. It broke & your instructions in Ratio saved the day! Worked exactly as you describe & saved the breakfast.

  • Susan

    All these years I’ve been making the base for hollendaise (sans onion and seasonings) to make my cooked potato salad dressing. At the point where you add the butter, I add sour cream. I’ll have to give Hollendaise a try next time. I bet it would make a great potato salad dressing too!

  • Kristine

    I’ve made the Ratio hollandaise several times and it is my favorite. But based on your photos I did not take the reduction far enough. Now I have to make it again soon.

  • Victoria

    I use Nigel Slater’s recipe from his book Appetite for Hollandaise Sauce and make it often. It is NOT made in a blender and calls for 3 extra-large egg yolks, 1 cup (yes, 2 sticks) of butter, half a lemon (or a little less), and a little salt. He says to have fun with it, and if the sauce breaks, throwing an ice cube in it and whisking like crazy will work nine out of ten times.

    I think it is glorious.

    • Laura

      Victoria – I use Nigel’s recipe as well. So easy and so fast. But now that I see Michael’s version I’m wondering if that’s why I always find mine tastes just a bit flat. Hmmm, maybe I’ll have to give it a try next weekend on some eggs benedict.

      • Victoria

        Laura,

        If you try Michael’s and like it better, I hope you will write a note here. I will then follow you down that road.

  • scott

    What happens if you use cold whole butter? Is the clarification or even melting step necessary?

    • SauceRobert

      I have done this before and it seems to work ok. you just have to whisk longer to incorporate all of the butter. I also like to whisk my yolks for a while, reminiscent of a sabayon before adding the butter, it will make for a very airy and light hollandaise.

    • ruhlman

      yes, you can do this, james beard did and my mom makes bearnaise this way. advantage is, you’re always adding a little water with the butter, and water is key to keeping it whole; disadvantage is you’ve got to keep cooking it so that the butter melts, cooking off that water. I find adding warm butter fat gives me more control.

    • ruhlman

      define thick? If you can pour it out of your blender, that’s nappe, not thick.

      • ruhlman

        ah, you must have a vita mix!

        but even so, how does it mix uniformly if its so thick the stuff at the top stays there while the blades spin below?

      • Marlene

        Well i do have a vita mix, but I don’t actually use it for hollandaise. I use my waring pro. My secret is putting a bit of dijon in it to help emulsification. No, you can’t taste the mustard, any more than you can taste the mustard powder in my yorkies. :)

        • Julie

          I do the same thing… with the same result… that I have to scrape it out with a spatula… the recipe I use is out of an old Frugal Gormet (Jeff Smith) paperback I talked my mom into buying me when I was a kid…. honestly now that I’m thinking about it, it was his PBS show and cookbook that first got me cooking at 14 (My mom hates to cook but doesn’t mind dishes so we compromised, I made dinner, she did dishes). How funny that this post made me remember that. Regardless, seeing this post I’m going to try it this way at the very least for the experience.

  • KeithinDC

    Michael,
    Great to see you championing such a fantastic sauce, I’ve been trying to get my avid-cook best friend to enjoy it for far too long, but he’s finicky about “undercooked” eggs. Question – I was taught recently that the “traditional” hollandaise used egg yolks, clarified butter, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper – and that the cayenne was not optional but an important part of the flavor of the sauce. The method you’ve used – a vinegar and herb reduction starter – seems similar to a bearnaise; i.e., tarragon, shallot, whole black pepper reduced in vinegar to a paste and then added to a completed hollandaise. Have I been misled?

    • ruhlman

      in the culinary world there are no absolutes. I learned at the CIA the reduction technique. I believe the FCI does not use a reduction. Cayenne is for taste, it’s still a Hollandaise without it.

    • JDM

      I had the same reaction to this post.
      According to Larousse Gastronomique the above recipe is a Sauce Bearnaise.
      Sauce Hollandaise is defined as an emulsified sauce of egg yoks, butter and lemon.
      Julia Child (in MtAoFC) describes a Bearnaise as a variant of Hollandaise. She also includes a blender recipe.

  • Bob Y

    If I remember correctly, the first blender hollandaise was from Julia Child rather than Craig Claiborne. And yes, as another commenter noted, this sounds very much like a bernaise (my very favorite butter sauce) minus the tarragon.

    • ruhlman

      you may be right about julia, esp if it’s in her mastering books. i’d only heard it was craigs.

  • Elise

    This is brilliant Michael, thanks so much for posting! I love Donna’s photographs showing exactly what the sauce should look like as you make it.

  • Cali

    I remember well “butter sauce day” in culinary school. Everyone seemed to have a horrible time with it. We had to each make a Hollandaise, a Bearnaise and a beurre rouge. I don’t know whether I paid attention better or if I was just lucky, but I whipped out my three sauces in about an hour and had the rest of the day free for studying for the awful, horrible, detestable 300 question, all day, written final that was coming up soon. (Which I got the highest grade in my class on, tyvm!) I wonder if I got mine together so quickly because those are sauces I, personally, tend not to like much?

