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Hollandaise. Lemon vs. Vinegar!

On the DC board they are talking about Eggs Benedict, but the discussion is about the preparedness of the eggs. I grew up on classic Hollandaise made with reduced vinegar, then butter slowly added while double boiling. This is led me to a life of never being satisfied with the lemon based Hollandaise sauces at all, AT ALL, that restaurants use on their Eggs Benedict (and whatever other dishes they may deem to use it on).

Initially, I thought my family had it wrong and so I looked it up and Escoffier's recipe is even with vinegar, so I would call this the classic way to make it. Is the lemon an Americanization? Is it because chef's have an easier method with lemon juice? Or just the lighter flavor of the Hollandaise is more appealing to an American palate. I know that if most people tasted my Hollandaise they would be like, "What the hell is this?!" (The few who have actually loved it, but they were food enthusiasts.)

Thoughts? Flames? Explanations?

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  1. I've never had Hollandaise sauce without lemon in it. My Joy of cooking calls for lemon. All the good Hollandiase sauces I've had tasted had very strong lemony flavors. Now I want to try making it with the vinegar reduction. Thanks for informing me.

    1 Reply
    1. re: YAYME

      I was also of the "if it's Hollandaise, it must have lemon" camp, but sekelmann's right - Escoffier does (did) make it with vinegar, and I ain't dissing that guy's food cred. ;-)

    2. I usually make it with neither. I use a white wine reduction.

      But I have also made it with lemon, with various flavours of vinegar or some combination of the above. Depends on what I have in the house and what it is going to be served with. And I don't think that the wine or vinegar or lemon should be a strong flavour anyway. To me, it the eggs and butter that should stand out with a hint of acid.

      When I am out, I don't really care which one I am served, as long as it is properly made (emulsified properly, good ratio of egg to butter) and tastes good (and unlike the OP, I think that with lemon it does taste good). And it's real hollandaise, not something from a package.

      1. It seems that around the end of the XIX century, the commonly used acid in hollandaise changed from vinegar to lemon. Even the old recipes don't call for a vinegar reduction (water and vinegar reduced with spices, yes, reduced vinegar -- which would end out with a very high acidity, no). It should mostly taste of butter and egg, not strongly of the acid.

          1. I have never made Hollandaise with vinegar, but will try that the next time. Can't imagine that it would not taste good, though. What vinegar to you prefer to use: plain white, wine, etc? And how do you reduce it? With any spices? Just trying to get the flavour profile you are making.

            On eggs I do not like the Hollandaise to have a strong acid flavour. When making it to accompany a vegetable such as asparagus, I tend to like it with a bit more lemon. Not overpowering, but more acid than when served with Eggs Benedict. Have also made it with lime juice or orange juice to serve with vegetables. Hmmm. I think I must serve Hollandaise sauce with asparagus more than anything else. Hadn't thought about that before. LOL.

            1. Seems to me that Hollandaise made with vinegar instead of lemon juice is really just Bearnaise minus the herbs.

              1. This is the recipe I grew up on (my father's) and the one I use. I will look up the Escoffier one I referenced later and post it as well (for curiosities sake). Very often I make double batches of this recipe. There is never enough hollandaise. The narrator is my father.

                3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
                8 peppercorns
                1 bay leaf
                ½ teaspoons ground mace
                2 egg yolks
                4 ounces butter, soft but not melted

                Put vinegar, peppercorns, bay leaf, and mace into a small sauce pan. Reduce to about two teaspoonsful and let cool for a couple minutes. Place egg yolks in a small bowl and add the vinegar and a dab (say, a teaspoonful) of butter. Mix well. Place bowl in a bain-marie on low heat. Water in bain-marie should be luke warm to start. (Instead of a bain-marie, one can just use a small pan that will fit inside of a larger pan of water.) Using a wooden spatula, constantly stir the yolks and add the remaining butter bit by bit. (I have found that this step can be rushed, adding the remaining butter all at once, as long as the pan is not too hot and the stirring is vigorous.) Gradually increase the temperature of the water until very hot (170 to 180 ), but not boiling. Stir constantly until sauce thickens. It should barely hold its shape when done. If it gets too hot, it will curdle; if water gets too hot before sauce is done, lift it out of the water until it cools. Keep stirring! Sauce should be piquant and barely hold its shape.

                1. It's been a long time since I made either Hollandaise or Bearnaise, but I have a very clear recollection that it was Bearnaise that used vinegar as the acid. I just checked Julia Child (Art of French Cooking) to confirm. That said, i suppose it doesn't make all that much difference, depending on the quality of either the lemon or the vinegar. Still, I think that the tarragon in Bearnaise works better with a good vinegar.

                  1. My go-to source for the history of French food is "French Provincial Cooking" by a British writer Elizabeth David, she is a contemporary of Julia Child, and published works on French food in the 1950s. Her recipe starts:

                    "Here we get to he vexed question. Purists claim that the one and only true hollandaise sauce should consist of nothing but butter, egg yolks and lemon juice. The truth is that basic hollandaise is apt to be insipid and many cooks have discovered that the addition of a preliminary reduction of white wine or vinegar, as in a béarnaise, makes a better favoured sauce."

                    So no; it isn't an Americanisation at all, and it could be that Escoffier simply documented the version he preferred.

                    My personal favourite is a recipe that uses both: start with a vinegar reduction but freshen the sauce with a little lemon juice and salt flakes just before serving.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: PhilD

                      This sounds great. I love the idea of the base being vinegar and adding a little lemon juice. I will try this next time. Thank you very much for sharing.

                    2. Well, I've been enjoying Hollandaise for 50 years, or so, on both sides of the Atlantic. It's always been made with lemon. Bearnaise with vinegar is standard.

                      1. The history of the evolution of foods is fascinating. Thanks for sharing your family recipe for hollandaise. I will try it and will also try the version that starts with vinegar and finishes with lemon juice. I do like the hint of citrus in the sauce. :-)

                        1. A recent food "emergency" turned out rather nicely and thought I would share. The grocery store had gorgeous artichokes on sale, the really big ones, for $1.25 ea, which is a HUGE bargain in Ohio. I bought 4 intending to serve them hot with hollandaise knowing that I had plenty of lemon at home. Long story short, the artichokes were steaming when I discovered my lemons were actually limes.

                          Taking a chance, I squeezed the limes and made a double batch of hollandaise with lime juice and zest. OMG! This was so delicious, even my guests licked their fingers and not one drop of sauce was left long after the artichokes were devoured. Will have to try lime juice again!