Making a hollandaise (and its derivative, bearnaise) is one of the great challenges for the home cook. The recipe is by any measure a solid commitment but once mastered is also a great pleasure. I really do love a great benedict but even for me it’s a rare treat which is probably why it’s so special. The recipes we use in commercial kitchens are of course for much larger quantities than the one I’ve given here – I still remember the times I’d make a forty-yolk hollandaise and a forty-yolk bearnaise with litres of warm clarified butter every day! You certainly understand the principles of emulsification after a few weeks on hollandaise duty!
8 free range eggs
4 muffins split
150 g ham off the bone, sliced
50ml white vinegar
1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
Cracked black pepper
Place a medium pot, three quarters full of water onto a high heat and add the white vinegar (Approx. 50 ml for every 1.5 litres of water) add a good pinch of salt and bring the water to the boil. Crack the first egg into a small cup or bowl. Gently tip the egg into the rolling water and repeat with remaining eggs. Turn the water down so it’s just moving and cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain onto paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, toast the muffins and pop onto plates. Divide the ham between the muffins and place the eggs on top. Spoon the hollandaise carefully over each of the eggs and serve with fresh or roasted cherry tomatoes.
You can make the hollandaise in advance but no more than two hours. Make sure you keep it in a warm place (maybe set and covered over a pot of warm water) otherwise it will thicken and set if it gets too cool. The recipe for the reduction makes enough for two batches of hollandaise so place the remainder of the reduction in an airtight container in the fridge for next time. It will last for up to 4 weeks in the fridge.
Makes 1 cup (250 ml)
175 g unsalted butter, chopped
2 golden shallots, finely chopped
400 ml 1 ¾ white wine
200 ml ¾ champagne vinegar
1 fresh bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
5 black peppercorns
3 free-range egg yolks
pinch sea salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat or in the microwave for 1 ½ minutes and allow the whey and solids to settle, approx..10 minutes. Gently pour off or spoon the clear melted butter into a jug, set aside and keep warm. (this is called clarified butter). Discard the whey and solids.
Place the shallot, wine, vinegar, bay leaf, thyme and peppercorns in a saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Cook for about 12 minutes, until reduced by two-thirds or until the mixture is still loose and fluid but the wine and vinegar have almost gone. Remove the pan from the heat and place two 3 tablespoons of the mixture into a large heatproof bowl and allow to cool down to room temperature. Place the remaining reduction into a jar or sealable container for your next hollandaise. Pour 4–5 cm of water into a medium saucepan (that the bowl will fit snugly onto without the base of it touching the water). Place over high heat and bring to the boil.
Add the egg yolks to the reduction and add two tablespoons of hot water from the pot. Whisk the egg yolk and reduction until light and airy. Place the bowl of whisked yolks and reduction onto the pan of simmering water and whisk continuously and evenly until the mixture begins to thicken. If you feel this process is getting away from you, remove the bowl from the heat for 10–20 seconds to slow everything down. If you touch the bottom of the bowl, it should be hot but not so hot it will scramble the yolks. Return the bowl to the heat and continue to whisk until thick ribbons form when you lift the whisk from the mixture.
Remove bowl from the heat and slowly whisk in the lukewarm clarified butter, adding it gradually in a steady stream. Season with salt, pepper and the lemon juice. (If the mixture becomes too thick add ½ tablespoon of hot water from the pot between additions of clarified butter) Pass or push the hollandaise through a fine sieve into a clean bowl to remove the shallot and discard the residue. The hollandaise sauce can be kept warm for 2 hours before using if required.
Note: A light airy mixture is much easier to cook. The goal is to gently cook, thicken and aerate the mixture without scrambling. Temperature is key, the yolks will cook if they reach 72°C so don’t be afraid of taking the bowl off the pot of water to slow the process down. When you lift the whisk, it should leave a shiny, satiny trail. Then whisk in the butter in a steady stream to form the perfect emulsion.
Tip: The fresher the egg the tighter and more café like the eggs will be. Some will tell you to spin the water with a spoon and drop the egg into the middle but it gets complicated when you are cooking 4 or more eggs, so my tip is to move the pot slightly off centre and place the eggs into the water where its rolling or boiling the most. The whites will then wrap around the yolk and roll or move away from that point, then drop the next egg in the same spot or close to it.