Bearnaise Sauce for Grilling Season – Why? Why Not!

Bearnaise sauceGrilling season is here! Over the holiday weekend Cheryl and I bought a new grill and it was delivered just in time for use on Memorial Day. Nothing too fancy, some steak and asparagus. I wanted to do something different for the asparagus and had decided to make some hollandaise sauce when a thought popped into my head. Since we’re having steak, why not simply add some tarragon and transform the hollandaise into the steakhouse classic béarnaise sauce? Oh yeah.

I know, sounds like too much work and effort. When you think of grilled beef you normally gravitate to lighter accompaniments like rubs, marinades, and chimichurri (which we are fans of). And I will concede this is NOT the sauce you want to be serving during the intense heat of late July and August but for late spring or early fall a béarnaise works. There’s a reason steakhouses offer up béarnaise with your steak…it’s damn good. Not only that but you can also use the béarnaise on your grilled vegetables or top a green salad with some. It’s very versatile. And you’ll impress the hell out of your guests.

Be forewarned though, béarnaise sauce is not a quick-let’s-just-throw-something-together sauce. There are a lot of moving parts, and I think this causes some trepidation for the home cook. You’ve got to melt the butter, simmer some water to set another pot on so you don’t cook the eggs, and make a reduction all before he critical steps of combining the yolks and butter. Béarnaise (and hollandaise) is a dish where Cheryl will come into the kitchen, take a look at what I’m up to, and say something like ‘you used how many pots and pans for that little cup of sauce?’ That said, there are three very important words which help out immensely: mise en place.

Your prep is the key to making béarnaise. As long as your items are lined up and ready, whipping up (pun intended) the sauce will take about 5 minutes. Sometimes you can get away with doing things on the fly in your kitchen, this is not one of those times. Trust me on this. And remember, proper preparation prevents poor performance!

The béarnaise turned out great, very lemony and herbal, and yes it was perfect with the steak and asparagus. I would recommend making the béarnaise before grilling your steak. This way it will be out of the way and you can focus on grilling, then having a beer while letting the meat rest. The sauce can be left alone for this short amount of time, just cover it and leave on the counter. You don’t need it piping hot, warm is just fine for this time of year.

Bearnaise Sauce (makes about 1 ½ C, adapted from Ruhlman’s ‘Twenty’)

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 10 cracked, peppercorns (green or black)
  • ¼ C white vinegar
  • ¼ C water
  • 2 sticks of butter (8 oz), melted
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbs lemon juice
  • ½-1 Tbs Tarragon
  • Cayenne

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. When butter is melted shut off burner and pour melted butter into

Fill a large sauce pan about ¾ of the way with water. Bring to a simmer.

While you’re bringing the water to simmer, in a small(er) saucepan combine the shallots, peppercorns and vinegar. Heat and reduce until the vinegar has almost all evaporated.

Add the water and bring back a simmer. Strain the shallots and peppercorns out of the water. Put the water back into the pan. Add the egg yolks to the pan.

Place the smaller saucepan over the larger one with the simmering water so the bottom touches the water.

Vigorously whisk the yolks until they become frothy, 1-2 minutes. Whisk in 1 Tbs of lemon juice.

Pull the saucepan away from the simmering water and set on your counter.

Slowly, just a few drops at first then in a very slow stream, whisk in the butter. If you add the butter too fast your sauce will break. What’s that look like? You’ll know when you see it. Have a cup of ice water handy and add some if this happens. Then continue adding the melted butter, but slower!

When you’ve whisked in all of the butter stir in the fresh tarragon. Taste. Add the remaining Tbs of lemon juice if you want more lemon flavor, season with salt to taste.

Drizzle over the steak and vegetables.



  1. chef mimi says:

    Beautiful. I’ve actually never made this sauce and I need to! It makes total sense to pair this creamy sauce with grilled steak. Thanks for inspiration once again!

    1. You’re welcome! It’s pretty easy, and delicious!

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