    • Chris K

      I have a better story, Cali.

      Years ago, back in my line cooking days, we ran out of hollandaise during a particularly hectic breakfast slam. The executive chef himself jumps in to help, making some hollandaise from scratch.

      As he whisks away, Chef yells “Chris! Get me some lemon juice!” so I grab a quart from the walk-in cooler, run back to the line, and in one continuous motion, as Chef holds out the sauce pan, I accidentally dump half the jug into it.

      Ah, the glory days! I think that was the moment he really started hating me.

      • ruhlman

        that’s a good story, one of those moments you’ll FOREVER wish you could take back. almost makes me wish i had an emulsified butter sauce nightmare.

  • Eric Van de Velde

    MIchael:
    Here’s my problem with Hollandaise. I love it, but considering that it is a calorie bomb, one should only use a little bit of it. (The photo displays an appropriate portion.) Now, if you are cooking for 1-3, making a quantity of hollandaise based on one yolk would be perfect. The problem is that one yolk mostly sticks to the pot. Any suggestions beyond letting the gourmand take over from the gourmet?
    –Eric.

    • ruhlman

      you can do a one yolk mayo, yes? just cook the yolk less, or add more liquid at beginning. I actually have a one-yolk recipe in Ratio or the app calculates if for you, equal part yolk and liquid, five parts butter.

        • Grace

          I’ve done one-yolk hollandaise – as Eric points out, when there’s just one person, anything more than that is wayyy too much! (And wayyy too tempting to eat wayyy too much, too.)

          It’s partly what Michael suggests – and also doing it in a really tiny pan. I use a miniature whisk and a small metal milk steaming jug. It’s probably only two or three inches across at the bottom, and its handle is open at the bottom so I can hang it by the handle on a pot to create a double-boiler effect.

  • Thor

    Thanks for this post- Molecular gastronomy at it’s original best!

  • Rex

    I have made a traditional hollandaise many times. One of the best workouts. I have never done it with the vinegar reduction. I will have to try that next weekend. Thanks for the great ideas.

  • Sefie

    I wish I’d read Ratio more closely, or this blog post earlier. I made your Hollandaise on Friday night, but it broke as soon as I left the stove to open the door for my dinner guests! I wound up throwing it out and making a pan sauce for my salmon instead. Alas!

  • romona

    I have stayed away from making hollandaise. Perhaps, I will try your recipe, and report if it is a success.

  • Rhonda

    Can’t wait until Pardus weighs in on this. I disagee on almost everything.

    Bon Chance!

    xoxo

    • Matthew

      How can you disagree on “almost everything?” It’s a cooked, emulsified butter sauce with acid. I really don’t understand how you can disagree beyond, say, the reduction’s inclusion (which seems to be a stylistic addition for added depth in the flavor).

  • Casey Angelova

    I have only started eating eggs recently and I would love to take this hollandaise for a whirl. I have Ratio, so good to know that it can save me from potential disaster.

  • bunkycooks

    I have made a classic Hollandaise sauce before, but have never had a recipe with your first step to cook shallots and peppercorns. I am sure this takes the sauce to another level of flavor. I have also made the blender version, which isn’t so bad in a pinch. I will definitely prepare this recipe next time I make Hollandaise.

  • Georgia Pellegrini

    Brilliant! It’s my favorite sauce and what made me want to go to culinary school. Bernaise, which is very similar I actually like just a tiny bit more because I adore tarragon. Thanks for the post!

  • John D

    I love a good hollandaise and routinely do both blender and traditional. But, I don’t do the reduction, and may try. But, why reduce all the way to sec, and then add water? Couldn’t you get essentially the same effect by stopping just shy of sec and putting the highly concentrated fluid in? It just seems odd to remove all the liquid and then add flavorless water to draw out that same flavor in a liquid.

    • Matthew

      Michael may have a better answer than this, but it seems to me that reducing to sec would allow for more caramelization and a deeper flavor to develop.

  • Cynthia

    Lovely! While it is high in fat, we all get to splurge now and then. And we should!!! Life is too short not to enjoy the “Classic” Hollandaise Sauce now and then. Thanks for the info!!1

  • Adam

    Love the site, MR. I guess this was Hollandaise day. Alton Brown just did a version last night using whole butter and direct heat, flavored with lemon juice and cayenne. I love that there are so many interpretations…and all of them delicious.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Barton

    Lightly browning the butter first adds a nice twist and I am a zest freak so always put some in the reduction. I really like the style to sec the reduction, usually I only manage this by being inattentive. I start with a 50/50 water vinegar mix but often end up deglazing with more water.
    It is one of the 7 base sauces isnt it?

  • Mike

    Thanks for posting this with the pics! I bought your book “Ratio” about a month ago and made the 1-yolk version of this. The 1st time I made it the sauce curdled; I figured out that when I melted the butter in the microwave it was getting way too hot and so after I carefully heated the yolks and they seemed about right I slowly added the butter and ended up with a sauce that looks like this pic I found on the internet when I was trying to figure out what I did wrong – http://justopia.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/img_3711.jpg The 2nd time it came out fine.

    Since even the 1-yolk version makes more than 1 person needs for a meal, is there a way to rewarm it after refrigerating?

    BTW I hope your app for the Android platform comes out soon.

  • MonkeyBoy

    This Google search of books between 1940 and 1966 gives 5 results.

    Mastering the art of French cooking (Child 1961)
    Treasury of outdoor cooking (James Beard – 1960)
    Cook book (Stella Standard – 1965)
    Harper’s magazine (1961)
    The joy of cooking (1964)

    None of them (except Harper’s) will display the specific text that caused the hit so a library trip is needed to verify them.

    Of note, the Harper’s article says “The value of an appliance is determined by the ratio between the things it can make you do that you never thought you needed to do before, and the things you never needed to do before (another eg, blender— hollandaise). “

    So it seems that blender Hollandaise was well enough known in 1961 that its invention or popularization did not have to be acknowledged.

  • MonkeyBoy

    The above search was for the phrase “blender hollandaise”. I you search google books over the same period for the separate words you turn of lots more hits. There may be recipes for “blender hollandaise” going back to 1948 but it is hard to tell with out seeing the actual recipes. Here is one interesting quote:

    Complete cookbook (Amy Vanderbilt – 1961): “Good Hollandaise is easily made without a mixer or blender.”

  • Carrie

    I don’t know the ins and outs of who did what first or what’s considered right or wrong about this sauce, but I do know that it fucking kicks ass. I made it tonight (used the Ratio guidelines but added the reduction) and even my asparagus hating father inhaled it. Yet again I’ve fooled my family into thinking I know how to cook thanks to you. I’m a little worried that I’m cooking so much food straight from Ratio – I need to go spend a little more time over at Elise’s site. ;)

  • Patrick R

    I made this Hollandaise over the weekend and it turned out great! But here’s a question: is there a secret to reheating the leftover sauce? Can that be done? I tried doing it simply over minimal heat while stirring — it had a nice texture at first, but was still rather cool. By the time it had a more appropriate temperature, it turned into a buttery mess and never recovered. Any ideas?

    • Therese Vidal

      I’ve never had any success in re-heating Hollandaise, but if you use it cold on a hot vegetable for example it works well in warming it and not breaking.

  • Therese Vidal

    Michael, I learned to make Hollandaise from a Puerto Rican line cook at a Danish restaurant I worked in back in college. I make it like you do without the vinegar reduction, with the lemon and a dash of Lea and Perrins, and a little salt. It’s rich and delicious but I will certainly try your reduction on my next try, sans the Lea and Perrins. I make more of it, with 6 yolks and 4 sticks of butter. Oh and my son who is a graduate from the CIA makes it without the reduction but with less eggs.

    • Rhonda

      Therese;

      Ahh, Didn’t we all….

      Marco Pierre White, who is a living God was well known for using Lea & Perrins.

      • Therese Vidal

        Rhonda, Thank God for your comment!! I almost didn’t admit to using the Lea and Perrins!! I read Marco’s book, he is a crazy genius!!! Did you know he was a mentor to Gordon Ramsey who took his fame all the way to the bank? Aparently Marco was as volatile as Ramsey is now. Marco has since calmed down from what he said in his book.

  • Joisey

    21 years ago I was 18 year old mal carne at CIA. I had never made an emulsified sauce in my life. I had Chef Bagna (the same guy from Kitchen Confidential RIP) who was a scary little man. He would never taste our hollandaise, but graded on color, consistency, etc. I had a hard time making a 1-2 yolk batch without overcooking the eggs, so I had a brilliant idea…DON’T COOK THEM. I served Arnaldo Bagna butter mayonnaise every time I needed to make Hollandaise for class. In the years since then I’ve actually learned to do it correctly. In his class we used a reduction but he said it was acceptable either way as long as there was enough acid to cut through the richness. I also use tabasco and cayenne and am a fan of a little bit thinner sauce than the one shown in this thread.

  • Ed

    The only way I’ve ever seen Hollandaise successfully reheated is by using that device which some here may have banished from the kitchen in a frenzy of purist righteousness: the microwave.
    Just as it only really has one good use, namely “rewarming shit,” it can often be almost the only way of doing so without major damage or drastic changes to tastes and textures.
    I’ve found that the main thing to rewarming Hollandaise via nuking is to use a very low setting (medium-low, or like a 2 to 4 on one of those ones that use a 1 to 10 power scale, never higher), and try very brief zaps, checking the temperature manually after each, and mixing in teeny amounts of water at signs of breakage.
    Also, first comment, big fan, love the books, etc….