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What Is Bearnaise Sauce?

Have you heard about Béarnaise sauce? Perhaps you’ve seen it in a recipe somewhere or maybe on the menu at a restaurant? You might even have had the divine pleasure of tasting it! Either way, chances are you want to know what exactly béarnaise sauce is, how it’s made and what it tastes like (if you haven’t tasted it yet already). Perhaps, you’ll even get inspired to learn how to make it…or find out where to buy it!

So, what is Béarnaise sauce? Béarnaise sauce has been called the world’s finest steak sauce, though it works well on fish, eggs, and vegetables, too. It’s a very rich and creamy sauce made of egg yolks, clarified butter, white wine, vinegar, shallots, tarragon, and sometimes chervil. Like so many other sauces, it has French origins–it was invented just outside Paris in the 1830s. 

Now, let’s have a closer look at what exactly Béarnaise sauce is, what to pair it with, and how it’s made. 

What Is Béarnaise Sauce Made Of?

Béarnaise sauce is a light yellow creamy sauce made of egg yolks, vinegar, white wine, and clarified butter. It’s infused with tarragon and shallots to give it its unique flavor profile. Sometimes fresh tarragon and chervil are also added.

You find the origins of Béarnaise sauce in Hollandaise sauce, which has been labeled the mother of Béarnaise sauce. 

Hollandaise sauce is actually one of the five “Mother sauces” in French cuisine that pretty much all other famous French sauces spring from. 

Béarnaise sauce is said to have been invented by chef Collinet in 1836 at the opening of his restaurant, Le Pavillion Henri IV, near Paris, France.

Henry IV of France happened to have been born in Bearn, which led to the name of the sauce. 

Basically, you have chef Collinet and Hollandaise sauce to thank for Béarnaise sauce.

I think we can all agree we owe those two a lot of thanks. 

And if you’re to believe the legend, you also have chef Collinet to thank for Pommes soufflées.

If you’ve never heard of them, think of Pommes soufflées as the popcorn of potatoes.

Basically, you make Pommes soufflées by frying sliced potatoes twice, letting them cool down in between the frying. 

When you do so, they puff up.

The story goes that a party of guests was delayed for their meal at Le Pavillion Henri IV, so chef Collinet took the potatoes out of the frying oil, then later returned them, which taste great when served with Béarnaise sauce.  

So, let’s get back to Béarnaise sauce. 

A classic Béarnaise sauce is made of a reduction of white wine and vinegar infused with shallots and tarragon, then thickened with egg yolks and clarified butter. 

Finally, some recipes call for adding some finely chopped fresh chervil and tarragon. 

A traditional Béarnaise recipe calls for you to whisk in first the egg yolks and then the clarified butter into the wine and vinegar reduction (the shallots and tarragon will have been strained out, and the reduction cooled to room temperature). 

Lastly, you add some fresh tarragon and chervil, as well as season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Some recipes call for lemon juice instead of tarragon and chervil at the end.  

Modern interpretations of the recipe vary, however. 

The more traditional modern recipes stick to the same ingredients and principles, but you use a handheld blender (immersion blender) instead of a whisk to help prevent the sauce from separating. 

Many an enthusiastic cook has spent a lot of time whisking together a Béarnaise sauce in a double boiler (at exactly 65.6 degrees Celsius), only to see the sauce separate before their eyes (meaning the different ingredients don’t bind together, and you find yourself with a mess instead of a sauce). 

Other modern recipes change the ingredients around and add things like mustard powder and cream. 

The end result will likely look like Bérnaise sauce, but it won’t taste like real Béarnaise sauce. 

That said, it can still taste great, so there’s no saying you shouldn’t experiment with more modern interpretations of this classic sauce. 

So, let’s have a look at some Béarnaise recipes. 

Béarnaise Sauce Recipe Option One (Classic Recipe)

  • 1 ½ tbsp white wine, dry, not too fruity, sweet, or woody 
  • 1 ½ tbsp white wine vinegar 
  • ¼ tsp black pepper, coarsely crushed
  • 1 eschalot/shallot (small), peeled and finely sliced 
  • 2 sprigs tarragon 
  • 3 egg yolks at room temperature 
  • ¼ tsp salt kosher or cooking salt
  • 225g / 16 tbsp of unsalted butter, cut into 1cm / 1″ cubes – 2 US sticks
  • ½ tbsp tarragon leaves, finely chopped 
  • ½ tbsp chervil, finely chopped 

You can find the full instructions here

Béarnaise Sauce Recipe Option Two (Classic Recipe)

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves 
  • 4 white peppercorns, crushed
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 ice cubes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch cayenne

