Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bearnaise Sauce

Several years ago I came into possession of a bottle of Bordeaux that excited me very much, a ‘97 Chateau Lafite Rothschild. I’ve always been fascinated by the first growth Bordeaux, and this vineyard in particular, as it carried such clout in the wine world. This would be my first taste of the famed vintner, and I decided to share it with some good friends.

But...what to cook?

Not just any dish could stand up to a bold wine such as this; it would have to have an assertive character all its own. Hello, Filet Mignons. But to make the meal a little more Frenchified, I decided to make the classic French bearnaise sauce to accompany the steaks. The only problem...I’d never made it before. I’d also heard it could be very temperamental to make, and as it’s shelf life is practically nil, I knew I’d have to make it on the spot...and I didn’t want my first attempt to be in front of my awaiting friends.

So I did what any enterprising Eat’n man would do. The night before the dinner, I bought a carton of 24 eggs, loads of tarragon, popped open a bottle of cheap red wine to keep me company, and set to work gettin’ saucy with it.

My first attempt, as expected, produced scrambled eggs. The second and third, in which I employed a double boiler, fared better, and by the last crack of the last egg, I’d managed to whip up a fairly decent version of the sauce. Thankfully, the next night, the sauce went off without a hitch, and I had a worthy meal to accompany that glorious bottle of wine.

Bearnaise Sauce

1/4 cup white wine or tarragon vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 Tablespoon minced shallots
1 Tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
Teaspoon of peppercorns, lightly crushed
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup clarified butter

Boil the vinegar, wine, shallots, tarragon and peppercorns over moderate heat until it has reduced to two tablespoons. Strain and reserve.

In a double boiler with the water boiling, add the egg yolks and water and whisk vigorously. You are making what is called a sabayon, which is a light frothy mixture of a liquid--in this case eggs--and air. This will make the sauce very light and delicate. As you whisk, the mixture will become more and more frothy, and then suddenly double or even triple in volume. At this point, immediately lift the sauce pan off the boiler and continue to whisk for another thirty seconds. This stops the eggs from cooking and assures that you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.  Check out the video below for a demonstration:

At this point, slowly stir in your melted, clarified butter, while constantly whisking. The sauce can only take so much butter, so do it slowly. It the sauce appears to start to become thick, stop adding butter. Add your wine/vinegar/tarragon infusion, stir, and voila...you have your sauce.

Bearnaise sauce should be served immediately, so it is best to make it right before you serve your steaks, or whatever else your serving it with (goes great with asparagus). You can make your tarragon infusion and melt your butter ahead of time, so that all you have to do is make the sabayon and blend, which really only takes a couple minutes...about the time your steaks need to rest from the grill to the plate.

Variation:  Sauce Choron

Béarnaise has literally tons of variations, and it is itself is a variation of one of the six French mother sauces, in this case, Hollandaise.   Sauce Choron was the first variation of béarnaise that I tried from my mammoth-sized cookbook, Sauces, by James Peterson.  (An excellent tome of almost 600 pages devoted to sauce making)

Sauce Choron is merely béarnaise sauce with tomatoes added.  I’d wanted to try this one for some time, as I love anything tomato, and figured their tart and tangy taste would meld well with the rich, decadent flavor and frothy texture of the béarnaise sauce.   I wasn’t disappointed. 

To make Sauce Choron, simply make a béarnaise sauce according to the recipe above, then blend in a tomato puree, approximately one part tomato puree to three parts béarnaise sauce.  

Serve immediately. 

To make the tomato puree, take two ripe tomatoes (preferably something really flavorful like a red heirloom or homegrown vine-ripened tomato), and slice them in half.  Squeeze out the seeds and discard.  Coarsely chop the tomatoes and gently stew them in a small amount of olive oil.  Cook until they begin to thicken.  Strain the puree through a strainer and stir into the béarnaise sauce.   Taste while adding the tomato puree and vary the amount depending on the ripeness and flavor of the tomatoes. 

Here I've added this wonderful sauce to a Mushroom Strudel.  It should also go well with fish, chicken, and hell, maybe even pomme frites!

Until next time, 

Bon Appitit.  


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