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You have sauces like hollandaise and béarnaise, which are made with egg yolks and clarified butter. You also have mayonaise, that is made with an egg yolk and oil.

What would happen if you would make hollandaise/béarnaise with oil; or mayonaise with clarified butter? Is it possible?

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2 Answers 2

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What will happen is that you will make Escoffier cry. Nothing more.

In a more serious tone, the naming of sauces is somewhat arbitrary/tradition driven. There are five mother sauces, Hollandaise being the only emulsion among them. All other sauces are derived for them, making Mayonnaise a Hollandaise derivative. There are hundreds of derived sauces, and the difference is always slight. The use of butter instead of oil (or the other way round) would be enough for the result to be considered a completely new sauce, neither mayonnaise nor hollandaise. While it is a common occurence in home kitchens, I don't think there is an official name for these switched versions. Some cooks even use the name Mayonnaise for a pure water-yolk-veg oil emulsion, without the mustard and vinegar (for example Ruhlman in Ratio).

Technically, there is no reason not to do it. The slight difference of water to fat ratio when you are using butter shouldn't matter. A yolk can emulsify lots of fat, and the amount of fat you use per one part water is mostly a matter of taste. So you can go ahead and substitute butter in a mayonnaise recipe. The taste will be different, but you will be as successful as with a normal mayonnaise. Only remember to serve it warm, I would expect it to harden a bit when cooled.

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Better to make Escoffier cry than G*d. Anyone on a kosher diet who misses a lovely béarnaise to accompany a filet should jump on this! –  cfx May 12 at 15:16
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The main difference is that oil is practically pure fat, while butter (not clarified butter) is a complex system, an emulsion of water in fat. This is why you can use cold butter to make a pan sauce from a tasty fond, something that will not work with oil.

I don't know if the cooking process of hollandaise and bearnaise would kiss the emulsifying power of the proteins in the egg yolk.

But you could make a clarified butter mayo. Heck, you could probably even make a butter mayo - but it would probably solidify at room temperature and you would end up with very fancy butter.

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Mayos made with solid fat, such as bacon or butter, have to be used immediately. If they are allowed to solidify then reheating will cause them to break and they will have to be re-emulsified. –  Sobachatina Mar 2 '12 at 23:17
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