Master the Classics: Béarnaise Sauce

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Hollandaise sauce is well known as one of the five mother sauces, and no self-respecting connoisseur of eggs Benedict would consider attempting to make that classic brunch staple without adorning it with that beautiful, creamy and lemony blanket. But when it comes to versatility and flavour, Béarnaise sauce, an offspring of the iconic mother sauce, may just be the upstart child that steals the show.

Basically, Béarnaise is Hollandaise flavoured with tarragon, parsley and chervil and shallots, but it is not lemony, as a reduction of white wine and wine vinegar is used in place of lemon juice as the acidulating agent. And what a flavor difference! Just as lovely and creamy and smooth, the addition of fresh herbs gives Béarnaise a subtle herbal and earthy flavor, mildly perfumed and, because of the fresh herbs, redolent of spring and early summer. Perhaps this is why Béarnaise is such a perfect accompaniment to fresh grilled steaks, barbecued salmon or halibut, lobster and crab, and the quintessential sauce for asparagus.
If it is summer, and you are looking for that little element of magic, a small batch of this sauce and your dinner will go from a nine to a perfect ten. Another reason Béarnaise is so beautifully matched with summer grilling is that when you grill you don’t get pan drippings, or pan juices (like you do with indoor cooking) to make your sauce or gravy; with Béarnaise you don’t need pan drippings to produce a beautiful, rich emulsified sauce for your main course.

 

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Béarnaise, like most of the mother sauces, is a special treat, not something you would want every day, both from a health perspective (it is mostly butter and egg yolk) and as a matter of taste. And it requires a little extra work, even, dare we say, a little showmanship on your part. You don’t purchase these sauces, you make them. Or someone makes them for you. And when this happens, you feel special, because someone who delights in food is going that extra mile for you.

Perhaps the thought of making your own Béarnaise is a little intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. Michael Ruhlman has an easy, straightforward recipe that uses a blender and doesn’t require the use of a double boiler or even stove, which is cool, but even making the traditional sauce the old fashioned way is easy, and pretty fast.

The method we found on this excellent site, The Domestic Man (a great paleo recipe resource), calls for roasting the asparagus then pouring the decadent sauce over them right in the serving dish. Don’t you love how that looks? Considering how stupidly cold its been these past few days, roasted asparagus sounds pretty good. Are you already writing a menu plan for the weekend that features this awesome dish?

 

photo by The Domestic Man

photo by The Domestic Man

For this classic sauce, we used the recipe from the venerable Joy of Cooking with a few alterations: we didn’t have tarragon vinegar so we used 1 ½ tbsp white wine vinegar and ½ tbsp lemon juice and a little more tarragon. To be honest, I wanted just a hint of lemon!) The herbs- tarragon, parsley and chervil came from our garden, what a great way to use your herbs! You have the option of straining the herbs from the wine/vinegar reduction, but we like the way it looks and tastes if you leave the herbs in.
This recipe makes just over 1 cup so about an ounce and a third for each member of a group of six, which should be more than enough. If you have any left over, it also makes a great spread for sandwiches the next day, as it thickens beautifully when it cools and is pretty similar to a rich, tangy and savoury mayonnaise, totally delicious as a dip for cold shrimp.

Béarnaise Sauce

adapted from Joy Of Cooking

¼ cup white wine
2 tbsp tarragon vinegar
1 tbsp finely chopped shallot
2 crushed white peppercorns
2 sprigs tarragon chopped fine (about ½ tsp)
1 sprig chervil chopped fine (about ¼ tsp)
1 sprig parsley chopped fine about ½ tsp)
3 egg yolks
¾ cup warm melted butter

Cook first 7 ingredients in top half of double boiler over direct heat until reduced by half. Cool in pan. Place pan on bottom half of double boiler over simmering water. Whisking steadily, add alternately 1 egg yolk and a third of the butter until all the egg and butter is well combined and the sauce has the consistency of Hollandaise. Remove from heat, season to taste and set aside. Cover and keep it warm, on top of the double boiler, whisking every now and then until use, and adding a teaspoon of water if it appears to be getting too thick.
Note: Watch the heat while you are whisking in the eggs and butter. If it appears it is getting too thick or the eggs are “scrambling”, remove from heat and add a little hot water while whisking.

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