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Béarnaise Sauce (Sauce Béarnaise)

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Authentic and easy Béarnaise sauce recipe, inspired from its origins where the sauce was invented in Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris in 1837. Read on to discover the difference between a Hollandaise sauce, what it goes with, plus the authentic recipe, its ingredients and history from France.

sauce serving dish filled with a creamy yellow herb sauce surrounded by its ingredients

Homemade Sauce is So Much Better than Buying Industrially Made

How many times have you seen the French classic Béarnaise Sauce on a menu and thought it was too difficult to make? Well, let me show you how easy the recipe is to whip up an authentic version at home. It also tastes 10 times better than the jarred stuff in supermarkets!

So how do you make a bearnaise sauce from scratch? Use quality ingredients. By that I mean fresh, organic eggs and only fresh herbs – not freeze dried or dried in any way. The taste will not be at all the same.

holding a whisk in front of a large hotel gate inscribed with the words birthplace of Louis XIV in French

Where Does Béarnaise Sauce Come From?

Why the name, Béarnaise? It didn’t come from the French Province of Béarn. Likewise, it has nothing to do with the French Béarnaise cows from the Pyrénées.

Instead, the sauce was born at Le Pavillon Henri IV, a hotel in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, just outside Paris, which was built over the original spot of the Château Neuf, where Louis XIV was also born in 1638.

For more history on this part, see my introduction to Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

In August 1837, for the inauguration of the Paris-St-Lazare to Le Pecq’s steam train line, the Pavilion Henri IV was given the opening banquet. Head Chef Jean-Louis Françoise-Collinet was making a shallot reduction. As it went wrong, to correct it he added butter to make an emulsion. In the end, he took the basic recipe for Sauce Hollandaise, replaced the lemon juice with white wine vinegar, shallots, chervil and tarragon and the Sauce Béarnaise was born.

Why is it Called Béarnaise?

Why did chef Collinet call it Béarnaise? The local story (from our tourist information guides) goes that he was first inspired by the name of the hotel, Henri IV. The hotel was King Henri IV’s previous home at the Château Neuf long before it was a restaurant.

So, when he was asked by the clients what the sauce’s name was, the Chef immediately took inspiration from the hotel’s bust statue of Henri IV in the restaurant. As Henri IV came from the province of Béarn and known as Le Grand Béarnais, the chef named the sauce after him. Except la sauce is feminine, changing it to an ‘e’ on the end!

The chef also accidentally invented the soufflée potato (pommes soufflées) and served both of his creations at the opening. What a way to kick off a culinary event!

fresh tarragon, chervil, shallots, eggs, pepper, wine and vinegar laid out in front of a sauce boat

What is the Difference Between Béarnaise and Hollandaise Sauce?

In the 1800s, Chef Antonin Carême taught us that in French cuisine, there were four basic sauces – each called a “Mother Sauce”.

Later, Auguste Escoffier took Câreme’s rules of Haute Cuisine a step further by adding a basic fifth sauce. This fifth mother sauce, called Hollandaise was classed by Escoffier, even although it was created around the time of Louis XIV during the French war with Holland. So what is Hollandaise?

  • Hollandaise sauce is a warmed emulsion of egg yolks, white vinegar, lemon juice, plus melted butter;
  • Later, its most famous offspring, the Béarnaise sauce was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, just west of Paris.
    It’s known as a ‘child’ of the mother hollandaise sauce as it takes the sauce as a base.Like mother Hollandaise, child Béarnaise is also a warmed emulsion of egg yolks, white vinegar and melted butter – but instead of lemon juice, has added shallots and fresh aromatic herbs of tarragon and chervil.

What It Doesn’t Contain

Many recipes mistakingly add mustard or spices (some even add Tabasco!) or herbs such as oregano. Please don’t add any of them! Not only do they not belong in the ingredients, they change the flavour completely.

It’s important to enjoy the taste of the fresh herbs and keep to the classic French Béarnaise sauce. So an authentic Béarnaise does not contain lemon juice, cayenne pepper or Tabasco.

However, replace the tarragon with mint and you have a Sauce Paloise.

What does Béarnaise Sauce Taste Like?

It has the same creaminess as the basic hollandaise but a subtle acidity from the vinegar. Béarnaise sauce’s flavours are much richer and more pronounced than a classic mayonnaise or the Hollandaise. This is from the fragrant addition of three ingredients:

  • shallots
  • fresh tarragon and
  • chervil

The tarragon in particular lends a sweetness and aniseed or liquorice taste to the sauce. It’s the tarragon and white wine vinegar that makes that fragrantly addictive acidity that we associate with the star of sauces with steaks.

dipping a forked potato into a bowl of creamy, herby sauce on a plate of perfectly cooked salmon and potatoes

What Does Béarnaise Sauce Go With?

Traditionally in French cuisine, Béarnaise Sauce is best enjoyed served with meats and fish. It goes well with salmon, chargrilled steaks, chicken – even asparagus. Quite simply, it’s also sheer luxury spooned on split, baked potatoes or chips (French fries).

