The Mother of all Sauces

hollandaise sauce for broccoli

This post will be a quickie, but if you know what is good for you, you’ll bookmark it or print it or just emblazon the recipe in your memory.  Today I am imparting to you a sauce that has been handed down to me from my father.  My dad was never the cook of the family, though he was, and is, the unchallenged executive chef in charge of the grill, the pancakes and the hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise is part of a group of 5 recipes called the Mother Sauces, including Veloute, Bechamel, Espagnole (or Brown Sauce), and Tomato.  From these basic recipes, you can modify and tweak your sauces to your own taste preference and delightful concord with your main dish.

Now, Antonin Careme and Escoffier may differ slightly with my dad about how to proceed with this dish, but I can tell you that my ratios are easy to remember, there’s no clarifying of butter required, and the end results are sublime.  Lemony hollandaise draped over steamed asparagus, eggs benedict, or roasted salmon is a true treat on an Easter morning or for an elegant Sunday Brunch.  Modified slightly into bearnaise sauce, you have the perfect accompaniment to any type of dry-cooked beef – roasted, grilled, or pan seared – and an excellent dipping sauce for french fries.

Hollandaise SauceMaster Sauce – Hollandaise

1 stick of butter
2 egg yolks
juice of 1 lemon

Melt the stick of butter in a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  Set aside to cool slightly.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and lemon juice until fully blended.  Set the butter over a medium-low burner and, while whisking the butter constantly, pour the egg yolk mixture into the pan slowly.  Your whisking should stay constant and should try to cover the whole bottom surface of the pan so that no part of the sauce cooks more quickly than any other.  Keep cooking and stirring until you begin to feel and see the sauce thickening up.  Remove the pan from the heat and continue to whisk for another minute or two.  Pour the sauce into a warmed gravy boat or creamer.  If at any point the sauce begins to separate, this means the sauce has gotten too hot.  Immediately remove it from the stove and whisk to see if you can bring it back together.  If it isn’t working within 30 seconds or so, put an icecube into the pan and whisk until the sauce cools and comes back together.  Then remove the ice cube.  Once the sauce has separated once, it is much more fragile than before and you should not attempt to thicken the sauce further.  Once you get the hang of the process, it is actually quite easy.  Some results will be thicker or thinner depending on how much liquid your lemon produces and the size of your yolks, but you will eventually develop an instinct for the correct proportions.

To make Bearnaise:bearnaise sauce ingredients

Bearnaise is very similar to hollandaise in method, but the flavor is very different.  Rather than using the juice of a lemon, you will make a flavorful reduction.

1/3 c. finely diced shallots
1/2 c. tarragon vinegar, champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar
1/2 c. white wine
1-2 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon or 1-2 tsp. dried tarragon, plus more for finishing.

Pour the above ingredients into a small sauce pan.  Bring to boil, then simmer over low heat to reduce the liquids to a scant 2 Tablespoons, approximately 5 minutes.  bearnaise sauce reductionRemember that the solids take up a lot of room in the pan, so eye-ball accordingly – you want the liquid, strained of all solids, to equal just less than 2 Tablespoons.  Proceed with the Hollandaise recipe above, replacing your reduction liquid for the lemon juice.  When the sauce is finished, stir in a couple of teaspoons of fresh tarragon (or a 1/2 tsp. of dried) for color.

With bearnaise, you want to make sure you get the tarragon flavor correct.  If you use tarragon vinegar, use the low-end amount of fresh or dried tarragon.  Taste the sauce before you stir in the tarragon garnish, and adjust your amount accordingly.


  1. Sam says:

    I have been enjoying “Dad’s” hollandaise for over 40 years, and I can’t think of a single time when this technique didn’t work perfectly, and taste delicious. It’s awesome!

  2. KK Millet says:

    Thanks, Sam! Dad has already called to tell me I owe him royalties for sharing the secret recipe…

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