Sauce Béarnaise

In Recipies on March 12, 2013 at 10:11 am

Detractors of French cuisine often call French food “Bad food covered in delicious sauces.” I suppose their opinion has some merit in the case of pot-au-feu, as boiling a piece of beef is an almost sacrilege for many carnivores. Still, like many Asian styles of cooking, the French also have a cooking tradition that has given the world a tremendous variety of sauces having wondrous flavors.

Sauce Béarnaise is traditionally married to pan-seared, French-style steak, but it can add a remarkable depth of flavor to firm, cold-water fish. Firmer fish seem to be a best match for the sauce because of their steak-like texture.

I was going to pair the sauce with steamed swai. However, from my fishmonger, I learned swai is a type of catfish and is not kosher according to my Invisible Friend. A brace of trout per pair of diners was substituted. Trout poaches or steams nicely and I wanted clean tasting meat that would let my sauce shine.

A few cook’s notes first:

I used real egg yolks. If you like, substitute pasteurized yolks. But I’ll draw a line in the sand about using those terrible egg substitutes in cartons. We get free-range eggs from a friend who keeps a small, healthy flock. Salmonella poisoning is more likely if you use eggs from a commercial/industrial farm. I’ve been eating raw or minimally cooked eggs for years without illness.

Be sure to allow the butter to cool a bit. If you pour hot butter or reductions into the egg yolks, they will curdle. So long as the curdling is not extensive (like scrambled eggs), they can be salvaged by straining the sauce through a fine sieve.

I also find stick blenders to give me a great advantage when making sauces. A mini-food processor will work too. A full-sized food processor is just too big and it will not efficiently process small quantities of sauces.

Let’s make some Sauce Béarnaise. You’ll need:

2 egg yolks

½ C unsalted butter, melted

1 ½ tsp finely minced shallot

1 ½ TBS white vinegar

1 tsp tarragon leaves, minced

1 tsp chervil, minced

1 TBS lemon juice, strained

1 1/5 TBS dry white wine

pinch ground black pepper

pinch ground cayenne

pinch salt

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat to remove most of its water. Reduce heat to very low and hold. In another small saucepan, mix the vinegar, wine, half of the tarragon, shallot, and black pepper. Reduce the mixture to a few teaspoonfuls over medium heat and remove from heat. (A mini-food processor or stick blender works great for the concluding steps.) In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and cayenne and whisk or blend them together with the vinegar-wine reduction. While whisking (or blending) drizzle the melted butter into the egg mixture. The result should be a velvety cream. Stir in the remaining tarragon and the chervil before serving.


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