Sauces Mères, Hollandaise & Bearnaise

August 16, 2009

Experience, which plays such an important part in culinary work, is nowhere so necessary as in the preparation of sauce for not only must the latter flatter the palate, but they must also vary in savor, consistency and viscosity, in accordance with the dishes they accompany.
~Auguste Escoffier

It is about time to hop on the Julie & Julia bandwagon. Whatever your take on Julie Powell or your perspective on the film, it is a staunch reminder that Julia Child should be accorded the respect and homage she deserves as a revered grande dame of home cuisine. She profoundly changed the fabric of the American kitchen and introduced us to the utter grace and simplicity of French cooking. It seems only fitting to offer a post on sauces mères which includes two of her most adored, Hollandaise and Bernaise.

(One of life’s small, but nagging, regrets: one Monday several years ago, I was reading the Santa Barbara News Press and learned that the day before Julia and Jacques Pépin attended a gathering at the art museum which was appeared to be open to the public. I was staying just down the street, and somehow the event had eluded my radar. Damn.)

A mother sauce or sauce grande serves as a base sauce to use in making other variations on the original theme. There are five classic sauces mères from which all other major sauces derive:

Espagnole or Brown sauce (demi-glace) is brown stock-based, and includes sauces such as Bordelaise, Chasseur, Chateaubriand.

Velouté sauce is based on white stock and roux, and includes sauces such as Allemande, Ravigote, Suprème, and White Bordelaise.

Béchamel sauce is made with milk and pale roux, and includes sauces such as Crème, Mornay and Soubise.

Tomat or red sauce is tomato based, and includes sauces such as Marinara.

Hollandaise sauce is emulsified, and includes sauces such as Mayonnaise and Bearnaise.

Sauce is a French term which descends from the Latin word salsus, meaning “salted.” In ancient Rome, sauces were used to disguise flavors—possibly to conceal doubtful freshness. A defining characteristic of classic cuisine, French sauces date back to the Middle Ages.

Originally four in number, the basic mother sauces were initially classified in the 19th century by the father of French “grande cuisine,” Antonin Carême: Sauce Tomat, Béchamel, Velouté, and Espagnole. Then in the 20th century, master chef Auguste Escoffier added the fifth and final mother sauce, Hollandaise, with its derivatives covering almost all forms of classical emulsion sauces including Mayonnaise (see Mayonaisse, 03.03.09).

Warmed egg yolks with the tang of lemon juice whisked with butter to make a thick, yellow cream. The classic sauce that dresses eggs Benedict, tangy and velvety Hollandaise is equally delectable spooned over asparagus, brussels sprouts, green beans, potatoes, poultry or even with sandwiches. Bearnaise, with its characteristic piquant flavors of wine vinegar and tarragon, pairs well with steak, flatfish, shellfish, artichokes, and poached eggs too.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE

10 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces, melted and clarified

3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
2 T unsalted butter, chilled, divided equally and cut into small pieces

Sea salt and white pepper

Clarify the butter. Place butter pieces into a saucepan over moderate heat. When the butter has melted, skim off the foam and strain the clear yellowish liquid into a bowl, leaving the milky residue in the bottom of the pan. (The residue can be used for soups or sauces later.)

In a heavy saucepan, vigorously whisk egg yolks for a minute or so until they are slightly thickened and pale yellow. Beat the lemon juice and salt into the eggs and then add 1 tablespoon of the chilled butter and pinch of salt.

Place the pan over low heat or simmering water and whisk further until the egg mixture becomes smooth, creamy, and even thicker. This should take 1-2 minutes and you should see the bottom of the pan between strokes. Promptly remove from heat and beat in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter which should cause the eggs to cease cooking.

Slowly dribble in the melted butter, rapidly beating in each addition before you add the next. Make sure you scrape the mixture from the sides and bottom of the pan. When the sauce is as thick as heavy cream, you may beat in the butter in larger driblets. It takes about 5 minutes to create the final emulsion.

Serve at once or keep the sauce warm by setting it over a pan of lukewarm water. Take care, because if kept too warm, the sauce will turn—the egg yolks will begin to curdle and the butter will separate.

Pourboire: Should the sauce turn or fail to thicken, spoon out a tablespoon or so into a mixing bowl. Whisk with a tablespoon of lemon juice until it thickens, then gradually whisk in small spoonfuls of sauce, allowing the mixture to cream and thicken before adding the next.

BEARNAISE SAUCE

1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C dry white wine
1 T minced shallots
1 t dried tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 large egg yolks
8-10 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

In a small saucepan combine wine vinegar, wine, shallots, and dried tarragon and simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Cool and strain through a fine sieve.

In an ovenproof bowl whisk the egg yolks until they become thick and sticky. Whisk in the reduced vinegar mixture, salt and pepper. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisk until mixture is warm, about 2 minutes. The yolk mixture should be thickened enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes.

While whisking the yolk mixture gradually pour in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time whisking thoroughly to incorporate before adding more butter. As the mixture begins to thicken and become creamy, the butter can be added more rapidly.

Season to taste with chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. To keep the sauce warm, set the bowl over lukewarm water.

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2 Responses to “Sauces Mères, Hollandaise & Bearnaise”

  1. Amber Says:

    Great post. Love the historical references also. If you haven’t read it you might want to look into picking up “Cooking for Kings”, a book on Antonin Carême. I thought it was fantastic.

    And… here is a handy tip if your Hollandaise breaks, add a little bit of water, it usually breaks because it’s been kept warm and it dehydrates. Just add a teaspoon of water and whisk. You might need a bit more depending on your batch size.

    Cheers,
    Amber

  2. alaycook Says:

    Thank you for your praise, and I will search for the book about Carême.

    Perhaps your tip about water to broken Hollandaise should be added to the body of the post—if I have your leave. It may save a distressed cook from kitchen angst.


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