Irresistibly creamy, buttery, and rich, béarnaise combines an herby, slightly acidic reduction of white wine, vinegar, shallots, fresh tarragon, and lemon juice with hollandaise to make a luscious sauce for spooning over grilled steak, chicken, fish, or vegetables.
It is subsidiary sauce or ‘daughter’ sauce of hollandaise, one of the five French mother sauces, with an herbal piquancy that complements its mother sauce.
To make béarnaise, you start with a reduction of wine, vinegar, shallots, and tarragon. Set it aside while you make the hollandaise, which is a semi-permanent emulsion of egg yolks and clarified butter. Stir the herbal reduction into hollandaise, and voila! You have béarnaise sauce.
Tips for Making Béarnaise Sauce
If you’re new to Béarnaise Sauce, it helps to know the entire game plan from start to finish. Here are some of the finer points.
- Be sure to finely chop the shallots since they will remain in the sauce.
- You’ll want to cook the reduction until it is almost, but not quite dry—there should be a bit of liquid in the bottom of the pan, but the shallots should not be swimming in it.
- Let it cool until at least lukewarm before stirring it into the hollandaise.
- The process of clarifying butter removes the milky solids from the butter, so it is almost 100 percent butterfat. Without liquid in the butter, the sauce will be thick and lush.
- The butter gets heated in a microwave, rests for 5 minutes, and then is microwaved again. At that point, the milky solids will be on the bottom, and the clarified butter can be carefully poured into a clean container, leaving the milky residue behind. You can also do this on the stovetop. I provide both methods below.
How to Use Béarnaise Sauce?
Steak Béarnaise is probably the most well known use of béarnaise sauce, a dish you might order in a restaurant, but certainly not out of reach for the home cook for a fancy date night in chez vous. Steak is not the only game in town. Consider spooning it over poached eggs, salmon, chicken or vegetables.
Variations of Béarnaise Sauce
While béarnaise sauce may be a ‘daughter’ sauce of hollandaise; it has its own descendants! Try some of these tweaks next time you make béarnaise.
- Tarragon is the hallmark of béarnaise, but you could add more herbs like chopped parsley, chives or dill if you want a greener, herbier sauce.
- For grilled meat or fish, stir in tomato puree to create Sauce Choron.
- Add demi-glace, and the sauce becomes Sauce Foyot for serving with grilled fish or meat.
- For a lamb sauce, make Sauce Paloise, by substituting mint for tarragon.
Storing Béarnaise Sauce
Béarnaise Sauce is best used immediately. If you must, you can refrigerate it for up to 2 days and reconstitute it. It will become solid in the fridge.
Break it up into pieces and reheat it, whisking constantly and vigorously over low heat and sliding the saucepan off the burner if it seems to be melting too quickly. Have a glass of ice water close to the stove, and if the sauce looks like it is starting to separate, add a few drops of the cold water.
If it does separate, try whisking it into an egg yolk in a thin stream in a separate bowl. Return it to a clean pot and gently reheat it before serving.
Classic Béarnaise Sauce
- For the tarragon base
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup shallots, very finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped, divided
- For the sauce
- 8 ounces unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more as needed
- Pinch of salt, to taste
Make the tarragon base:
In a small skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat, simmer the wine, vinegar, shallots, black pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of tarragon until most of the liquid has evaporated, but the pan is not completely dry. There should still be a tablespoon or two of liquid in the bottom of the pan. Set aside and let cool to lukewarm.
Clarify and strain the butter:
To clarify in the microwave: In a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup covered partially with a paper towel, microwave the butter on high power for 1 minute, or until it is melted. Let it rest for 5 minutes. Return the melted butter to the microwave and microwave again for 1 minute.
At this point the butter’s milky solids should have settled into the bottom of the cup. If there is foam on top, skim it off with a spoon. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a clean measuring cup or small bowl. Carefully pour the butter into the cup or bowl, leaving the residue behind. The strainer should catch any bits of cooked milky solids that stray into the cup.
To clarify on top of the stove: In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the foam subsides, the water in the butter evaporates, and the milk solids on the bottom are lightly brown. Carefully ladle the pure melted butterfat into a separate container, leaving the milk solids behind. You can also strain it through several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. The resulting clarified butter will have a slightly nutty flavor.
Cook the eggs for the sauce:
In a small saucepan, whisk the egg yolks, water, and lemon juice for 3 to 4 minutes, or until pale and thick, something like the consistency of soft mayonnaise.
Set the pan over low heat and whisk constantly until the sauce increases in volume, is frothy, and then thickens until you can see the bottom of the pan through the streaks made by the whisk.
As you whisk, be sure to reach into the bottom corners of the pan where the eggs could cook too quickly. Remove the pan from the heat.
Add the butter:
Whisk the warm, clarified butter into the thickened egg yolks, a few tablespoons at a time, until the sauce thickens further and the butter is incorporated and forms an emulsion. This can take anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes.
The final thickness should be soft, light, and velvety; not runny or as thick as mayonnaise. You should be able to pour it off the spoon.
Add the tarragon base:
Stir the tarragon base into the sauce and stir in the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly chopped tarragon. Taste and add a pinch of salt if you like, or a little more lemon juice, to taste.