Béarnaise a lovely French sauce for meats that you can find in grocery stores. As will many things, store-bought doesn’t compare to homemade. If you’ve been intimidated to make Béarnaise, with the invention of various blenders, it’s become a much easier to make.
There are many ways to do it. Some are successfully doing it in a pan directly on the stove. Whatever works for you is the right way. Before there were blenders or immersion hand blenders, hollandaise and béarnaise were being made in a bowl over very warm water using a whisk. There’s a ‘feel’ to mastering making hollandaise, always having to be very careful to do it just right every time. The same is true when you use a machine to do the mixing. You still need to follow every step to avoid the disappointment of runny sauce, or worse, sauce that gets too hot and the eggs curdle and separate from the butter.
These recipes is for doing it the old fashioned way using a bowl over water which, after trying an immersion hand blender, I find to be much, much easier and less of a mess.
Most of the recipes you find for béarnaise sauce are made with tarragon. The French way is made with two herbs, tarragon, and one that is more difficult to find, chervil (French parsley). I didn’t know this until I did some research. Now I’m curious and I’ll be on the lookout for the second herb needed to make an authentic béarnaise.
“Béarnaise sauce is a sauce made of clarified butter emulsified in egg yolks and white wine vinegar and flavored with herbs. It is considered to be a ‘child’ of the mother Hollandaise sauce, one of the five mother sauces in the French haute cuisine repertoire. The difference is only in the flavoring: Béarnaise uses shallot, chervil, peppercorns, and tarragon in a reduction of vinegar and wine, while Hollandaise is more stripped down, using a reduction of lemon juice or white wine. Its name is related to the province of Béarn, France.”
“Béarnaise is a traditional sauce for steak.”
- 4 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons hot water
- 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) of normal butter
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons white wine (or white vermouth)
- 5 tablespoons chopped tarragon, divided
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 5 peppercorns, crushed with a heavy skillet
- 4 teaspoons water
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 ounces (3 large) egg yolks
- 10 ounces (2 1/2 sticks) normal butter, melted
Melt the butter in a small pan that works for pouring the butter out without it running down the pan and on the counter. I have a lipped sauce pan that works very well. One with an indentation for pouring is ideal. Test your pots using water. You don’t want to be in the middle of blending, having to switch the butter to another pan. I set the pan back on the warm burner to keep the melted butter hot as I’m doing the incorporating. If the butter isn’t hot enough, the mixture won’t thicken.
Place a stainless steal bowl over a pan with simmering water. Place the egg yolks in the warm bowl and whisk for 10 seconds. Add the hot water 1 tablespoon at the time. The mixture will become a little frothy but will not thicken yet. After the water is added, begin pouring in the hot butter slowly, by drops, whisking constantly. When you’ve added about 1/2 to 3/4’s of it, the mixture will thicken. If at any time the eggs start to look like they are cooking, quickly remove the bowl from the pan to the counter to cool it down as you continue whisking.
Whisk in the lemon juice.
This recipe for béarnaise sauce is from the book, Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman.
Have all the ingredients out and measured.
You will need a double boiler or a bowl that will set over a medium to large sauce pan with a couple inches of water. While the butter is melting, turn the heat on high to get the water hot, then turn it down to a low simmer.
Place the vinegar, wine, smashed peppercorns, shallots and 2 tablespoons of the chopped tarragon in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and let boil for about 5 minutes or until the liquid has reduced in half. Put the reduction through sieve into the bowl that you are going to put over hot water.
To the reduced liquid add the water, lemon juice (if using), salt and the egg yolks. The yolks will warm up fast so begin whisking right away. After about 10 seconds begin dripping the hot butter in. Drip in a tablespoon and whisk well. Drip in another tablespoon and whisk. You are doing this to create a thick emulsion as opposed to a running sauce. Steadily increase the amount of butter dripping in and when you get down to the last 1/2 cup you can whip it in quickly and your sauce will remain thick if you have done it correctly.
It’s important that the bowl isn’t touching the water and that the water is not boiling. Either of these can cause the sauce to get too hot and the eggs will cook and curdle. As I add the butter, I’m also lifting the bowl as I’m whisking to make sure it’s not getting too hot.
Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of tarragon just before serving.
Note: Hollandaise can be made the day before, refrigerated and reheated. (Because of the added reduction béarnaise needs to be used right away or it will separate.) Transfer the hollandaise sauce from the bowl container to a glass jar. Put the jar in the refrigerator immediately (it won’t be very hot) and it can be reheated directly from the refrigerator. Create a bain-marie by setting the jar in a pan of very warm (but not hot) water to reheat, stirring often. If the water is too hot, the eggs will cook and the sauce will separate.
Béarnaise is delicious on fish as well as steak. Hollandaise is best enjoyed on Eggs Benedict.