I haven’t been doing much interesting cooking, I’m afraid. I have, however, done a couple things that might be of interest.
Not too long ago, I made supper for myself and a priest friend, pan-fried steaks, sautéed mushrooms, and sauce Béarnaise from scratch was to be the highlight with a sturdy Côte-du-Rhone.
He stood me up, as it turns out, but I made the Bearnaise sauce anyway.
If you are interested in these things, try Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If you don’t have her two volume set in your kitchen… well… what on earth’s wrong with you, anyway?
It was a little hard to snap pics of the process, since a lot of it requires both hands, especially the beating stage.
First, you should know that sauce Béarnaise is the cousin, perhaps the more Catholic cousin, of sauce Hollandaise. Use high quality ingredients, a top notch unsalted butter (you want to do your own seasoning, after all) and fresh eggs.
I used the microwave for to melt some of the butter. After chopping, really mincing, the shallot – you don’t need much, so for, say, four people you can get just a single, small one – you add it to white wine or wine vinegar or white, dry vermouth. You can use a red vinegar too, for a darker color. I like to do half and half, dry vermouth and vinegar for a more confident flavor. You can also get away with using green onion if you can’t find a shallot. And don’t use white sweet vermouth, for the love of all that’s holy! Use sweet white vermouth, such as Martini Bianco, for your pre-prandial, all by itself on ice with a twist of lemon. Excellent on a hot summer day. You could also use tarragon infused white vinegar, but check your flavor balance before the very last stage. Anyway, reduce your vinegar with the shallots and some chopped tarragon – how do people live without tarragon, I wonder – and a little pepper and a pinch of salt, until you have about 2 tablespoons left. Strain out the stuff and let the reduced liquid cool in the sauce pan you are going to use for the sauce itself.
Separate your egg yolks well and add them to your (cooled) reduction and then start beating them until smooth and they start to thicken. You can also add your reduction to the eggs after they are beaten. Just before they really change consistency, which will happen rather suddenly, you will get a little curl of steam from the mixture. Then you thicken them more over either a pan of boiling water (called bain-marie or double-boiler) or directly over the heat source. I like doing it directly over flame. I bring the pan over the flame briefly and move it away, again and again, as I beat the sauce together, making sure you don’t make scrambled eggs out of it. This saves time, though I had plenty of time, having been stood up by that priest. Right now, since I cook on a hot plate here in the Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue, I have used the boiling water technique, but the next time I make a sauce like this, I’ll try direct heat. My hot plate is one of these induction units (sent from my wishlist by a reader – KA!) that requires direct contact with a pan of high iron content. I could do Add some of the cold butter and keep beating. As the mixture gets smooth and starts to thicken, you could add just a wee bit of cool water. As it thickens more, and started to stick a little to the whisk, you begin to add - bit by bit, mind you - your melted butter as you beat the sauce, watching your texture closely. Make sure that all of the butter is well blended in before adding more.
Tip: Don’t have a wire whisk? Use some chop sticks.
Tip: Clarified butter will make a thicker sauce. Also, I have also done the butter stage by keeping a mass of butter nearby and then picking up a little at a time with the whisk itself. You can use your fingers, too… don’t be ascared to touch food. After all, as Julia would say, “Who’s to know?”
NB: You really do need to add the butter a little at a time. Too much at a time and it won’t thicken and then you have to go into rescue mode. And whisk whisk whisk! When you are satisfied with the wonderful yellow ribbons, add rest of your chopped tarragon and then check the seasoning level, with salt and pepper.
Violà, Bearnaise sauce for the price of a few eggs and a little tarragon, some vinegar and a persistent whisk. It is not hard, really, but you have to pay attention for a few minutes. I was not distracted by my guest, the priest who didn’t show up, so this was a snap.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you could be saying, “We are bored with freshly made Béarnaise sauce. Ho hum. And you hate Vatican II!”
Never fear. There are variations. If you were going to make steaks in a pan, as I was before I was stood up by that priest, you could deglaze your pan and then beat the liquid into the Bearnaise for to make sauce Colbert, which isn’t funny at all. If you would beat in a little tomato paste or, even better, a fresh purée your result is sauce Choron.
RESCUE TIPS: If you blow it with the sauce, and it gets lumpy because you screwed up the heat and beat part, you should be able to rescue a lot of it by pressing it through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and beating it up with a bit more vinegar until it is smooth again. And if that doesn’t resolve it, because it’s far too scrambled and lumpy, then lumpify it more. I don’t remember where I picked this up, but I know it was from Julia Child. It isn’t in the Art of French Cooking but I have it on a sheet of notes tucked into the cover. She suggests to add chopped hard boiled eggs and more herbs and maybe capers and present on the side of the plate as a garnish it as if that were exactly the way you wanted it to be. Don’t lose your cool. Bearnaise and Hollandaise can also curdle instead of thicken. This could happen if you add too much butter at at time during the whisking and beating stage. Resolve that by beating, little by little, some of the curds into more vinegar, until smooth and then, again, adjust the flavor.
Also, if your sauce cools too much before serving, warm it by beating in hot butter or hot water (which I prefer).
Since I was stood up by the priest for supper, I made a few little packs of the sauce to stick into the freezer for other times. I used that great wrap that sticks to just about anything, except to an appointment for supper with a priest, as it turns out. It doesn’t revive perfectly after being frozen, but in a pinch it’ll do for a spread in a sandwich or with many other things. I must try a smear of this in a BLT when the tomatoes come in. Hmmmm.
Speaking of butter, since I had sliced some mushrooms before the priest stood me up for supper, I did them too. Never put to many in a pan at once, if you want them to be a nice golden brown. Mushroom have a lot of water in them. If you pack the pan, they will steam each other. Space them out and be patient. You can make them well ahead of the supper you will have made in vain because you were stood up, by the priest, as I was.
Don’t be ascared to try making sauce Béarnaise. It is easy to use inexpensive ingredients to make additions which raise your meals to a new level, even when you are stood up by a priest. As Julia once said, ”You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”
Today, no sooner did I finish making three-bean salad, for myself and not for the supper spurning priest, but I found this article about multiple uses of vinegar, another material proof that God loves us. HERE