Why It Works
- Blending hot butter into the vinegar and egg yolk mixture instead of whisking it over a double boiler makes for a foolproof and stable emulsion every time.
- Using a tall container that barely fits the head of a hand blender creates a strong vortex that leads to a strong, stable emulsion.
For my money, the very best classic steak sauce you can make at home, a sauce that will wow your guests with its flavor and elegance, and—most importantly—a sauce that can be made start to finish in under half an hour, is béarnaise.
Classic French steak sauces like espagnole or its derivatives, bordelaise or Robert, for instance, require intensely rich, gelatin-packed demi-glace. Those sauces are multi-day affairs that nobody but the most ambitious home cooks will even attempt. Compound butters flavored with herbs and aromatics are a great option for a home-cooked steak, as is a simple pan sauce, but they're lacking in class and panache. That's where béarnaise comes in. It's as classy as sauces come, it requires nothing that you can't find at your average supermarket, and it's quick to make.
Béarnaise is a fat-in-water emulsion—in this case, butter emulsified into a reduction of white wine and vinegar flavored with shallots, tarragon, and chervil, all bound and thickened with egg yolks. It's technically a derivative of hollandaise sauce, one of the five French mother sauces. And just like with hollandaise, the ways to mess it up are plentiful. Traditionally, you'd make béarnaise over a double boiler, slowly drizzling in clarified butter while whisking egg yolks until a thick emulsion is formed. Add the fat too fast and you break your emulsion. Heat it up too much and it turns into scrambled eggs. Don't heat it enough and you'll have a thin, wet sauce instead of a rich, meat-coating sauce.
Fortunately, we can use the exact same technique we use to make foolproof hollandaise and mayonnaise to make a foolproof béarnaise. The key is to completely forgo the double boiler, instead heating up the butter and using its residual heat to cook the egg yolks. By placing the yolks and the wine reduction in the bottom of a tall container that just barely fits the head of a hand blender, we can create a strong vortex that then pulls hot butter down towards the blades of the hand blender, creating a strong, stable emulsion. Check out our foolproof hollandaise video to learn more about the science behind this technique.
Stir in some chopped tarragon and chervil (I sometimes also add a few tablespoons of minced chives), and you're ready to serve. Steak never had it so good.
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 sprigs chervil, leaves finely minced, stems reserved separately (optional; if not using add an extra sprig of tarragon)
3 sprigs tarragon, leaves finely minced, stems reserved separately
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Combine wine, vinegar, herb stems, shallots, and black peppercorns in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until reduced to about 1 1/2 tablespoons of liquid, about 15 minutes. Carefully strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl, pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.
Combine wine reduction, egg yolk, and a pinch of salt in the bottom of a cup that barely fits the head of an immersion blender. Melt butter in a small saucepan over high heat, swirling constantly, until foaming subsides. Transfer butter to a 1-cup liquid measuring cup.
Place head of immersion blender into the bottom of the cup with the wine reduction and turn it on. With the blender constantly running, slowly pour hot butter into cup. It should emulsify with the egg yolk and wine reduction. Continue pouring until all butter is added. Sauce should be thick and creamy (see note). Season to taste with salt. Whisk in chopped tarragon and chervil, if using. Serve immediately, or transfer to a small lidded pot and keep in a warm place for up to 1 hour before serving. Béarnaise cannot be cooled and reheated.
Immersion blender, tall container that fits blender head, small saucepan, fine mesh strainer, small lidded pot (optional)
If your béarnaise is thin and runny, transfer to a large bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly and vigorously until sauce is thickened.