What Is Béarnaise Sauce? And Why Is It So Popular?
by HexClad Cookware
Chances are that you have read about a béarnaise sauce on a menu once or twice, but you might not have known exactly what it’s made out of.
This article will tell you what goes into this fantastic sauce and what makes it such a favorite among both home cooks and professional chefs.
What Is Béarnaise Sauce?
Béarnaise sauce originated in Béarn, France. It’s an irresistible emulsion of the following ingredients:
- Egg yolks
- Chervil, a delicate herb in the parsley family
- White wine vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Melted butter
Sometimes, béarnaise sauce recipes will also include ingredients like freshly cracked black pepper or some cayenne pepper for a kick. You can choose whatever variation appeals to your palate or would work the best with your dish.
You can also use different types of butter for your béarnaise. Typically, either unsalted butter or clarified butter is the most popular. You can easily get unsalted butter at the store, but making clarified butter is a bit more of a process. This type has a higher smoke point, which it gains from having all the milk solids, sugars, and water removed.
Traditionally speaking, a béarnaise sauce is made with the use of a double boiler. In order to create a double boiler, place a bowl over a steaming pot of water. The indirect, low heat allows your ingredients to cook gradually, which is a necessity when crafting a sauce with egg yolks.
As time has gone on, we’ve discovered easier ways to perfect a nice béarnaise other than the admittedly tricky double boiler method. It is quite common nowadays to instead heat up your butter in the microwave or a small saucepan.
Allow the egg yolks to get to room temperature. Then, slowly pour the warm butter into a yolk and vinegar mixture, using an immersion blender to combine.
If the sauce is too thick at this stage, you can add cold water. Slowly add tablespoons of liquid until you reach the desired consistency. Add chopped tarragon and chervil.
Finally, include kosher salt and black pepper to taste. With this updated method, the prep time it takes to make béarnaise is minimal. In fact, the total time is so short that you could make it while your protein is resting.
Why Is Béarnaise Sauce So Popular?
Béarnaise sauce is popular for an incredibly simple reason — it’s delicious. We’ll explore some of the tasting notes and flavors you can expect from this sauce later in the article, but the best way to experience it is to taste it for yourself.
The sauce is equal parts delectable and striking on the plate, easily elevating simple dishes and making them superb.
Another reason that people love béarnaise is due to its reputation for being difficult to create. This makes it that much more mysterious and elusive. The reality is that making a quality béarnaise sauce isn’t too challenging, it just takes patience and practice to get perfect.
What Does Béarnaise Sauce Taste Like?
Before diving into making a béarnaise for the first time, it’s natural to wonder what you should expect in terms of flavor. If you haven’t had this sauce before, know that you are in for a treat. You also need to know what it tastes like so you know your own sauce is on the right track.
Béarnaise sauce is usually characterized by a savory richness. The richness comes from the egg yolks and the butter, and it provides a new level of luxury to all sorts of dishes. The acidity of the lemon juice and white wine vinegar cut through for a burst of freshness and tartness. The tarragon creates a slight licorice-like effect.
The texture of béarnaise is likely best described as creamy, which is what makes it so delicious when served alongside certain proteins.
How Do Béarnaise Sauce and Hollandaise Sauce Differ?
Before delving into the question of how béarnaise and hollandaise are different, let’s first explore the five French mother sauces. These sauces include:
- Béchamel sauce
- Tomato sauce
- Espagnole sauce
- Veloute sauce
- Hollandaise sauce
The reason that these sauces are so noteworthy is that so many other sauces are derivatives of them. For instance, a béchamel sauce serves as the base for anything from a Mornay to even a classic mac and cheese.
Meanwhile, espagnole sauce can create a spectacular mushroom sauce to pair with dark meat or pasta. Hollandaise sauce, on the other hand, is what creates the base for a béarnaise.
So there is always hollandaise in a béarnaise, but they aren’t the same sauce. It’s kind of like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares – but béarnaise is way more fun to eat than shapes.
To make hollandaise sauce, you emulsify a combination of egg yolks, melted butter, and lemon juice.
If you stop there, you have a lovely mixture to complete your eggs benedict and other dishes. However, with the addition of fresh tarragon leaves or small shallots, you will have a delicious sauce that would make the finest chefs proud.
What Is Béarnaise Sauce Served With?
You may be wondering: if a hollandaise goes with eggs benedict, what should a béarnaise pair with? The short answer is to pair it with whatever tickles your fancy. Being a home cook is all about experimenting and discovering what flavor combinations you like best.
That being said, this luxurious sauce is bound to work much better with certain dishes than others. For instance, we don’t recommend putting it on your ice cream anytime soon. Let our examples serve as a jumping-off point for your imagination so that you can make more well-rounded dishes in the future.
Acid and fish go together like long-lost friends.
There’s a reason that a burst of lemon juice is often sprinkled atop an otherwise completed fish filet, and we can accomplish the same goal with béarnaise sauce. Due to the addition of lemon juice, béarnaise has a distinct acidity that goes effortlessly with all sorts of fish.
The flavor of the béarnaise is robust enough not to get lost on the plate but delicate enough to allow the notes of the fish to stand out.
It is perhaps most common to think of béarnaise as a steak sauce, and that is because of how wonderfully it pairs with a quality cut of beef. If there is a char on the steak, a béarnaise can help to smooth out its rough edges, so to speak.
Any excess bitterness is taken care of due to the creaminess of the béarnaise. Once you try a steak with the added lusciousness of this sauce, there’s simply no going back.
Pasta Salad or Potato Salad
The addition of béarnaise sauce quickly elevates the likes of dishes like pasta salad or potato salad.
You can turn these classic potluck dishes into standouts with this sauce complete with fresh herbs, white wine, and more.
The reason that béarnaise sauce goes so well with lamb chops is similar to why it’s perfect with a steak. In both cases, a hearty piece of meat can benefit from the creaminess of a béarnaise.
Prepare the lamb chop however you want (grilled, broiled, etc.), and either pour a few spoonfuls of béarnaise sauce over the top or serve it alongside the dish.
HexClad: High-Quality Cookware for High-Quality Sauces
Since the best sauces require the best cookware to prepare, look no further than HexClad.
With an assortment of incredible pots and pans that are all non-stick, dishwasher-safe, and oven safe due to their unique hybrid technology, it’s impossible to go wrong.