Friday, 22 May 2015

Experiments with Simplified Béarnaise Sauce.

I'm very fond of Hollandaise sauce, and it's herbed variant Béarnaise sauce, but I've never tried making them at home because the process always seemed to be too prone to failure, given my track record with mayonnaise.

For those unfamiliar with the process, traditional mayonnaise is made by adding oil slowly to beaten egg yolks to form an emulsion. This can be done by hand, or with a blender, but either way, if the oil is added too quickly, or something isn't done correctly (I haven't always been able to figure out why), then the whole thing becomes liquid. This happens quite often in my hands, and can be salvaged by starting again with another egg yolk or two, but more often than not I've run out of eggs, and guests are about to arrive, so I just reach for the Hellman's. 

Hollandaise and Béarnaise are  similar in principle but more complicated since melted butter is used instead of oil, and the eggs have to be kept warm in a heated water bath. If you look online, the classical variants of Béarnaise can be quite daunting.

There is a variant of mayonnaise made with whole eggs, to which oil and other flavourings such as lemon juice and salt are put all at once into a blender. I have found this to be a reliable technique. Perhaps the egg whites stabilise the emulsion.

Earlier this week, my wife suggested that we might experiment with making Béarnaise sauce using a a similar simplified method, with our NutriBullet blender. There are recipes online for simple Béarnaise sauce, using blenders and so on, but they all still involve adding butter in a thin stream and we wanted something simpler. Using the proportions from an online article, and omitting the ingredients we did not have at hand this is what we did:


4 eggs
30 ml lemon juice
salt and pepper
170 g butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon


1. Separate eggs. Keep whites just in case.
2. Blend egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
3. Melt the butter in a saucepan.
4. Pour the melted butter into the blended egg yolk mixture and blend again.

It didn't work. Emulsification did not occur. So I attempted step 5:

5. Chuck in egg whites and blend again.

Things started looking up. The mixture thickened up. We left it for a bit and it got a bit thicker.

6. Stir in chopped tarragon.

It was fluid enough to be poured, but thick enough for us.

We had it with some left over roast beef. It was pretty good, and we'd try it again, probably using whole eggs straight away like with mayonnaise. I suspect that one of the unreliable variables might be the temperature of the melted butter and the extent to which the eggs get cooked as a result of this, but we'll see.

There was quite a bit left over. After a night in the fridge it thickened up a bit more, and was excellent the next day with avocado.

Just after writing this I came across an article in the Guardian describing an extremely simple method for making  Hollandaise, the base sauce for Béarnaise. It involves just heating egg yolks, lemon juice and cold butter all together, slowly in a pan, until the sauce is reaches the right consistency. I think I'll try that one next time.

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