A Béarnaise sauce, or ‘Sauce Béarnaise‘ to use the French phrasing, is one of the first sauces a student of French Cooking will learn. Say ‘French Sauce’ and most uninitiated cooks will freeze, and think this must be terribly complicated and far beyond their scope. In fact, the answer to ‘how do you make a Béarnaise Sauce’ is ‘quite simply’ – all you need is a good recipe, a few ingredients, and a little patience.
What is a Béarnaise Sauce? To put it in the simplest of terms, it’s something like a warm mayonnaise made with butter instead of oil. It consists very few ingredients: a couple of egg yolks and tarragon-seasoned reduced vinegar rendered celestial by the addition of butter, which you whisk in by degrees over a low heat.
Recipes for Béarnaise Sauce vary - every chef has their own idea of how to make what they consider to be the authentic version. For that reason, all I will claim is that the recipe that follows is standard, reliable and delicious. It is a good idea to look for variations and experiment with them - the perfect recipe is like the Holy Grail – the quest to find it never ends. Without further ado, here is a recipe for Béarnaise Sauce:
1 tbs fresh tarragon
1/2 tbs fresh chervil (optional)
Put these herbs into a small pot with 2 1/2 tbs white wine vinegar and a little salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, and reduce the vinegar by two-thirds. Allow to cool.
Keep at the ready:
1/2 cup (125g) softened butter cut into small cubes. You can, if you choose, make the recipe with the same amount of clarified butter.
To the cooled mixture add:
1 tbs water
2 egg yolks (room temperature)
Set the pot on a VERY low heat, and start whisking furiously with a small whisk if you have the patience and strength and want to be traditional. I have none of the afore-mentioned qualities, so I use one of those nifty stick blenders which makes the recipe ridiculously easy, as well as pretty much infallible. As the yolks start to thicken, start adding in small pieces of the softened butter, or a very slow stream of clarified butter, if that is what you are using. Don’t stop beating, and keep adding the butter slowly until it is all incorporated. All that’s left to do is to check the seasoning and adjust it if necessary. You can add more salt and pepper, a little cayenne pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
If the sauce starts to curdle (I’ve never had this happen with a stick blender), you can save it by beating in 1 tbs of cold water a little at a time.
Either serve the sauce at once, or keep it warm over a bain-marie. DO NOT attempt to reheat it – it cannot be done successfully as far as I am aware.
What is a Béarnaise Sauce?
Sauce Béarnaise is a warm emulsion of egg-yolks and butter, seasoned with tarragon and shallot flavoured reduced vinegar. Other herbs may be used, and dry white wine may be substituted for all or part of the vinegar reduction. It is one of the French ‘Sauces au Beurre’ (Butter Sauces).
How do you say ‘Béarnaise’?
Please look at the following link – it will give you a full explanation, as well as sound files so you can hear the word correctly pronounced. The French pronunciation is different from what has become the norm in English.
Where does the name ‘Béarnaise’ come from?
The sauce is named after the region of Béarn in South-Western France – some say as an homage to King Henri IV of France who was born there.
What do you serve with ‘Sauce Béarnaise’?
You can serve Béarnaise sauce with grilled meat or fish. It is a delicious accompaniment to grilled steak.
What is the difference between a Béarnaise and a Hollandaise?
This is a very good question, given that many recipes seem so similar. I have gone through numerous books and descriptions, and the conclusion is this: a Béarnaise is most definitely seasoned with a vinegar and herb reduction which contains tarragon, and at it’s simplest, the Hollandaise is seasoned with salt and pepper, and sharpened with a little lemon juice.
See my blog post on Hollandaise Sauce for more info.