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Culinary-School Cheats: Blender Hollandaise

It's asparagus season, and I LOVE asparagus. I also love a cooking challenge, so when I pulled my bundle of asparagus from the fridge the other day, I also pulled my culinary school textbook down from its shelf: I was gonna make some old-school hollandaise sauce, the single most delicious partner for lightly cooked fresh asparagus.

Making hollandaise is normally a complicated process involving clarifying butter, constant whisking, a double boiler, and the constant threat of the sauce breaking. Even experienced cooks tremble at the prospect. My book's recipe was no exception. But I happened to turn the page, and the next recipe was something called "blender hollandaise." It uses whole butter instead of clarified, and there was no double boiler in sight. Had the food establishment been pulling one over on us? Could hollandaise be this easy?

Yes and yes. With this recipe, anybody (I really mean anybody; it's completely foolproof) can make fresh hollandaise in less than 5 minutes. The textbook version calls for nine yolks and makes a quart; I've scaled it down myself.

Blender Hollandaise (makes about 1/2 cup)
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Large pinch salt (fill a 1/4 teaspoon about halfway)
2-3 grinds pepper (white pepper is traditional, as black pepper flecks will be visible in the finished sauce, but I don't mind them)
Dash cayenne pepper
Dash Tabasco sauce
5 1/3 tablespoons butter

1. Combine all ingredients except butter in a blender or food processor; whir to combine.

 2. Heat butter to 175°F. (Doing this in a small pot on the stove is easiest; the microwave can't quite get butter this hot, as it only heats the water in it and not the fat.) With blender running, pour in hot butter slowly. (Keep the lid close; it may spatter.) Serve immediately.

That's it. The hot butter cooks the yolks, and the running blender prevents lumps. Once you try this, you'll be making it twice a week. Hollandaise is like richness incarnate: butter thickened with egg yolks and lightly flavored with lemon and cayenne. Besides asparagus, it's necessary for Eggs Benedict, is great on fish, and is the "mother sauce" for béarnaise and several other classical sauces. Make it for guests and you'll gain an instant gourmet reputation.

Is this cheating? I don't care; I'm busy enjoying my asparagus.