Serving Size: 1
Preparation Time: 0:15
In a stainless steel lined pan, melt the butter, add the chopped shallots and soften.
Add the tarragon and vinegar (I always used to buy the tarragon stalks in vinegar, and replace the vinegar with Dessaux Tarragon vinegar as I went along), peppercorns, and herbs. (You can use dried tarragon and parsley, if you must.)
Reduce this mixture by 2/3. The rule I always followed was "The volume of the reduction should equal the volume of the yolks."
At work, I used to make up a big bottle of reduction, and keep it in the refrigerator.
The reason I say Bearnaise Sauce—after Escoffier—is that it is his recipe that I have always used, only modifying the method slightly. Everyone loves the taste, but the Master deserves the credit. Chef Stockli taught me to use fresh herbs.
Put the yolks into a stainless steel bowl and beat them frothy with a whip. Strain the reduction, and beat it into the yolks over low heat in a double boiler, or over hot water. They should become thick and ribbon from your whip to the bowl, (like a Genoise-sponge cake batter). Now beat in the melted or soft butter, very slowly at first. The rule is, what you have in, you can add. The sauce becomes thick, like a mayonnaise. Take it off the fire and continue beating as the bottom of the bowl may have enough heat to break the sauce. If it breaks, just start with a fresh egg yolk in a new bowl and add the broken sauce by whipping. It comes back fast.
Finish the sauce with some fresh tarragon. Chef Albert Stockli of blessed memory, is shown on the cover of his book, Splendid Fare with pots of fresh herbs. I used to bring him these herbs from a farm in New Jersey. Chef Stockli always liked to have fresh herbs in the kitchen to use, growing in pots. He would finish his bearnaise sauce with a touch of melted glace d'viand (meat stock, reduced to 1/10th of its original volume. This is called Sauce Foyot or Valois, according to Escoffier.
You should taste this sauce carefully. If it is too acid, thin it a bit with white wine. If it is too herbal, thin it with some hollandaise. It probably won't need salt, but if it needs pepper, use cayenne. It should be just barely noticeably peppery. Serve the sauce tepid. I liked to serve individual portions in a mushroom cap or artichoke bottom, garished with a sprig of fresh tarragon. Have a sauce boat of extra on the side to pass.
Some men (ladies never) grunt when buttering their rare steak with Bearnaise. I believe this is a learned behavior, not instinctual. I will admit it does taste good enough to grunt.
You should make this sauce within 15-30 minutes of serving, but the reduction, which is what takes the time, can be done well ahead.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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This page modified February 2007
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