Great Sauces: Béarnaise

This sauce goes marvellously well with any good cut of red meat, such as fillet, sirloin, entrecôte, rump and T-bone. But it is also superb with rich kinds of grilled (not boiled) fish, such as turbot or salmon. Some people like it with shell-fish. I don’t. It is similar to Hollandaise, but considerably thicker and sharper in taste. Here is how you make it:

One quarter of a wine glass of wine vinegar

One shallot

Some powdered mace

Six peppercorns

Two yolks from large eggs

Fresh unsalted butter

One heaped-up teaspoon of chopped fresh tarragon, chervil and parsley

Salt

Freshly-ground black pepper and a little olive oil. (some people prefer the dripping from meat cooking, but I find this discolours the sauce)

My method:

Put the wine vinegar with the herbs and spices in to a small saucepan and reduce it to one tablespoon. Strain this slowly on to the yolks, worked with already softened butter until it thickens. Do this either over the smallest flame possible, or on an electric ring at No. 2. Best of all is to make it on a bain-marie, though you may not have one. The bain-marie is extremely useful in the kitchen if you make a lot of sauces.

Keep adding the softened butter until the sauce has the same texture as whipped cream. Now add the herbs and seasoning and the olive oil, drip by drip. Keep this sauce covered in a very cool place, or the refrigerator.

History:

Béarnaise Sauce was invented by a cook whose name has not survived, at the Pavillon Henry IV at St. Germain, perhaps in 1830. It quickly became celebrated. Count Austin de Croze, the greatest authority before Elizabeth David on French provincial cookery says that Béarnaise comes in direct descent from Béarnais and Basque cuisine. It is therefore part Gascon and part Spanish. Here is an almost unpronounceable list of names of towns which claim to have made  Béarnaise sauce for hundred of years: Pacherenc de Vic Bilh, Tadousse-Useau, Irouléguy, Jurançon, Monein, Saint-Faust, Madiran, Chahakoa, Diusse and last but not least – Rousselet de Béarn. So there.

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