Classic Hollandaise Sauce

"Hollandaise is emphatically not an "egg-lemon sauce"; the butter flavor should be paramount, lemon juice can be replaced by vinegar, and both acids can even be omitted entirely. As with Bearnaise sauce (see Recipe # 362638), many published recipes are poorly balanced, with too much acid or salt, or too little butter per yolk. To avoid a harsh raw taste, Escoffier's classic version simmers the vinegar and cracked peppercorns, exactly as for Bearnaise. A full four-ounce stick of butter per yolk, melted and clarified, makes the thickest sauce with the most buttery flavor, but the emulsion is somewhat fragile; if the sauce should start to separate, see Step 6."
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  • Put the cut-up butter in a 1-cup glass measure with a pouring spout, and microwave until completely melted and clear but not bubbling (or heat in a warm oven, 190°F., about 30 minutes). Skim off any foam from the top, and cool until lukewarm but still liquid.
  • Combine the vinegar, water, and seasonings in a 3-cup, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive saucepan, and simmer slowly over medium-low heat until the liquid reduces to 1 teaspoon. Mix in 1/2 tablespoon cool water, strain the liquid into a cup, and return it to the saucepan.
  • Whisk in the yolk, then 1/4 of the clarified butter. Place over medium-low heat, and continue whisking across the bottom and around the sides of the pan until the yolk-and-butter mixture thickens to a sour cream consistency. If the yolk is overcooked, it will start to scramble; if undercooked (as in "blender Hollandaise" recipes), it will taste raw.
  • Dunk the pan briefly in cold water; then slowly dribble in the rest of the butter off heat, whisking constantly, without including the milky liquid at the bottom. When all the butter is absorbed, the sauce should be the consistency of a medium-thick mayonnaise; whisk in the cream (or water) so it forms soft, slowly dissolving peaks.
  • To keep the sauce from congealing, set it in a pan of hot tap water, but the sooner it is served, the better.
  • If the sauce overheats or the butter is added too fast, the oily fat can separate out. If that happens, during or after cooking, it is easy to fix: Put a teaspoon of water in a small bowl, add a spoonful of the separating sauce, and whisk them together until creamy; then gradually add the rest of the sauce, spoonful by spoonful, until the whole thing is reconstituted.

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I am a New York City attorney with over 40 years' serious-amateur cooking experience. My cooking is the antithesis of Mediterranean cuisine: I generally want a blended richness rather than a light freshness (a Strauss tone poem instead of a Telemann concerto, or cooking down jams instead of using liquid pectin). I value basic quality ingredients like vanilla beans or good butter, but have little use for such "in" things as brining, food processors, sun-dried tomatoes, or chichi chocolates that taste weird. I think Americans' tastes are being corrupted by a gross overuse of salt and lemon juice in recipes for just about everything. My favorite cooking is classic French cuisine, but I try to learn how to cook for myself any dish I've eaten that I want to be sure of having again in the future. Among my favorite cookbooks are Escoffier's "Le Guide Culinaire" in French, and Jacques Pepin's two early books on technique and method. (As for "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," it was a landmark when it appeared in 1961, and many of its recipes are still hard to beat; but a half century's experience has uncovered enough errors and misinformation to make it no longer as trustworthy as we all once thought.) Like any other repetitive activity, the actual mechanics of cooking can sometimes be a chore -- but the joy of eating the finished product remains undiminished!
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