"Could I just make this at home?" is a great question to ask when you're dining out, whether you need to figure out where to eat, what to order, or if a dish is worthy of its price tag. Dropping a bunch of money on a meal that would've been cheaper and tastier if you'd just cooked it yourself is frustrating. It's also something I've done plenty of times. Asking this question helps me cut out frivolous food spending, while properly valuing other expenditures. Paying 15 bucks or more for a plate of bacon and eggs at an overcrowded brunch spot is silly, and that's not even taking into account the emotional toll of being forced to listen to the way-too-loud recap of the previous night's drinking exploits from the college kids seated next to you.
On the other hand, I'm happy to pay top dollar for a really good croissant, pristine sashimi, or a bunch of Popeye's chicken. There's no such thing as "quick" or "casual" laminated pastries; I haven't spent years apprenticing under Jiro; and I'd rather spend my weekend celebrating fried chicken perfection than greasing up my kitchen trying to outdo it. That's money well spent.
On the other end of the restaurant value spectrum are steakhouses. Plenty of people love to wax poetic about "timeless institutions" dedicated to meat and Mad Men–era nostalgia. I certainly never complained about getting treated to a power lunch during my brief post-college cameo as a paralegal at a DC law firm. But they became a lot less appealing once I had to start footing the bill. On top of the high markup for the beef itself, steakhouses often charge a pretty penny for sides (the only ones I've seen handed out gratis are sides of attitude doled out by stuffy tuxedoed servers) and any sauce you might want for your steak. It's madness! For a fraction of the cost, you can easily make a top-notch steak dinner at home.
Cooking a baller steak is dead simple, and making an accompanying side dish should be as well. With spring finally here, it's prime season for one of the easiest vegetable sides around—pan-seared asparagus. Cooking snappy spears of asparagus takes just a few minutes; it can be done during the time that a steak is resting and in the same pan! What about a sauce, you ask? How about a foolproof miso-spiked béarnaise that pairs perfectly with both vegetables and beef? Sounds pretty good, no? Here's how it's done.
Béarning Down the Steakhouse
Béarnaise is a classic French steak sauce and a derivative of hollandaise. Like its source material, béarnaise is a warm emulsion of butterfat, egg yolks, and a reduction of white wine and vinegar. The addition of shallots and tarragon distinguish béarnaise from its mother sauce. Traditionally, this temperamental emulsion is made by whisking the ingredients together on the stovetop over a double boiler, but a lot can go wrong: The sauce can easily break, the egg yolks can scramble, or you can end up with a thin and soupy sauce instead of a rich and glossy one.
Luckily, Kenji solved this problem when he developed his foolproof béarnaise sauce recipe, which uses a hand blender to quickly build a stable emulsion, rather than a whisk. For this version, I follow his same method, and simply add in a little miso to give the sauce an umami boost. If you don't own one already, check out our immersion blender review for recommendations, or read more about why you might want one for your kitchen.
Start by combining white wine, white wine vinegar, sliced shallot, a couple sprigs of tarragon, and some whole black peppercorns in a small saucepan, and then bring the mixture to a simmer on the stovetop. You'll want to keep reducing it until the liquid has reached a syrupy consistency that coats the bottom of the saucepan.
Next, go ahead and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the aromatics to extract all of the reduction; all told, you should have a tablespoon and a half of liquid. Let the reduction cool slightly so that it doesn't scramble the yolks when they're combined.
While the reduction cools, simply combine two yolks and a tablespoon of white miso in a tall-sided cup that just barely fits the head of an immersion blender. A stick and a half of warm melted butter goes into a separate liquid measuring cup. Meanwhile, preheat a large cast iron pan for the asparagus over high heat on the stovetop.
Add the strained reduction to the yolks and miso, and blend the mixture together until it's mostly smooth. With the immersion blender running, slowly drizzle in the melted butter, occasionally lifting and then lowering the head of the blender to make sure the butter is evenly incorporated into the emulsion. Continue adding the butter in a steady stream until it has all been incorporated.
The sauce shouldn't need much in the way of seasoning, as the miso provides plenty of salinity. Stir in some chopped tarragon and you'll be good to go. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon, but thin enough that it can flow off it. Like hollandaise, béarnaise sauce needs to be kept warm so that it doesn't tighten up into a thick goopy mess. Cover it up and set it aside near your stove while you cook the asparagus.
A Flash in the Pan
I hate wrinkly, soft, droopy, overcooked asparagus. Unfortunately, a lot of people hammer this vegetable into soggy oblivion. There's no need for this to happen, though: Asparagus is really easy to cook. My favorite way starts with a ripping-hot cast iron pan.
Without using any oil, I add as many trimmed asparagus spears to the pan as can comfortably fit in a single layer. Starting the asparagus in a dry pan means less smoke, and in a well-heated cast iron pan, the asparagus chars just fine on its own. Move the spears around occasionally to cook them evenly on all sides. Thin spears will cook in four to six minutes, while thicker stalks may take longer. To test for doneness, you can hold a spear up horizontally—it should still be bright green, and just beginning to sag under its own weight. If it droops, you've cooked it too much.
Right before the spears finish cooking, I add a small amount of vegetable oil to the pan, toss the asparagus in the skillet to lightly coat the spears, and then season them with salt and pepper. The oil helps the salt and pepper adhere to the asparagus, while also lightly blistering the spears at the last second. This lets the asparagus pick up a smoky, grassy finish that complements the umami-rich brightness of the miso béarnaise. Plate up your better-than-a-steakhouse side dish masterpiece, and make it rain béarnaise.