Friday, April 5, 2013

A "Must Know" for your Repertoire, Béarnaise Sauce

A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was. – Joseph Hall 

Dinner's ready!

It’s French week in the country, apparently. Two French recipes in a row. We had the most amazing 1" thick steaks, so what else to do but this recipe? It's a variation on one of the five mother saices of classic French cooking.

The five mother sauces of classic French cooking. The mere mention strikes fear into the hearts of many home chefs. None stands more menacingly than the dreaded hollandaise – that delicious, creamy, lemony sauce with the (undeserved) reputation for “breaking.” It’s perfect on beef, eggs or vegetables. 

If you’re not familiar with hollandaise, it is a sauce made with lemon, melted butter and egg yolks. It’s basically as simple as that. For detailed information on the five mother sauces of classic French cuisine look here. Scintillating information useful for cocktail parties.

Add tarragon and onion/shallots to hollandaise and you have béarnaise, the most perfect accompaniment for steak that was ever created. Do you think I like it?

If you look at the recipe link above, hollandaise does seem a little intimidating. I find my method below for béarnaise far simpler, but that post is the classic hollandaise recipe.

There is no rule that says you can't use the technique below for hollandaise.

I never make mine over a double boiler and have success every time. Truth be told, my hollandaise/béarnaise has only ever “broken” once (or twice) and was easily fixed by adding a few drops of cold water and whisking for a second or two.

“Breaking” is when the butter separates from the sauce. Oh, the horror!! 

It’s disheartening, but not the end of the world. Water works every time, unless you have done something very, very wrong to start. Which you won’t using my recipe below. I can’t understand how you could. This is very simple.

As you can imagine, with 3/4 cup of butter and 4 egg yolks this is not a “diet” sauce. But as Julia Child said: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Actually Oscar Wilde said it first, but who better to quote. 

At a dinner party with James McNeill Whistler, Wilde once said “I wish I had said that.” In response Whistler replied “You will, Oscar, you will.” So even he took others words for his own.

If you have thick steaks the best way to do them is to sear in a very hot
oven-proof pan, and then bake for about 20 minutes at 350°F to finish.
Well done internal temperature for beef is 170°F.

Tarragon is an amazing herb. It is one of the four "fines herbes" of French cooking, and is most often used in chicken, fish and egg dishes. It’s amazing in Béarnaise on steak. 

Tarragon is a good companion plant for your flower or vegetable garden as well, as many pests dislike the smell and taste and stay away from your other plants. You know, if you hang out with a bad crowd you're painted with the same brush.

Making hollandaise or béarnaise is not rocket science. Follow my directions and you’ll be fine. It also takes no time at all. Bonus!

Classic hollandaise is made with lemon juice. Classic béarnaise is made with vinegar (or tarragon-infused vinegar). The recipe has directions for using fresh or dried tarragon, and white vinegar tarragon vinegar or lemon juice. It all depends how strong you want your sauce.

Take your pick. Either method is perfectly acceptable and will give you a stellar result. I like mine strong.

At a restaurant you will find this sauce completely smooth. That is because the initial reduction is pressed through a sieve. I find that unnecessary for a home meal, but suit yourself.

This recipe makes enough for six steaks. If you really love it, fewer. Don’t be afraid of this sauce. I actually find it to be one of the easiest recipes I know.

Béarnaise Sauce
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 3 min  |  Serves 6
1/4 cup white wine 
2 to 4 tbsp fresh tarragon, or 2 to 4 tsp dried 
1/4 cup onion or shallot
1/4 cup white vinegar, tarragon vinegar or lemon juice 
(I used lemon juice)
1/4 tsp pepper 
4 egg yolks 
3/4 cup melted butter 

Melt the butter and set it aside.

Finely chop the tarragon and onion. Combine all ingredients except for eggs and butter in a saucepan. Cook until the liquid has been reduced by half. Allow to cool slightly. 

At this point you can strain to remove the solids if you wish. I never do, so I guess mine is "country" béarnaise.

Over low heat, whisk 1 egg yolk* into the reduction and then 1/4 cup of butter. Alternate yolks and butter, whisking, until all is incorporated. You may not need the final yolk. If the sauce isn’t thick and light yellow use the final yolk. I almost always do.

When the sauce is thick, springy and light yellow remove from the heat. Whisk for about 30 seconds more. You’re ready to go. (I’ve actually left béarnaise out overnight and it looked the same in the morning. I know, I’m a pig.)

If your Béarnaise breaks (butter comes out of the sauce) you can save it by whisking in a few drops of cold water. It goes right back together.

Use on broiled steak, fish or egg dishes.

* A hint: as soon as the yolk hits the sauce whisk it. Don’t give it a chance to cook before being mixed in.


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