How Do I Fix a Broken Sauce?

This week's question: How to fix a sauce that has separated or broken?

The challenge: In preparing hollandaise, béarnaise, mayonnaise and even a simple vinaigrette the cook is creating an emulsion-a balanced mixture of two liquid ingredients that do not mix. In making vinaigrette it is the oil and vinegar, in egg based sauces like hollandaise and béarnaise it is the egg yolks and butter, and in mayonnaise it is egg yolks, oil and vinegar that need to hold together.

A broken sauce is a sauce where the oil or butter separates from the sauce.

How it works: Emulsions are accomplished successfully if one liquid is added to the other beginning with small amounts and the addition is done very slowly. The mixture is rapidly whisked as one ingredient is added to the other, literally drop by drop to start.

Whisking adds air and suspends tiny droplets of the liquid being added throughout the other liquid ingredient.

getting in trouble and out of trouble

Mistakes that result in a broken sauce:

Trouble: Oil or butter floats on edge or puddles in sauce.
The most frequent mistake made in creating an emulsion is the addition of too much liquid fat (butter or oil) too quickly into the other liquid. The result, which is easy to spot, is a thin line of oil or butter rimming the outside of the mixture or little puddles of fat on top of the mixture that do not combine into the sauce.

How to avoid: Use a small measuring spoon, gravy ladle or cup with a spout to help control the addition of the oil or butter as it is added. Literally begin by dribbling a tiny bit at a time as the mixture is whisked quickly and constantly. As the mixture emulsifies continue to whisk and gradually add the remaining oil or butter in a thin steady stream.

Tip: To hold a mixing bowl steady while whisking, place it on a rubber mat or twist a moist towel in a circle and place the bowl in the center of the circle, on top of the towel.

Fix: Remove mixture from the heat, continue to whisk and slowly add 1 Tablespoon of cold water or cold cream to bring mixture together. Cream acts as stabilizer and is often used in restaurant preparations of hollandaise and béchamel for that purpose.

Trouble: Curdled sauce.
The first step in making a hollandaise and béarnaise sauce, is to gently heat egg yolks. Too high of a temperature coagulates the protein in the yolks of an egg based sauce and begins to cook them, resulting in a grainy sauce that might taste like cooked egg.

How to avoid: Double boiler method: place the eggs in a wide and deep stainless steal or heat resistant glass bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering (never boiling) water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water in the pan.
Direct heat method: Use a low heat setting on the burner. Place the egg yolks in a wide saucepan, it has a lot of surface area and allows plenty of room to whisk entire mixture. Move the pan on and off the heat while whisking the mixture to avoid cooking the egg yolk.

Tip: Vigorously whisk the egg yolk over the heat until it is light in color, fluffy, and greatly increased, almost doubled in volume before adding the oil or butter.

Fix: Taste sauce, if it tastes like cooked egg start over. If the sauce has curdled but does not taste like cooked egg, begin with 1 fresh egg yolk in a clean bowl. The yolk will rebind the liquid in the sauce. Whisk ½ - 1 Tablespoon hot water into the yolk. Slowly add the broken sauce, drops at a time, and continue to whisk. As the mixture develops a creamy texture continue to whisk and slowly add the broken sauce in a thin steady stream.

Mixture too thick? Whisk in 1 additional teaspoon of hot water.

Trouble: Refrigerated sauce separates. The fat in the sauce solidifies in the refrigerator and the emulsion breaks down.
How to avoid: Hold hollandaise and béarnaise up to 1 and ½ hours before serving in a stainless steel thermos or cover and place in a hot water bath. (Recommended temperature-130F)

Blender: The speed and strength of the blades of a blender cut the fat molecules in size making a quick emulsion. The above method of slowly adding the oil or butter while whisking applies when using the blender. Add the egg first and blend until frothy. With the blender running, dribble in oil or butter, pulse, then slowly add remaining oil or butter until the mixture thickens. Once the mixture is thick stop blending.

Fix broken sauce in blender: rinse the blender in hot water and dry, add a fresh egg yolk and ½-1 Tablespoon hot water, pulse the yolk until frothy, slowly add the broken sauce and continue to pulse just until the mixture is combined.