December 17, 2012 by caitlinvaclark
Friday night was our last real chance at a date night before the holiday rush. But we decided to stay home and cook, hence stay-te night. I know, I know, my worst attempt at a play on words yet. Horrible. I got the whole “stay-cation” pun in my head and just couldn’t get it out. I’ll reign it in next time I promise.
Life has been a bit go, go, go and it was great to spend a night in, unwinding by the Christmas lights with some champagne, …and wine, and a delicious dinner. I decided to make steak frites and grilled asparagus, along with béarnaise sauce. I picked up fresh cut strip steaks from our corner butcher. One of the great things about our neighborhood is all the local shops. On one block, we have a butcher, a fishmonger, a baker, no candlestick maker, but does anyone have one of those anymore?
I wanted to make a hollandaise or béarnaise sauce to practice my method- I am planning on making Eggs Royale for Christmas breakfast (but more about my holiday menus in a later post) so I didn’t want to be rusty on what this labor intensive sauce entails. Practice makes perfect, right? And timing is everything with poaching eggs and making the sauce, and who wants to be stressed on Christmas morning?!
The basic process for both hollandaise and béarnaise is essentially the same: whisking egg yolks in a double boiler, adding an acidic agent and then a shitload of melted butter. The difference between the two sauces is that béarnaise sauce includes white vinegar (typically champagne vinegar) that has been cooked with chopped shallots and tarragon. Making these sauces is not for the faint of heart. Do not attempt this on a day where you have had a heavy weightlifting workout or taken a body pump class. You need fresh, limber, ready to whisk arms. Don’t think you can take breaks. Do not plan on running out to the grill to flip your steaks. And unless you are far more coordinated than me, don’t think you can switch off between left and right hands.
When I was ingredient shopping, my plan was to make a straight, classic béarnaise for tonight. But the grocery store was out of tarragon. One minor hiccup in my plans and my mind went rogue. I strayed from the classic champagne or white wine vinegar and purchased a pretty little bottle of white balsamic. A wild night in our household!?! Now, if you’re a newcomer to béarnaise, I recommend sticking with the classics so you can fully experience the luxurious tradition of this sauce, but if you jump off the deep end with it, want to change things up, (or white balsamic is what you have on hand) go for it. It will create a slightly sweeter flavor. Because of this be very careful not to over reduce when cooking with your shallots or it will become too syrupy sweet.
I would credit my original method for making either of these sauces to The Joy of Cooking and to my mother. I saw the sauce come to life, velvety and soft yellow, at the hands of my mom, then retaught myself the process using the instructions of the cookbook. Once you learn the method and commit to whisking vigorously, it actually is fairly simple.
For this dinner, I made a hybrid of hollandaise and béarnaise, since it has the shallots but lacks the tarragon. Whatever you want to call it, it was a delectable accompaniment to steak frites, which we seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled for just a few minutes on each side. While the steaks rested, we grilled the asparagus. I cheated on the frites and just oven baked the freezer section variety.
Time to get down to the nitty gritty of making this sauce. Preparation is important. You will need at least three stovetop burners. Bring water to boil in one pot. Set up a faux double boiler (or a real one of course if you have one) with a few inches of water in the base of a pot that will fit a glass bowl. In another small pot, warm your vinegar (with shallots and tarragon if you are making béarnaise). You also need to melt 1 stick of butter and keep warm, either on a burner or use the microwave.
Begin with 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten. Place your bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be sure that the base of the bowl does not make contact with the water. Whisk the yolks until they begin to thicken slightly.
One tablespoon at a time, whisk the boiling water into the egg yolks, until you have added a total of 4 tablespoons.
I know, I know you’re getting exhausted already. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I promise. A buttery yellow light, smothering a delicious grilled to perfection steak.
Next very slow pour in your acidic agent. Again whisk until the sauce becomes thick and smooth. Then you will add the melted butter, the smallest bit at a time. Whisk, whisk, and more whisking.
Once all the ingredients have been incorporated, season with about 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper. Keep warm until you are ready to serve. And be sure to toast to yourself for a job well done!
The sauce is amazing on the steak and asparagus, but I’m not going to lie, my favorite part is dipping my frites in it!
* adapted from The Joy of Cooking and ages of sauce making traditions
Makes 1 cup
3 egg yolks
4 Tbs boiling water
Either 3 Tbs champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar or 2 Tbs lemon juice if making hollandaise sauce
1 Tbs chopped shallots *for bearnaise
1 Tbs chopped tarragon *for béarnaise
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
*If making béarnaise sauce, begin by heating the vinegar with the shallots and tarragon, and reserve to add as the acidic element.
Begin by whisking egg yolks in a glass bowl over a simmering pan, being sure that the bowl does not make contact with the water.
Once yolks thicken slightly, after 3 minutes, add 1 Tbs water at a time, whisk for 1 minute and add the next. Total 4 Tbs.
Slowly drip the acidic element (vinegar or lemon juice) into the egg mixture, whisking continually. Whisk for 4-5 minutes as the vinegar is incorporated.
Add melted butter, about 1 Tbs at a time, whisking vigorously to incorporate.
Once all the butter is added whisk the sauce until velvety smooth, one more minute, and keep warm until ready to serve.