Moreover, if you love Eggs Benedict, you’ll know that poached eggs marry well with Hollandaise sauce – but try it with smoked salmon instead of ham and Béarnaise sauce is divine, with its added fresh herbs. It’s a classic with an extra classic twist!

adding chopped fresh herb leaves while whisking a sauce

Béarnaise Sauce – Authentic Historical Ingredients

The hotel’s executive chef, Patrick Käppler, has posted the Béarnaise Sauce recipe in French, published by the Hotel Pavillon Henri IV, without the actual quantities.

As you can see, to continue the sauce’s tradition, the chef primarily makes it with the classic tarragon (estragon) herb  – but also adds chervil (cerfeuil) and a little parsley (persil) added at the end of cooking.

Following my challenge from L’Office de Tourisme in les Yvelines, this Béarnaise Sauce recipe was also cited by the novelist, Alexandre Dumas (père).  Famous for his Three Muskateers and The Count of Monte Cristo, as a serious gourmet and cook, he published his Grand Culinary Dictionary at the end of his life.

Dumas cites ‘using a good vinegar from Orléans‘, uses oil instead of butter and parsley or tarragon:

Sauce échalote à la béarnaise.
Mettez dans une petite casserole deux cuillerées à bouche d’échalote hachée et quatre cuillerées de bon vinaigre d’Orléans ; la poser sur le feu et cuire les échalotes jusqu’à ce que le vinaigre soit réduit de moitié ; retirez alors la casserole, et quand l’appareil est à peu près refroidi, mêlez-lui quatorze jaunes d’oeufs, broyez-les à la cuiller et joignez-leur quatre cuillerées à bouche de bonne huile. Posez alors la casserole sur un feu doux ; liez la sauce en la tournant, retirez-la aussitôt qu’elle est à point, et lui incorporez encore un demi-verre d’huile, mais en l’alternant avec le jus d’un citron ; finir la sauce avec un peu d’estragon ou de persil haché et un peu de glace de viande.

Alexandre Dumas: Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine (1873), under “Sauce”.

How to Make Béarnaise Sauce – Easy, Authentic Method

  • First, in a little bit of unsalted butter in a saucepan, sauté the finely chopped shallots until translucent.
  • Then add the white wine vinegar, white wine, tarragon stalks (not the leaves) and crushed pepper. Heat on medium until it boils, reduce the heat and leave to reduce for about 5 minutes until there’s about 2-3 tablespoons.
  • Filter the liquid using a sieve into a bowl then return to the saucepan.

sieving out shallots and herbs for a liquid reduction

Easiest Way to Clarify Butter

Meanwhile, prepare the clarified butter. I don’t bother filtering it or any fancy methods. Here’s how:

  • Melt gently in a saucepan over low heat until the creamy milky proteins rest at the bottom of the pan. Carefully pour the top golden butter into a glass, leaving the milky protein part behind. Set aside.
  • If there is still a little creaminess in the glass, as you pour the liquid golden butter very slowly into the sauce later, in order to leave the creamy part at the bottom of the glass.

3 steps in heating butter to separate or clarify it

  • Over a low heat, add the yolks and whisk constantly until mousse-like and it thickens slightly. The pan should not get too hot (able to touch the pan with bare hand) as the yolks should not be cooked/curdled. Take off the heat.
  • Incorporate the warm, clarified butter and continue to whisk until thickened.
  • Add the chopped fresh tarragon, chervil and parsley leaves at the end.  Season with salt to your taste.
stirring creamy sauce with chopped herbs in a saucepan

Reheating béarnaise sauce simply by stirring over a very low heat in a saucepan

How to Reheat Béarnaise Sauce

Béarnaise sauce is best when made as close as possible to serving.  Ideally I’m not a chef serving this in a restaurant so I don’t have these kind of worries at home but I hear the best way to keep Béarnaise sauce without it splitting is by keeping it in a thermos.

Many chefs make this straight in the pan (just like Dumas describes above) and also reheat it directly in the pan. If you are afraid of making the sauce split (this doesn’t happen if you follow the recipe to the letter), then reheat the sauce over a double boiler (whisk in a bowl over simmering water).

I conclude that, after trying both ways, it’s so much easier to reheat directly in the saucepan – as long as it’s over a very low heat.

Troubleshooting tip: if the sauce gets too hot and starts to split, add a little warm water. Frankly, I’ve not had problems with the latter, as the recipe is so easy and as long as it’s served reasonably quickly, the results are light and fluffy.

