Sauce Béarnaise

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:

    1 quart

Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

The emulsified sauce base that is prepared here is used for all of the sauces that follow; the flavor reduction of herbs, vinegar, white wine, and shallots makes this sauce specifically a sauce béarnaise. Traditional recipes for sauce béarnaise call for chervil in the flavor reduction, but in this recipe it is optional. The flavor of tarragon is so much more assertive that the flavor of the chervil is usually overpowered and lost. While the traditional approach is to prepare the reduction on top of the stove, this causes many aromatic compounds to volatilize and be lost. Consider cooking the infusion, sous vide, for about an hour at 140°F (60°C).


whole butter or clarified butter 21 oz or 2 cups 600 g or 500 ml
liquid lecithin (optional) 6 g
shallots 3 medium 3 medium
fresh tarragon 1 bunch 1 bunch
fresh chervil (optional) ½ bunch ½ bunch
whole black peppercorns 1 tsp 5 ml
white wine ¾ cup 185 ml
tarragon vinegar or white wine vinegar ¾ cup 185 ml
egg yolks 6 6
cold water 6 tbsp 90 ml
salt and white pepper to taste to taste


  1. (This step is optional if you already have clarified butter on hand.) To clarify the butter, melt it in a straight-sided saucepan over medium heat. Check it from time to time to make sure that it does not become too hot and burn. Remove it from the heat and skim off any froth that has floated to the top with a ladle; then carefully remove the clarified butter (the water contained in the butter will be on the bottom) with a ladle. There should be about 2 cups (500 milliliters).
  2. Stir the lecithin, if using, into the butter. Keep the clarified butter warm until needed.
  3. To prepare the flavor reduction, peel and chop the shallots. This should be done as close to the last minute as possible. If the shallots are chopped more than a few hours in advance, they should be kept in a plastic or stainless-steel container and covered with wine vinegar to help keep their flavor intact.
  4. Remove the leaves from the tarragon and the chervil, if using, and reserve. (They will later be chopped and added to the sauce at the end.) Reserve the stems.
  5. Crush the peppercorns by placing them on a cutting board and crushing them with the bottom of a small pot or saucepan.
  6. Combine the white wine, vinegar, herb stems, shallots, and peppercorns in a stainless-steel or stainless steel-lined copper 1-quart (1 liter) straight-sided saucepan. (Avoid aluminum, which turns the yolks gray.) Heat the mixture over a medium flame until it comes to a simmer. Continue simmering the mixture for 15 to 20 minutes, until it is reduced by about two-thirds so that about 3 fluid ounces (90 milliliters) remain. Be careful to prevent the flame from wrapping around the outside of the saucepan, which can cause any of the mixture that has stuck to the sides of the saucepan to brown, giving an off flavor and color to the finished sauce.
  7. Strain the reduction through a fine chinois and reserve until needed. (A)

  8. Combine the egg yolks with the cold water in a 2-quart (2 liter) saucepan with sloping sides. Whisk the mixture until it becomes light and frothy. This usually takes about 30 seconds.
  9. Heat over a medium to high flame, whisking rapidly (see Notes). The mixture will triple in volume. As the sabayon approaches the correct temperature, it will suddenly thicken; you will start to see the bottom of the saucepan while whisking. When the sabayon starts to stiffen, continue whisking as rapidly as possible over the heat for about 5 seconds, to ensure it is completely cooked. (If the sabayon is undercooked, the process tends to reverse itself and the sauce will be runny and may even break.)
  10. Remove the sabayon from the heat and whisk for about 20 seconds to cool it. (Otherwise it may curdle, being overcooked by the residual heat in the saucepan.)
  11. Ladle the clarified butter into the sabayon while gently stirring with the whisk. (B)

    It is not necessary to work the butter into the sabayon drop by drop, because the sabayon is already an emulsion that will readily combine with fat. In fact, the butter should be added fairly rapidly to avoid overworking the sauce, which would force out air.

  12. When all the butter has been added, the sauce will have a very stiff texture. Add the tarragon-vinegar reduction until the sauce has the right flavor and desired consistency. (C)

    If it is too stiff, it can be thinned with water or with the liquid that settles to the bottom of a new batch of clarified butter. Do not thin the sauce until the flavor has been adjusted.

  13. Chop the reserved tarragon leaves and the chervil leaves, if using, and add them to the sauce. (D)

  14. Adjust the sauce’s flavors. It may need salt, white pepper, or additional vinegar. If the sauce is too acidic, it will need to be lengthened with extra fat or liquid. This can be accomplished by adding more butter or by simply thinning the sauce with water or cream. If you do not want to thin the sauce and are afraid of causing it to break by adding more butter, quickly stir in another egg yolk before adding more butter.