One of my favourite sauces is also likely the worst thing to eat. (Isn’t that always the way?) But it is too good not to enjoy “occasionally”. Bearnaise sauce is the quintessential sauce for meat. Often used in chateau-briand, it is also enjoyable on other lean cuts of beef. The reason for this is, it is such a fatty sauce adding to cuts like rib eye just make the meal too rich so keep to fillet mignon, strip loin (aka New york) or even top sirloin.
The sauce can be tricky to make and does not keep very well but once you get the hang of it it becomes much easier.
Start with a double boiler, (if you don’t have one you can use a regular pot but be very careful not to overheat the sauce as the egg will cook very fast.), For the base you will use about a 1/4 of a cup of red wine vinegar, add about a tablespoon of tarragon some fresh ground pepper and a couple of cloves of garlic – pressed (not usually in the recipe but is a nice addition – shallots can add another dimension as well just don’t crazy with them.). Heat the vinegar mixture on medium heat until the volume is reduced to a little less than half. Turn the burner down to simmer and wait for the base to cool (remove the pot from the burner to speed this up). Return the pot to the heat source and add 4 egg yolks – whisk until the mixture starts to thicken – not too much. At this point keep the yolks warm enough to melt butter but cool enough not to cook the egg yolk. If the egg yolks cook the sauce is toast! If you feel energetic you can whisk it until it becomes like a mousse although this can make one’s arm rather tired.
Then add about a tablespoon of butter at a time and whisk until melted and smooth in the mixture. Keep adding tablespoons of butter until you have used up a half a pound of the stuff. (You see what I mean about the health thing). Once the sauce is complete taste it and adjust the red wine vinegar if need be. (Sorry, I don’t use recipes and seldom even taste my foods until they are served on the table so giving amounts is difficult for me – I just go by feel and adjust to taste). If you have a very good red wine at your side you can add some to the vinegar mixture but make sure you reduce it well, too much liquid will make the sauce too thin. Note: Never put sub-standard wines in your foods! If you wouldn’t drink, don’t eat it. Pour it over the meat as you would a gravy – its good on asparagus, potatoes and just about anything else. For something special add crab meat or shrimp on top of your meat then the Bearnaise. Steak Oscar anyone?
Warning: Serve soon, it does not re-heat well and does not keep. You can keep it warm but be careful not to cool it or over-heat it. Knowing your stove is essential and gas is best of course.
Wine pairings – This sauce is very rich and combined with red meat requires a wine that can punch through all that so something from the Bordeaux varietals is what I would recommend. Cab/Merlot, Cab/sauv, or any blend of Cab/sauv, Cab/franc, Merlot. Not the flabby, cheap New World wines, you’ll want wines with a good balance of acidity and tannins – the kind of wines you’ll find in B.C.