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What is Bernaise Sauce?

By J. Beam
Updated May 16, 2024
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Bernaise sauce is an emulsion of clarified butter and egg yolk with the distinct flavoring of tarragon, shallots, and chervil. Called Sauce Béarnaise in French for the region in which it originated, the name is accurately spelled Bearnaise; however, it is frequently spelled Bernaise, leading to the mistaken assumption that it was named for the city of Bern in Switzerland. This sauce is best served with meat, poultry, or vegetables. Though several variations of recipes exist, it is a difficult sauce to perfect because it requires special attention to avoid separation and curdling. When prepared properly, it is smooth and creamy.

Varying recipes are easily found in cookbooks and online recipe forums and food sites, but the consistent ingredients include egg, butter, white wine vinegar, tarragon, shallots, and chervil. Tarragon is an herb and shallots are a variety of onion. Several recipes call for chervil, also an herb, and the beginning steps of the recipe usually require adding the three seasonings to white wine vinegar and cooking it into a glaze base. Some variations call for champagne, and many recipes consistently include cayenne pepper as well.

Cuisine experts say that the careful monitoring of heat is the biggest difficulty in the preparation of Bernaise sauce, as too high heat will cause the egg yolk to curdle and too low heat will not properly thicken the sauce. Similarly, adding the butter too quickly can cause the emulsion to separate and ruin the sauce. For the bold chef, the rewards of perfecting this sauce are best served over filet mignon, London broil, or other red meat. It also goes well with other meats, and certain vegetables can be enhanced by its flavor. Unlike Hollandaise, which is best reserved for eggs Benedict, Bernaise isn’t a great choice for egg dishes.

For the less bold who find perfecting anything in the kitchen difficult, there are pre-prepared Bernaise sauce mixes sold in grocery stores. Usually, only butter and egg yolk are added, but the cooking directions must be followed to avoid the same curdling and separation pitfalls mentioned above. Cooks can try this sauce as a different flavoring for their next dinner party or special dinner at home with a meat and side of asparagus or roasted potatoes, especially seasoned with garlic.

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Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Jan 20, 2013

Is there something called tarragon vinegar? I bought a jar of Bernaise sauce from a deli and it lists tarragon vinegar as an ingredient.

By burcidi — On Jan 19, 2013

The recipe I have for Bernaise sauce calls for white wine, and I think this version is much better. This is a really heavy sauce thanks to the butter and eggs and I think the wine and vinegar help to lighten it up a bit.

Even though this is usually a steak sauce, my favorite way to eat Bernaise sauce is on top of Eggs Benedict. Eggs with Bernaise sauce, bacon and and home fries make the perfect breakfast. But beware because eating Bernaise sauce regularly will raise cholesterol! I'm speaking from experience!

By turquoise — On Jan 19, 2013

@olittlewood-- I think it's just the shallots. As far as I know, Hollandaise doesn't have any.

I've only had these sauces at restaurants so I have no idea how they would be made at home. I'm no food expert, so Bernaise or Hollandaise seems like just a fancier version of mayonnaise to me. I don't want to upset anyone with this description. I really don't know anything about sauces!

If anyone has a quick, easy Bernaise sauce recipe though, I would give it a try.

By anon35540 — On Jul 06, 2009

What is the classification of Bearnaise sauce?

By kluehrs — On May 11, 2009

Which goes better with stuffed pork chops, Bernaise or Hollandise? Or is it tasters choice??

By anon6731 — On Jan 07, 2008

Both are similar; Hollandaise uses lemon juice rather than vinegar to provide the acid, and omits the tarragon, shallots, and chervil.

Now, these sauces are oil-in-water emulsions (in other words, the sauce is a water-based sauce in which droplets of oil are dispersed). To cook either one, you generally want a double boiler in order to keep the heat low and even. It's not impossible to do it in a saucepan, but it's not easy, either. If you choose the latter method, then make sure you use a recipe that has you cook the sauce down after adding butter -- otherwise, you're likely to coagulate the yolk before you get started.

In normal environments, the proteins in the yolk will begin to coagulate at 160 deg F. if you lower the pH to around 4.5 (a role that can be played by the acids in the lemon juice or vinegar in the sauces), coagulation begins at a higher temperature, around 195 deg F. If you're not worried about salmonella, you can dispose entirely with cooking the yolks, and simply heat them and the flavorings slightly before whisking in enough clarified butter to create the desired consistency.

If you just want a quick and dirty version of these sauces, you can always use another egg yolk emulsion, mayonnaise, as your base. Just gently warm mayonnaise with vinegar or lemon juice (plus any spices, such as mustard or tarragon) and you'll be ready to whip up Eggs Benedict on a moment's notice.

By olittlewood — On Dec 28, 2007

what is the difference between Hollandaise and Bernaise sauce? which one is easier for an amateur to try to cook? what are some good dishes that feature bernaise sauce?

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