Once upon a time, even the thought of making hollandaise made me a bit afraid. This classic, sublimely buttery sauce – soul mate of asparagus, eggs, new potatoes, green vegetables, fish … actually, anything you can reasonably pour thick silken ribbons of the stuff onto … is notoriously easy to botch. Too much heat and the emulsion of egg yolks and butter will separate, leaving you with a heartbreaking curdled mess rather than creamy, glossy deliciousness.
Hollandaise takes some skill and practice, for sure; god knows I only got the knack after countless failed attempts. But what I’ve come to learn is that, like so many dishes, hollandaise can detect the faintest whiff of fear, filthy bad mood or stress. Attempt to make it with one of these humours lurking in the kitchen, and chances are that some of your anxiety or waspishness will spill over into the mix and ruin it.
Nigerian food writer Yemisi Aribisala puts her finger on it in her wonderful book, Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds. “That which you cook is informed by everything about you: your mood, spirit, environment, temperament,” she says. She’s so right. Further, I've found that some dishes are more willing than others to turn a blind eye to your panic or bad mood. Stew, for example, doesn’t seem to mind a bit whether you hum cheerfully as you chop or peevishly throw everything into the pot. But in my kitchen at least, sauces, bread, pastry and fish are more sensitive culinary creatures, more likely to behave well if I approach them with my chest puffed out with confidence and a spring in my step.
I recently made this dish after a long day walking and exploring the coastal paths near Lulworth Cove, a glorious horse shoe bay a little way east along the Dorset coast from my home. It was bitingly cold but the sun was shining on a glorious landscape, I didn’t fight with the children for the whole entire day and the dog did not raid anybody’s picnic and steal their sandwiches. I bought the turbot from the lovely lady at Cove Fish, whose son and husband (eleventh and twelfth generation fishermen, no word of a lie) caught the little beauty in the bay the day before. In summary: there was no chance my hollandaise was going to go wrong.
If you too are little bit afraid of making hollandaise, turn on the radio, pour yourself a glass of wine and politely wave the children off to play on their screens. Whatever you do, do not multitask, rather immerse yourself in the process, stirring constantly and cooking it slowly. If it all goes wrong (which it probably will if you’ve never made it before) just cheerfully start again.
Roast turbot with bay + blood orange hollandaise
Turbot is rightly known as The King of Fish – it’s absolutely delicious but can be royally expensive. Choose another whole fish if you like, but the cooking time will probably vary from this. To check your fish for doneness, push a knife into the thickest part of the fish near the backbone; gently prise it up so you can check the flesh – if it’s opaque it’s done, if it’s still translucent, it needs a little more time. The hollandaise here is flavoured with orange unlike the standard version season with lemon juice.
- A little olive oil for oiling
- 1 turbot, about 1.5kg, gutted
- A handful of fresh bay leaves or a small handful of dried ones
- A good few tablespoons of unsalted butter
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the hollandaise (based on a recipe from Leith’s Cookery Bible)
- 3 egg yolks
- A pinch of sea salt
- 100ml white wine vinegar
- 10 black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 170g butter, cut into small cubes
- Finely grated zest ¼ blood orange (any other sweet orange is fine)
- 1 tablespoon blood orange juice (any other sweet orange is fine)
- Lemon juice, to taste (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 220°C and lightly oil a roasting tray large enough to hold the turbot.
- Season the cavity with salt and pepper and stuff with the bay leaves. Season well and place in the roasting tray dark-side up. Generously smear with butter and roast for 20 minutes, basting halfway through. Check to see if it’s done – if not return to the oven a little longer.
- Meanwhile, make the hollandaise. Put the vinegar, peppercorns and bay leaves in a small pan and simmer very gently until reduced to about one generous tablespoonful. Set aside to cool.
- Find a medium pan for which you have a heatproof bowl that sits nicely on top without touching the bottom. Fill the pan with a few centimetres of water and bring to a gentle simmer.
- While this is happening, place the egg yolks in the heatproof bowl and whisk with a pinch of salt until creamy. Strains the cooled reduced vinegar into the eggs, and discard the peppercorns and bay leaves. Stir in the orange juice and zest.
- Set the bowl with the eggs over the simmering water and whisk in the butter cube by cube, making sure each one has melted and amalgamated into the sauce before adding the next. After you have added about half the butter, you can start to add it in larger quantities.
- When the butter is all used up, whisk continuously until the sauce is thick and falls off the the thick in ribbons that leave a trail. Pull the pan off the heat at once if you see steam coming from the pan. Taste for seasoning and add salt and lemon juice if you like.
- Set aside in a warm place until you area ready to serve the fish – hollandaise doesn’t cope with reheating. This dish is fantastic served with buttery kale and crushed new potatoes.