The Nigella Diaries – Hollandaise Sauce

Try as I might whenever we’re out for breakfast or, for that matter, brunch, I can’t seem to resist the eggs benedict. To me, it’s the one dish a café’s breakfast should be judged on.

Sure I’m partial to a smashed avocado on toast, but that’s so easy to do that at home that it’s become almost pointless to order when out. A good eggs benedict though? That’s a thing of beauty – even if my tummy rebels at the very thought of it these days…but enough about my digestion.

The thing with a good bennie is that you can’t make it at home unless you’re prepared to make your own hollandaise – and why would you do that when:

  • It takes ages and involves whisking by hand
  • It uses almost an entire packet of butter
  • There’s always the risk of it splitting

Sure, you can buy hollandaise in a jar or one of those packets that finishing sauce comes in and, you know what, that stuff isn’t bad. But it’s not hollandaise, not really. There’s still the faint taste of preservative.

Despite loving the humble bennie, and despite believing that there is very little in the culinary world that is better than dunking a spear of asparagus into fresh hollandaise sauce – other than perhaps dunking a spear of asparagus into a soft boiled egg – I’ve somehow managed to avoid attempting to make the real thing. I think it’s all that incessant whisking that has turned me off. It’s certainly not the butter.

It’s not that I haven’t made hollandaise sauce – there is, after all, very little in the culinary world that can beat fresh hollandaise drizzled over pan-fried salmon. And yes, I know that already said that about asparagus. I haven’t though made it entirely by hand. There’s a Delia Smith recipe that I’ve been using forever and a day where not only the processor is used, but you also use the egg whites to turn it into a foaming hollandaise. If you’re interested, Delia’s recipe is here.

The main problem with that recipe is that it involves getting the food processor out and as dearly as I love my Kitchenaid processor it’s flipping heavy and a pain in the neck to wash and dry. Plus you don’t get the bragging rights that you do from the real hand whisking version.

Delia’s recipe does, however, have two “advantages” other than using the egg whites:

  • It uses less butter than Nigella’s recipe – although is that really an advantage? I’m not so sure.
  • It incorporates an approximation of what Nigella referred to as the “fierce reduction” found in French cookery textbooks – a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar, one of water and a twist of salt and pepper. The already small amount of liquid is boiled until it’s reduced to just one tablespoon and then whisked into the egg yolks at the start. After tasting Nigella’s simpler version I’m not convinced that this is necessary.

Besides, this challenge is about cooking my way through Nigella’s How To Eat…not Delia Smith’s backlist of books (although I could do that as well, just saying #cookbookqueen).

Okay, onto the recipe – which does involve whisking by hand – which really doesn’t hurt you every now and again – and is much quicker on the clean-up.  Plus, it tasted really, and I mean really, good. Groan out loud good. Too much information?

All you need are:

  • 3 egg yolks – we’ll deal with the egg whites in another post
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into little cubes (I told you it was a lot of butter)
  • Juice of ½ a lemon – more if you like it really lemony
  • Salt and pepper to taste

I don’t have one of those fancy pants bain-marie style set-ups so put the egg yolks into a wide stainless steel bowl set over a saucepan of water – making sure the bowl and the water weren’t actually touching.

Place the pan on the heat and start whisking the egg yolks. Once the water has come to a boil reduce the heat so it’s barely simmering and start whisking in the butter – one cube at a time. By the time all the cubes have been added the sauce should be thick and luscious. Still whisking, add the lemon and the salt and pepper.

If you’re not using it immediately, ie if you have eggs to poach or salmon to fry or asparagus to steam, you can pop the bowl over a pan of tepid water – this time with the base of the bowl submerged – and whisk it firmly again before using.

My sauce didn’t split and despite the manual labour involved, to be honest, the biggest issue I had was whisking fast enough so that the butter didn’t melt before I could toss it in – even though I had the air-conditioning on. This is, after all, summer in Queensland.

I served it with asparagus spears and broccolini that I’d cooked for just a few minutes – almost blanched, I suppose. And it was incredible.

Is hollandaise worth making by hand? The taste is definitely better than that you get in a jar but in balance? Probably not. Aside from the fact that, on account of that much butter, it’s a heart attack in a bowl, it’s one of those things that’s more special because you don’t have it often. Besides, it involves a lot of whisking. But man, it was good!

I’ve taken on the challenge of cooking my way through Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat. You can find other episodes here.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

7 thoughts

    1. I think I’m going to struggle with the recipes in the book that call for a lot of butter – although this did make a lot of sauce. I think I’ll also struglle with the ones calling for a lot of sugar – although I don’t think there’s too many of them.

  1. Me too I love a good eggs benedict – and like you it’s something I’ll order out because I can’t be faffed with making hollandaise sauce at home. But smashed avo on toast or sourdough – now that’s another matter altogether and unless it’s a very fancy avocado on the menu I’m not so likely to order it for a brunch or breakfast out. My general philosophy is that a meal out has to consist of things I can’t cook, or don’t want to cook at home – which makes my current cutting down and ordering of salads when I’m out extremely hard to er, stomach!

  2. I can’t resist a good eggs benedict either – always an alternative with not meat. And, yes, not something I make at home because of the sauce. I may need to head out for breakfast tomorrow…

  3. I find the hollandaise sauce is usually too rich for me so I usually ask for it on the side. Eggs Bennie is a special treat isn’t it? We go out for brekky after our fun runs and yes a good Eggs Bennie hits the spot. You have inspired me to get back into making a special Saturday night dinner. Thanks!

    1. It’s so rich – even as my tongue is loving it my tummy is warning that there’ll be repercussions! Enjoy your special Saturday night – I look forward to hearing what’s on the menu.

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