Ever since we came back from Paris, I have been dreaming of Béarnaise sauce. I grew up with the Knorr mix version (which is hard to find these days around these parts) and thought that it was pretty fantastic, but of course my encounter with the real thing ruined me for life. I even had a taste of a restaurant version and it screamed Hollandaise at me – a very good Hollandaise – but lacking the shallots, tarragon and tang of the white wine vinegar signature of the Béarnaise. Our early attempts at making this sauce from scratch were laughable, but every year we added it to our ‘to cook’ list and chose to ignore it. It felt too daunting to pull off.
I visited my parents this weekend, with the intention of picking up my newly arrived copy of the French Culinary Institute’s “The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine” and borrowing an old Mexican food cookbook I knew my mother had around somewhere. I stepped on a stool and stood before the row of dusty cookbooks and came across this pleasant surprise – a 1961 edition of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ that belonged to my Grandmother. Yes, she is still very much alive, but that book is MINE now! Having recently seen Julie and Julia on cable tv, I cooed like Meryl Streep at the discovery of this family heirloom. OOOOH!!!!!
Armed with these two veritable references, suddenly my quest for Béarnaise sauce didn’t seem that daunting! Out of the freezer came out the remaining ‘fishtail’ (el moñon, as my family calls it) of a seven pound beef tenderloin I purchased for the holidays. The beef was be seared and finished in the oven until medium rare. We decided to roast some red-skinned potatoes in the oven too, in order to make the most of the indulgence. Eduardo and I made a deal that could elevate this meal: if the sauce turned out well, we’d take out one of those bottles of wine we’ve been collecting from our trips. If it didn’t, a $10 bottle would have to do. I stretched my arms and back, took a deep breath, and began to work. The first step was to review both recipes as to proportions and tips to facilitate success, as the method for preparing the sauce is really that classic piece. Based on that comparison, this is what we did:
- Take out two eggs and separate them, allowing the yolks to reach room temperature. Store the whites in the back of the fridge for macarons. 😉
- Melt 14 tablespoons (yes, 1 3/4 bars!) of butter in a small saucepan and separate the milk solids to obtain clarified butter. Once it is ready, set aside on a low burner to keep warm.
- In another small saucepan, combine: two tablespoons minced shallot, 2 1/2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup plus one tablespoon of water, and 1/2 teaspoon of dried tarragon (1 tablespoon if you have access to fresh), and five peppercorns or about 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper. Set to medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until reduced by 80%. In the meantime, prepare a double boiler by setting a larger saucepan filled with about an inch of water. A heatproof bowl should be able to sit in the saucepan without touching the water.
- In the a heatproof bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 tablespoons of water, the reduced vinegar/shallot/tarragon mixture, and the two egg yolks until frothy. Place over the saucepan with water and whisk for about three minutes. After whisking for three minutes, the mixture will be airy but should start to thicken.
DH pinch hits and continues whisking while I take a picture. It felt safe at that point! I’m not taking any chances after that burned roux!
- While I continued to whisk the yolks, DH slowly and steadily streamed the warm clarified butter into the heatproof bowl. If you feel the mixture is getting too hot, take it out of the larger saucepan and continue whisking until cools off. It is better to be safe and remove it if you have doubts as to the temperature because once it curdles… you loose the sauce. It might take a little longer, but it is completely worth it. After ten minutes of stirring, you should have a silky emulsion you’ll want to lick of the plate
- >Adjust the seasonings to your taste: 1 teaspoon or 2 of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Strain it if you like smooth sauces, or if you enjoy a bit of shallot here and there forego that step.
Could you guess that we made it? At one point I thought my arm would fall off, but it didn’t! We achieved the velvety, buttery sauce we wanted. It was only fitting to serve it in my Gradmother’s gravy boat.
As for the wine, we pulled out the last bottle from our 2004 trip to Napa, a 2004 Joseph Phelps ‘Le Mistral’. The Le Mistral is a blend, reminiscent of the Côtes du Rhône region of France, of Syrah, Grenache, Petit Syrah and Alicante. It was delicious and assertive enough to stand to the steak and the rich sauce. What a way to close the weekend!