You can find the full instructions here

Béarnaise Sauce Recipe Option Three (Modern Interpretation)

  • ¼ cup butter 
  • 1 tsp minced onion 
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar 
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten 
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream 
  • 1 ½ tsp lemon juice 
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon 
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley 
  • ¼ tsp salt 
  • 1 pinch of dry mustard 
  • 1 pinch of cayenne pepper

You can find the full instructions here

Béarnaise Sauce Recipe Option Four (Simplified Version)

  • 2 egg yolks
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1 tsp tarragon vinegar
  • 125g butter
  • small pack of fresh tarragon

You can find the full instructions here

Béarnaise Sauce Recipe Option Five (Modern Interpretation)

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 tsp lemon juice 
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh chives 
  • 1 tbsp minced red onion
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

You can find the full instructions here

If you’re feeling lazy, you’ll soon find that just about every supermarket will sell pre-made Béarnaise sauce. 

What Does Béarnaise Sauce Taste Like?

Traditional Béarnaise sauce is rich and creamy, with a hint of acidity from the wine and vinegar. It’s further flavored by shallots, chervil, and tarragon.

Many a man has rhapsodized about the perfect creaminess of Béarnaise sauce. When made correctly, it’s one of the creamiest sauces there is. 

The shallots and herbs (tarragon and chervil) give it an herby and fresh flavor. 

If there are other herbs you prefer, you can experiment with subbing them for the tarragon and chervil. 

It won’t be Béarnaise sauce anymore, but it will be a divinely creamy herb sauce nonetheless! 

What Do You Eat Béarnaise Sauce With?

Béarnaise sauce is the perfect accompaniment to a good piece of meat, or even fish, eggs, or vegetables. Meaning it’s an incredibly versatile sauce.

Many people love Béarnaise sauce, and as it’s a versatile sauce, people like to experiment with it. 

Don’t be surprised to find a gourmet burger joint pouring Béarnaise sauce over their burgers! 

Someone else will spruce up a steak sandwich with some Béarnaise sauce. 

Yet someone else will slather a piece of freshly cooked salmon with it. 

What Is Similar To Béarnaise Sauce? 

Béarnaise sauce is similar in texture and flavor to Hollandaise sauce. In fact, Béarnaise sauce is known as the child of Hollandaise sauce. There are also many sauces that use Béarnaise sauce as a base. 

If you’ve mastered your favorite recipe for Béarnaise sauce, it’s time to start experimenting. Many sauces use Béarnaise as a base, so you can have a lot of fun playing around with them and discovering new flavors. 

There are many sauces that use Béarnaise sauce as a base. This means that once you’ve mastered Béarnaise sauce, you can start to experiment! 

Sauces That Use Béarnaise Sauce as a Base

  • Sauce Choron or sauce Béarnaise tomatée is an sauce where you sub the tarragon and chervil for tomato purée. 
  • Sauce Foyot or Valois is Béarnaise sauce with added meat glaze (glace de viande)
    • Sauce Colbert is Sauce Foyot with the addition of white wine reduction 
  • Sauce Paloise is a version of Béarnaise where you sub the tarragon with mint

Finally

Béarnaise sauce is a classic and quintessential French sauce that comes in many modern interpretations.

However, the traditional ingredients still hold the golden standard–not many people argue that real Béarnaise sauce is one of the most delicious sauces ever invented. 

Rich and creamy with a hint of acidity, shallots, and fresh herbs, Béarnaise sauce is most commonly served with steak (you could say it’s the king or queen of steak sauces), though it works on just about anything, including eggs and vegetables.

It really is that versatile. 

While it’s fairly easy to make Béarnaise sauce, if you happen to own an immersion blender (a handheld blender–the one that looks like a stick)–you can find ready-made Béarnaise sauce in just about any well-stocked grocery store or supermarket. 

Note that a lot of ready-made Béarnaise sauces don’t truly taste like the real deal. Not least because Béarnaise sauce calls for raw egg yolks–most store-bought sauces contain pasteurized eggs. 

For a Béarnaise sauce containing fresh ingredients, you might have to look for it at a local delicatessen. 

FAQs

What is the difference between Hollandaise sauce and Bearnaise sauce?

The main difference between Hollandaise and Bearnaise sauce is the flavor – Bearnaise sauce is more fragrant through the additional ingredients of tarragon and shallots. Hollandaise is considered more bland.

Is bearnaise sauce served hot or cold?

Bearnaise sauce is typically served hot although it can also be served warm or cold, depending on the dish and food it is served with.

Can you buy ready made bearnaise sauce?

You can buy ready made bearnaise sauce – it is available in most of the larger grocery/supermarket stores.

Interested in learning about more sauces? Then check out these other guides: