#163 béarnaise sauce

As I keep on working to perfect my merengue topping and my egg white concoctions, I am forced to come up with uses for my remaining egg yolks!  Now that I can proudly boast about my Hollandaise sauce finally being perfected, I finally decided it was time to move on to a new egg yolk recipe.  It didn’t take long on the list to get there.  After Hollandaise sauce I was immediately tempted by its very close relative, Béarnaise.

Defined as a sauce made of clarified butter emulsified in egg yolks and white wine vinegar flavored with herbs, it took me a while to understand what the difference was.  Not much to be honest.  In fact, it’s 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, with Béarnaise sauce using shallots, chervil, peppercorns, and tarragon.  It’s also considered a traditional sauce for steak, since it works heavenly on grilled meat & fish.

The sauce is thought to be first used by the chef Collinet – who also invented pommes de terre soufflées, or puffed potatoes – at around the 1836 opening of Le Pavillon Henri IV, a restaurant at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, not far from Paris.  Some derivatives of Béarnaise include Sauce Choron (or Sauce Béarnaise Tomatée), Sauce Foyot (or Valois) made with meat glaze, Sauce Colbert made with reduced white wine, and Sauce Paloise which substitutes the tarragon with mint!

For the Béarnaise Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons of dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 6 sprigs of tarragon leaves removed, chopped & reserved
  • 8 whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 10 tablespoons of butter
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of cold water
  • Salt & white pepper to taste

Combine in a medium saucepan: the dry white wine, white wine vinegar, minced shallot, the tarragon sprigs, and the crushed peppercorns.  Bring to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by two-thirds.  Remove the tarragon sprigs and reserve the liquid.

Melt the butter over low heat.  Skim any foam off the top and keep warm.  Place the egg yolks and the water in the top of a double boiler or in a large stainless steel bowl.  Off the heat, whisk the egg mixture until light & frothy.  Place the top of the double boiler or the bowl over – not in – barely simmering water and whisk until the eggs are thickened.  Just like the Hollandaise sauce from my Eggs Benedict recipe!  This will take about 5 minutes, but be care not to let the eggs get too hot.  Remove the pan or bowl and whisk to cool the mixture slightly.  Whisking constantly, very slowly add the melted butter. leaving the white milk solids behind.

Whisk in the tarragon leaves and reduced liquid.  Season with salt & pepper to taste.  If the sauce is too thick, thin it slowly with a few drops of the reserved liquid or warm water.  Serve immediately, or keep the sauce covered until serving to prevent a skin from forming – thanks to Jaime Oliver, I learned to do this by using a thermos!  Serve warm.

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