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Does your hollandaise sauce ever look like this?

By colm
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If it does, then it’s suffering from the dreaded split! It’s curdled, cracked, separated, broken. But don’t throw it out, it can be rescued…but a bit more on that later.

Making hollandaise sauce is supposed to strike fear into the heart of the novice/amateur cook, it has a reputation for being temperamental or difficult to make.

Even now I can still remember the first couple of times I made hollandaise. Cooking the egg yolks ever so carefully over simmering water, then slowly adding the clarified butter.

what a split hollandaise sauce looks like

These days, having made a couple of thousand litres at this stage it’s a sauce I can put together in about 5 minutes if I have the ingredients to hand.

It’s so versatile and can accompany so many dishes that It should be in every cook’s repertoire. You can make a classic version for fish or to go with your eggs Benedict for breakfast. Maybe add tarragon or mint for a sauce to go with beef, chicken or lamb. Or be a bit more adventurous and spice it up with chillies, mustard, tabasco or wasabi. You’re really only limited by your own imagination.

How To Make Hollandaise Sauce

you will need –

  • white wine vinegar
  • white wine
  • I tablespoon of crushed peppercorns
  • egg yolks
  • butter
  • salt
  • lemon juice

Clarify The Butter

Butter is made up of 85% fat, the other 15% is water and salt, we just want the fat so we have to separate the two. This is done by melting and heating the butter, then letting it stand for a couple of minutes. Oil floats on water so after a minute you can just pour off the butter leaving the solids behind.

how to clarify butter for hollandaise sauce

You don’t have to do this and can simply use melted butter, but it will affect the consistency of the sauce and you’ll have a thinner hollandaise….personally I like my hollandaise nice and thick, the consistency of mayonnaise.

Make A Reduction

The two main ingredients of hollandaise sauce are butter and eggs, so you need some acid to cut through the buttery richness. If you didn’t add any acid to the sauce it would just taste of what it is…..melted butter and not very nice!

So put the vinegar, white wine and peppercorns on the stove and reduce down by a third. You could also add other flavourings here if you like, herbs, garlic whatever takes your fancy.

Strictly speaking in classical cookery you only make a reduction for béarnaise sauce, a close cousin of hollandaise to which you add chopped tarragon.  For hollandaise, it’s lemon juice that provides the acid kick but I think adding the reduction at the beginning makes a much better sauce and gives a better depth of flavour.

If you think you will be making hollandaise sauce on a regular basis then make a big batch of the reduction and keep it in the fridge till you need it. It keeps for ages and in most restaurants where this is on the menu, they probably make a reduction a litre at a time.

How to make a reduction for hollandaise sauce

Making a reduction also has another benefit later on when you add it to the eggs yolks and start to cook them, it makes them harder to curdle.

Cooking The Eggs

Okay, it’s time to make the sauce. Place the yolks, reduction and 2 tablespoons of water in a bowl and whisk over a pan of simmering water, The water stops the eggs from cooking too rapidly and scrambling. You gotta whisk vigorously here, the mixture should become pale and frothy first and then begin to thicken.

The trick is to cook the yolks just enough till they resemble semi whipped cream but not so much that they scrambled (this happens around 160f / 70c, so if you’re a bit paranoid or a hollandaise virgin you could use a temperature probe here)

how t make hollandaise sauce

Add The Butter

Remove the yolks from the heat and slowly add the clarified butter whisking non-stop. This will emulsify the butter into the mixture and it will begin to thicken even more. The first couple of times you make the sauce go slowly here, adding it ladle by ladle and making sure the butter is well incorporated before adding the next bit.

Once you’ve made the sauce a couple of times and have a feel for it, you’ll be able to move a bit quicker. If at any time you think it’s getting too thick just thin it out with a tablespoon of warm water.

Tast It

when you’ve added all the butter you’re nearly done. Taste it, season it, and add some lemon juice if you think it’s not sharp enough. Hollandaise sauce doesn’t like to wait around….so try and serve it immediately, but if you can’t, it will hold in a warm place for a while, just keep it covered.

Reasons Why It Might Split

Here are some of the common reasons why your sauce might curdle and what to look out for when making it.

  1. Keep everything at the same temperature – when you make your sauce have everything at about the same temperature. Allow the reduction and butter to cool a bit before you add them to the eggs.
  2. Not cooking the yolks enough – the eggs have to be cooked to what chefs call the ribbon stage (like semi whipped cream) If they’re not cooked enough, they simply won’t hold the butter and the sauce will separate.
  3. Be vigorous – with the whisk when you’re cooking the yolks and adding the butter. If you’re not whisking quickly enough either the eggs will scramble when you’re cooking them or the sauce will split when you’re adding the butter.
  4. Adding too much butter – The eggs will only hold a certain amount of butter, so if you need to make more sauce then is in the recipe you have to increase the amount of eggs in direct proportion to the amount of butter. Sometimes when you’re adding the butter you will notice that it begins to get really thick and shiny…this is a cue that it’s about to split and can’t take any more butter. Simply stop and thin it with a little warm water. This can happen now and again and will depend on the size and freshness of the eggs.

classic salmon and hollandaise sauce

Rescueing A Hollandaise

If you’ve made the sauce and for some reason, it split, not to worry it still happens to me now and again. Simply get another egg yolk add a tablespoon of warm water and cook it to the ribbon stage again, take it off the heat and slowly whisk the split sauce into the new egg yolk….easy!

Making hollandaise sauce sounds a bit technical and a little complicated…but it really isn’t.  It’s all about the egg yolks, You’ve got to cook them enough so that they will hold the butter but not so much that they scramble. Once you’ve mastered this you’re on your way.

Egg benedict anyone?

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best pan for fish

Hollandaise Sauce

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  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: serves 4


  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of white wine
  • 1 teaspoon of crushed peppercorns
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 250g (9oz) clarified butter
  • juice of a lemon
  • salt


  1. First make your reduction by placing the vinegar, white wine and peppercorns in a pan. Bring to the boil and cook till its reduced by about a third.
  2. While you’re reduction is cooking you can clarify the butter by heating it till its melted and allowing it to stand for a couple of minutes ( i use the microwave to do this). skim any impurities off the surface and then pour off the butter leaving the solids behind.
  3. When the reduction has cooled a little add in your egg yolks and water then whisk the mix together in a large bowl.
  4. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk continuously until the sauce becomes smooth, creamy and resembles double cream.
  5. Remove the bowl from the heat and gradually, little by little whisk in the clarified butter.
  6. season with salt and a little lemon juice before passing your sauce through a fine sieve.
  7. Serve the sauce immediately though it will keep for about an hour in a warm place.


goes with any type of fish

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