How To Hack Béarnaise, A Mother Of A French Sauce

Jul 12, 2015
Originally published on July 18, 2015 12:41 pm

This summer, NPR is getting crafty in the kitchen. As part of Weekend Edition's Do Try This At Home series, chefs are sharing their cleverest hacks and tips — taking expensive, exhausting or intimidating recipes and tweaking them to work in any home kitchen.

This week: A stress-free way to make a classic — and unruly — French sauce that's a variation of hollandaise.

The Chef:

Frederik de Pue was born and raised in Belgium and trained in French cooking with some of Europe's finest chefs. When he moved to Washington, D.C., he worked as executive chef to the Ambassador for the European Commission Delegation.

These days, he owns and runs a catering business. (Full disclosure: He's been catering wedding anniversary dinners for Nina Totenberg and her husband David Reines for the last 14 years.)

As a personal chef and caterer, he says he has had to invent ways to prepare gourmet meals for a lot of people under difficult circumstances. He came up with his hack for an easier — and stable — béarnaise sauce when a bride at an outdoor wedding he catered insisted on the sauce.

"I was in a field and it was 102 degrees outside," says de Pue. "And I needed the béarnaise for 100 people, so I came up with this recipe to make it easier. I've been making it since, and people really think it's actually a real béarnaise."

The Hard Way

Béarnaise is a variation on hollandaise, one of the five "mother" sauces in French haute-cuisine, according to Escoffier Online. It is a traditional sauce for steak. Normally, it involves combining clarified butter with egg yolks and the other ingredients. But it can be hard to keep them stable as the butter and eggs can easily separate.

Traditionally, the sauce is made using a piece of equipment called bain-marie used to heat things gently and gradually to a fixed temperature. And it has to be eaten right away because of the raw egg.

With de Pue's hack, you don't need special equipment. And the sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or longer.

The Hack

This béarnaise involves mayonnaise, so de Pue says you don't need a bain-marie nor do you have to worry about the raw egg and melted butter separating. By using turmeric for coloring, it looks just like the real thing.


6 tablespoons of mayonnaise

1 large shallot, chopped finely

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar



1/2 teaspoon turmeric

4 tablespoons chopped tarragon


1 tablespoons whipped cream

Start off by placing the finely chopped shallot in a small saucepan and add the red wine vinegar. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a low simmer for about 10 minutes. The shallots needs to become transparent and must have absorbed all the vinegar. Put aside and allow it to cool to room temperature.

In bowl, add mayonnaise, a pinch of salt, white pepper, turmeric and tarragon. Mix well and little by little add the shallot mix; this is where you decide if you like it more acidic or not. Add a little drops of warm water to give the sauce a smooth finish. Once seasoned, add the whipped heavy cream to the sauce and carefully fold the cream with wooden spoon.

The Plate

Béarnaise is classically served with steak with French fries, or steak frite. Since it's tart, it can also accompany chicken or fish.

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And now for our summer cooking series Do Try This At Home. The person we turn to today is our own Nina Totenberg. She turned to a beloved caterer to teach listeners how to do with food what she does with words - make it simple. In this case, it is the famous staple of French cooking, steak with bearnaise sauce.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Truth be told, the real chef in my household is my husband David, a trauma surgeon and magnificent cook. The other chef in my life is a professional, Belgian Frederik de Pue, who owns 42 degree catering. He holds a special place in both our hearts. You see, David and I were both widowed when we were married in 2000, and Frederik has been cooking the anniversary dinners at our house ever since, for our closest friends, most of whom were in our wedding. On this occasion, we are at Frederik's house in Bethesda.

It's been a long day, and I'm very hungry (laughter).

The steak is already out of the fridge warming to room temperature so that the meat will cook evenly. The other big tip is to rest the meat for about five minutes once it's cooked to preserve the juices inside. Rest it away from the grill flame with the grill top closed or cover it with foil. So now for the classic bearnaise. Sounds easy, but it's not. Just listen to Frederik pulling his hair out over the sauce and its potential disasters even for the best chefs.

FREDERIK DE PUE: A lot of people are kind of afraid - did I beat my egg yolks enough - that if you don't beat them enough and you add your butter, it will separate and your sauce goes to the trash.

TOTENBERG: So imagine Frederik's dread when he catered a wedding in a country field and the bride insisted on bearnaise sauce.

DE PUE: I was in a field, and it was 102 degrees outside.


DE PUE: And I needed bearnaise for 100 people. So it's either that - beating for a half an hour bearnaise for 100 people and having the risk to not know how it would end up on the plate, I came up with this recipe to kind of make it easier. And I've been making it since, and people really think it's actually a real bearnaise.

TOTENBERG: The cheat he came up with was to omit the ingredients that cause risk and preserve the other essentials. Translation - he eliminates the eggs and butter and uses a secret ingredient instead. I know. I know. It sounds like it can't possibly work. But take my word for it, and the French waiter he fooled, it does work. There are just a few ingredients - shallots cooked in red wine vinegar, whipped cream, two herbs and - wait for it - mayonnaise. So start with thinly chopped shallots and put them in a sauce span.

DE PUE: You add the red wine vinegar to just on top of it.

TOTENBERG: Simmer for five to 10 minutes until the shallots are translucent. And now, when you would normally be sweating the eggs and butter routine, you open a jar of mayonnaise instead. For four people, Frederik plops in six tablespoons of Mayo. And then you add the shallots and about a teaspoon of water.

DE PUE: It's very important because the liquid will dilute a little bit your mayonnaise on its own as well.

TOTENBERG: Just start with a spoonful, and if that's not enough, add a tiny bit more because you can add it, but you can't subtract it. Now comes the ultimate cheat - the color in the form of ground turmeric.

DE PUE: So as you can see, we're going to add more turmeric because you're really looking for that yellow.

TOTENBERG: There's the eggs (laughter).

And, of course, the other main ingredient is tarragon, plus a teeny tiny bit of salt and white pepper. Finally, you need to whip up a small portion of heavy unsweetened cream. You'll need only one or two tablespoons.

DE PUE: And then we're just going to fold this very slowly in. It's going to lighten it up a little bit.

TOTENBERG: OK. So we're supposed to taste it? (Laughter).

DE PUE: Yes.

TOTENBERG: Come here, Dr. David - Dr. David is my husband folks.

DE PUE: Back of the spoon or fork if you like.

DR. DAVID REINES: Yeah, or my finger.

TOTENBERG: You just dropped on the floor and on your shoe, David. I don't know how in one taste - they don't call you spilly Daddy for nothing.

DE PUE: So we're going to add a little bit more tarragon.

REINES: A little more tarragon.

TOTENBERG: The cream made a huge difference because before, it tasted a little mayonnaise-y and now it doesn't.

DE PUE: And this is your bearnaise. If you get this in a saucer in a restaurant, you would think it's a real bearnaise.

TOTENBERG: And unlike the real deal, this bearnaise lasts for a week or more in the fridge. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.