Over the past couple of weeks, it's been part of my responsibilities to teach my class of newbies at Le Cordon Bleu Chicago how to successfully prepare (among other things) emulsified butter sauces; namely Hollandaise and Be ©arnaise.
I know that the mere mention of the names Hollandaise and Be ©arnaise still manages to strike fear into the hearts of many well seasoned culinary professionals, so I tried to imagine the terror felt by brand new culinary students and home cooks alike when they are required to produce one of these classic but fickle sauces.
With that in mind, I devised a strategy for my class that I think ended up serving them well. The very first time they were expected to reproduce my Hollandaise demonstration, I showed them one of the more widely used, classic French techniques in which the cook first makes clarified butter, then whisks it into a base of slightly heated, lightly thickened egg yolks (done over a double boiler) that have been flavored with lemon juice. This style requires multiple pots and bowls, a good bit of time and pre-preparation, and also more hands than most of have attached to our arms. Most of the students reproduced the sauce fairly well, but they didn't think it was very easy.
The next time we made Hollandaise, I showed them a super simple (but still acceptable in the realm classical cuisine) method that I like to call the "Can It Really Be That Easy?" method. For all you students and home cooks alike, here's how it goes:
Into a slope-sided, heavy bottomed, one to two quart saucepan, place two egg yolks, two tablespoons of cool water, the juice of half a lemon, and a good pinch or two of kosher salt. Whisk this together for 5 to 10 seconds, then add to the pan one stick of butter, cut into thin pats. Place the pan over medium heat, and start stirring with your whisk. Don't walk away, the sauce will heat and thicken into a beautifully fluffy Hollandaise in two to three minutes. Just keep stirring, and have whatever you're going to pour the sauce over ready and waiting. Once it looks as thick as you like it, remove the pan from the heat, but keep whisking. Taste it for seasoning, and add more salt and lemon juice if you like. A pinch of cayenne pepper can be nice, too. Please try this at home...it really is just that easy!