A Beautiful Bearnaise

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on July 16, 2011

I was a vegetarian for many years, so it will not surprise you when I say that I’m not much of a meat eater. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good steak, but it’s not something I would indulge in every day…give me a great piece of fish on the other hand, and I am just a wobbly mess of putty in your hands. Whether it’s a lovely piece of salmon, tuna or a now plentiful Maryland Rockfish (also known as striped bass), for me it’s simply heaven on a plate.

When eating seafood, make sure to regularly check the many organizations that provide you with updates on the fishing industry and which items are ok to purchase. Many species are being overfished or are being fished illegally, so make sure to make an informed decision before heading to the market.  Greenpeace, as well as the highly regarded Monterey Bay Aquarium organization provide some great information, so make sure to check them out before you head out. I also came across this great article in the Washington Post newspaper on sustainability in the fishing industry, so make sure to check that out too.

The great thing about seafood is that it does not need too many extras to enhance the beautiful but delicate flavor of the meat. Whether you bake it, poach it, sauté it or even deep fry it, a great piece of fish can always stand on its own with just a squeeze of lemon or lime or a little homemade tartar sauce which will inevitably take your eating experience to the next level.

One of my favorite local products is the now plentiful Maryland Rockfish (also known as striped bass). A few years ago, there was a problem with overfishing and after some imposed regulation, I can happily say that the rockfish populations are back to normal…what a relief, since I just love this slightly oily, but very delicious, flaky fish.

I will usually bake rockfish in the oven when I come across a whole one, but on this occasion I needed a few pre-portioned fillets, so I had my fish monger prepare them for me. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about how I wanted to prepare them, so I ultimately decided on gently poaching them over some thinly sliced lemon pieces and a flavorful white wine, and instead of serving it with a tartar sauce I decided to make a béarnaise. Yes, I know, I know…béarnaise is a sauce that is usually reserved for a great piece of meat, but I will tell you that the inherent tanginess of this beautiful creamy sauce makes it perfect for seafood. It is very similar in procedure to how a Hollandaise sauce is made, but this uses a reduction of white wine and white wine vinegar instead of lemon juice and is a little different in taste because of the added shallots and tarragon, but equally delicious. Once you make the sauce, keep it warm in a covered container until you are ready to serve. Trust me…your guests will never miss the tartar sauce.

Bearnaise Sauce  (makes about 2 ½ cups)

1 cup white wine vinegar (or you can use ½ cup white wine vinegar and ½ cup champagne vinegar)

1 cup white wine

5 shallots, finely diced

5 crushed white peppercorns

3 tablespoons finely diced tarragon (or chervil)


White pepper

2 sticks butter, melted and clarified

6 yolks

½ cup water

First you need to prepare the reduction which will be added to the sauce at the end. To prepare this add the white wine vinegar, white wine, shallots, 2 tablespoons of tarragon and crushed white peppercorns along with a little salt to a medium size pot or skillet and allow this liquid to reduce down to only half a cup of liquid. Once it has reduced make sure to pass this through a fine meshed sieve/strainer and allow the liquid to cool slightly.

Next add the 8 oz of butter (2 sticks) to a small pot and gently melt it separating the butterfat (ghee) from the whey. You will only use the clarified butter and not the whey which will settle to the bottom. Once this has melted set it aside.

Next, add the egg yolks and ½ cup of water to a heavy bottomed skillet and whisk together well on VERY low heat until it begins to thicken. Add a little salt and pepper and begin adding a little of the clarified butter at a time until it has all been incorporated. Make sure to continue whisking or the sauce will curdle or separate. Once all of the clarified butter has been incorporated, add the reserved reduction a little at a time and continue to whisk. The sauce will continue to thicken. Check for salt and pepper and then add the reserved 1 tablespoon of finely chopped tarragon to the finished sauce. Serve warm over a beautiful piece of fish or meat.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Benny Doro July 16, 2011 at 3:20 p

Not only a good recipe but your comments on fish, its taste, ways to eat it without tarter sauce and most importantly knowing where your fish came from is really key. The more people understand how all these elements are important and that cooking fish is not that hard people will be much healthier in the end.

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet July 17, 2011 at 10:58 p

Thanks Benny! Coming from an exceptional Chef like you, I am honored…

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