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Broken Sauce: The Scourge of the Saucepan
Smooth sauces can be surprisingly difficult for the home chef to master. Learn why with Groupon’s look at why sauces break.
A perfect hollandaise sauce is buttery and silky, a perfect complement to eggs. But under the wrong working conditions, it can become a chunky, oily mess—a broken sauce, in a word. Basic sauces such as hollandaise, béarnaise, beurre blanc, and mayonnaise are all emulsions, which take some practice to master. They’re the result of carefully mixing two substances that aren’t naturally soluble with one another such as oil and water. Whether you’re able to unite these stubborn opposites determines whether your sauce winds up as the crowning condiment of a fancy brunch or the inspiration to invent eggs à la frozen pizza.
To come together at all, an emulsion-based sauce needs to be actively mixed, usually by shaking, whisking, or blending. This breaks up its fats into smaller particles that can be suspended uniformly throughout the other ingredients. The arrangement of these particles is unstable, though: if the mixture gets too hot, the proteins will coagulate, and a drop in temperature will cause the fat to clump together and solidify. Somewhere a little below 180 degrees lies the ideal emulsifying window.
Another mistake cooks make is to add fat into the mix too quickly, causing it to snobbishly cling together instead of breaking down and dispersing. On the flip side, overblending also can cause problems: it breaks the fat down into too many particles, with the end result being that they want to spring back together. Using a whisk instead of a mechanical blender usually can help prevent that from happening. But if your sauce still breaks despite your efforts, you always can do what the pros do: go out for breakfast.