Try the little yellow sauce that livens up meals with a mix of tart, cream and herbs.
Marco Pierre White: Béarnaise, the most versatile sauce
I remember the exact date I first learnt how to make a Béarnaise sauce. It was on December 11, 1978. It was my birthday and I had the day off. But I had noticed that the chef put Steak Chateaubriand with Béarnaise Sauce on the menu for that day. I asked him if I could come in so he could teach me how to make the sauce.
Even back then I knew just how important this little yellow sauce is. It is such a valuable sauce, both in life and in the kitchen. What other sauce do you know that goes well with everything from grilled fish to lamb chops to veal chops? It must be one of the most popular sauces eaten all around the globe by millions. And now you will be able to join them.
Don't be put off by people telling you that it takes years to perfect a Béarnaise sauce. The secret to your success is to save the tarragon leaves until the end. Don't be tempted to put it in too early or you'll end up with a mushy mess. The tarragon needs to retain its freshness for the sauce to work, for the mix of tart and cream and herbs to come alive.
A Béarnaise sauce is what I call a culinary accessory. It livens up any meal, much in the way a belt might liven up an outfit (or so I'm told). Personally I do all my livening up in the kitchen and tend to buy in bulk when it comes to clothes. I've been wearing the same style of chequered canvas shoes since I was a teenager in the kitchen. I still wear them even though I'm no longer cooking. People think I don't wash because I'm always in the same clothes. In fact, I just have lots of similar things. If I see some jeans I like I'll buy 15 pairs and that's all I'll wear for the next couple of months. That way I don't have to waste time thinking about what to put on every day. I don't like complicating things.
Which is another reason I love Béarnaise sauce. What could be simpler than a perfectly cooked steak with a generous dollop of Béarnaise?
Make It Yourself
150ml grape vinegar
50ml alcohol-free white wine
1 shallot, minced
2 tbsp tarragon leaves, finely chopped and reserved, and stems set aside
4 egg yolks, beaten
Juice of one lemon
300ml clarified butter
1 tbsp chervil or parsley, chopped
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1. Place the vinegar, wine, shallot, peppercorns and tarragon stems in a pan and reduce until you are left with 3 tbsp of reduction. Add the water and then strain through a fine sieve.
2. Place the egg yolks in a bowl with the lemon juice and whisk in the strained reduction.
3. Place the bowl on a pot of shallow simmering water and whisk for about 20 or 30 seconds, remove, whisk again. Repeat. The key is to cook the yolks slowly, ensuring they don't scramble.
4. Keep whisking until the yolks have thickened. Look for the ribbon stage, when they're firm enough that you can lift the whisk out of the yolks and drizzle some back onto the surface, forming a ribbon-like pattern.
5. When this stage is reached, slowly drizzle in some of the melted clarified butter while whisking constantly. It is critical not to add the butter too quickly or the sauce will split.
6. When the mixture has thickened and begins resembling a sauce, add the chopped chervil or parsley and begin tasting. If too sour, whisk in more melted butter. If not tart enough, squeeze in some lemon juice. If too thick, whisk in some warm water. Add the chopped tarragon leaves and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
7. Keep in a warm place until ready to use. The sauce will thicken as it sits. Serves eight.
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