Once cooled, the sauce can keep in the fridge for 24 hours.

taking a spoon of creamy sauce from a dish, surrounded by herbs, eggs, salt, wine, whisk and pepper

The simple Béarn-aise-sauce-ities of life
They’ll come to you … (I’m proud of that pun! Sing it with me)

Video upcoming soon from Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
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sauce serving dish filled with a creamy yellow herb sauce surrounded by its ingredients
5 from 1 vote

Béarnaise Sauce

Author: Jill Colonna
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course : Condiments
Cuisine : French
Keyword : Bearnaise, Hollandaise, French sauces, Bearnaise history, Parisian cuisine, French cuisine
Servings : 6
Calories : 280kcal

Description

Authentic recipe for the classic French Sauce Béarnaise, with added herbs to the classic ingredients of its mother sauce, the Hollandaise. Created in the 1830s near Paris, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Perfect accompaniment for steaks, salmon, chicken, potatoes or asparagus.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 small shallots chopped finely
  • 50 ml (2floz/ ¼ cup) white wine vinegar
  • 100 ml (3.5floz/ 2/5 cup) white wine
  • 3 branches fresh tarragon stalks separated from leaves (chopped)
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns crushed
  • 3 egg yolks organic
  • 125 g (4.5oz/ ½ cup) unsalted butter clarified (gently melted and separated from milk proteins)
  • pinch fleur de sel salt (or Maldon, Celtic sea salt)
  • 1 tbsp fresh chervil finely chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh parsley (flat-leaf) optional

Instructions

  • Sauté the chopped shallots in a little butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. When translucent, add the white wine vinegar, white wine, tarragon stalks (not the leaves) and crushed pepper to a boil in a small saucepan. As soon as it boils, reduce the heat and leave to reduce for about 10 minutes until there's about 2-3 tablespoons.
    Filter the liquid using a sieve into a bowl then return to the saucepan.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the clarified butter. Melt gently in a saucepan over low heat until the creamy milky proteins rest at the bottom of the pan. Carefully pour the top golden butter into a glass, leaving the milky part behind. Set aside.
  • Over a low heat, add the yolks and whisk constantly until mousse-like and it thickens slightly. The pan should not get too hot (able to touch the pan with bare hand) as eggs should not be cooked. Take off the heat.
  • Continuing to whisk, incorporate the warm, clarified butter until thickened.
    Add the chopped tarragon, chervil and parsley at the end.  Season with salt to taste.

Notes

How to Serve: ideally, this sauce should be made as close as possible to serving.
If planning on making this much later in the day, prepare the sauce reduction in advance and only the rest of the ingredients.
Keep at room temperature (off the heat) and when ready to serve, reheat by whisking in the pan over a very gentle heat.
Measures: Please note that all my recipes are best made using digital kitchen scales in precise metric grams. Both ounces (and cups) are given as an approximate guide. 

This recipe was first published 3 June 2019 but is now completely updated.

More About the Sauce’s Birthplace

From the market

From the kitchen

18 responses to “Béarnaise Sauce (Sauce Béarnaise)”

  1. 5 stars
    This sauce is so good… and loved it with the potatoes. The pictures are making my mouth water.

  2. 5 stars
    So interesting! Love the history behind all of the sauces, but especially Béarnaise! I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted it, and know I’ve never made it, but sounds like my cup of tea! Will have to try it to check it off my culinary bucket list!

    • Well, I do believe we have the same sauce boat, plates and cups of tea to serve it in, too! Can’t believe you’ve not tried it yet. Ever since I made this, I’m thinking of more things to serve it with!

  3. 5 stars
    Mmmm béarnaise with asparagus – Heaven on a plate! It’s been far too long since I made this… my tummy is telling me I now need to remedy that!

    • Thanks, Sisley. Once you’ve tasted it fresh like this, there’s no return!

  4. YUM Maybe next cookbook will be a historic Saint-Germain-en-Laye book?
    Gorgeously detailed.

    • What a lovely idea, Carol. I’d only do it if you painted the endpapers, like you did so beautifully in my last book!

  5. 5 stars
    Great to know the origin of Bearnaise Sauce. For years and years to me it’s just been a name for a sauce in a restaurant. Well worth trying when next we have steak. Also great to know that it freezes well.

    • I do hope you try it, Thomasina. You’ll discover that this is so quick to whip up and so worth it on your next steaks!

  6. Thank you for sharing this, Jill. The sauces like this are the classics for very good reasons, not the least of which is how many foods they make just that much better! For those who have not made it because it feels to fussy to them or easy to get wrong, you have very helpfully broken down some of that mystique. Excellent! How fun to know that something so classic was created where you are!

    • Thanks, Betty. I honestly thought this was a difficult sauce to make a few years ago until I finally tried it. It’s ridiculously easy – and so blooming good! Glad you joined in my little saucy walkabout. Have a delicious weekend.

  7. 5 stars
    As I’m not a steak eater, I didn’t really have much idea about Bearnaise sauce. But now you’ve suggested asparagus and egg as accompaniments I’m all ears. It sounds delicious too. As it happens, I’ve just planted some tarragon and chervil and our parsley is growing well – all I need is time for it to grow. I adore tarragon, but it’s virtually impossible to buy here. Lovely informative post too.

    • That’s great that you’ve planted tarragon and chervil – great timing!
      Forgot to mention that Béarnaise sauce is also yum with potatoes.

  8. 5 stars
    What fascinating stuff! I love Bearnaise sauce especially on a good T-bone steak. Had no idea of the history behind it. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • It’s a pleasure to share the story, Jenny, especially as we can see the hotel from our home down in the Seine valley below. I have been meaning to post this for so long! Enjoy it with your next steak.

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