Photo by Donna/Video by James

One of the conundrum of grilling meat is that the process of cooking doesn’t start a sauce for you, as a roast chicken does, as pan roasting a pork loin does, as all braises do.

What then to sauce the meat with?  An emulsified butter sauce is the perfect answer.  And there is no better emulsified butter sauce than the Béarnaise.  This French classic was a childhood staple, a symbol for me of plenty, and also of the security my mom and dad gave me.  I wrote about it for Parade Magazine many years ago.

My mom made it the old fashioned way: a reduction of shallot, tarragon, tarragon vinegar, and egg yolks in a double boiler.  She used the recipe from James Beard’s Menus For Entertaining.  (It’s also in his superb American Cookery, one of my favorite cookbooks.) She used dried tarragon (late 1960s, early 70s, we didn’t know what fresh tarragon was). And she whipped it like a madwoman till she got all the butter she could in there. (If the sauce broke, it won; if it didn’t, Mom won.  One Woman.  One Sauce.  My dad and I would watch it like a sporting event.)

While I love that—that’s real cooking—and I love the depth a reduction brings to it, sometimes, especially on a lazy summer evening when you want to keep the kitchen cool, I make a simpler Béarnaise: lemon, shallot, plenty of fresh chopped tarragon, melted butter and a hand blender.  You could also do it in a countertop blender.  Takes all of five minutes.  So, in this season of grilling, I return to this great classic, and urge you to put this, rather than ketchup, on your burger.


James shot this video two days ago: how to make a quick Béarnaise. Real time. I intend to make it this weekend for burgers at Mac’s, my partner in offset spoons, and the source of much laughter. Béarnaise is traditionally as thick as mayonaise, as in the picture.  That’s how I’d make it for a burger.  If you want to make it looser, add a little water.

Easy Bearnaise Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • aggressive pinch of salt
  • pepper (optional)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 6 ounces salted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced tarragon (or more to taste)
  1. Combine the lemon juice, shallot, salt, and pepper in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup or other container with a narrow base.  Let it sit for a few minutes.
  2. Add the egg yolks and give it a buzz with the hand blender (if you’re blade doesn’t reach the yolk, use the whisk attachment).
  3. Melt the butter in a one-cup measuring cup with a spout or some other container that will allow you to pour the butter in a stream. Make sure it’s piping hot.
  4. With the hand blender running, pour the butter into the egg yolks, pumping the blender up and down (or side to side if using whisk) as you do so.  Add half the tarragon and continue to blend.  Stop and fold in the remaining tarragon.

Makes about 1 cup

If you liked this post on a quick béarnaise sauce, check out these other links:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


18 Wonderful responses to “Friday Grilling: Easy Bearnaise Sauce”

  • Amanda

    Gotta tell ya, just the idea of making this makes me feel more refined. Thanks for the simple real time demonstration, I will be attempting to re-create this tonight. (coming from a self professed wretched cook, this is a big deal!)

  • Rhonda


    “symbol of plenty”, “security” — that is what my childhood memories and food mean to me as well, on some level.

    Our mothers were so pretty and glamorous but didn’t know a damn thing about food until they had to, which for me, was somewhere in the 80’s.

    How lucky James is.

    He had me at chocolate chip cookie bowl!

    The video is fantastic. I am interested to see which way James goes. He obviously has his mother’s photographic skills and his fathers cooking skills.

    Go James!

  • allen

    Another fine job Kubrick, uh, er …..James!
    I am having cioppino with our fresh caught halibut and cod, but I’ve got sliced french fries soaking for 24 hrs in water to fry up with some fish and this looks better than the wonderful Martha Stewart tartar sauce that I made which also includes tarragon vineagar.

  • Mike

    when you make bearnaise or hollandaise in a double boiler the egg yolk is heated. In fact one danger is heating it too much and cooking the yolk. I am wondering if this version, with no heating, is not as safe or if the double boiler does not provide much more protection against a contaminated yolk?

    • commiskaze

      The melted butter would gently heat the egg up, however the chances of actually getting a contaminated egg are pretty slim to none, as ive made this in restaurants for many years and never once got anyone sick. The USDA recommends a temptuature of 165 in egg dishes to kill salmonella which is probably way too hot for hollandaise or bernaise, and would cause it to split. If your really nervous (and you ought not to be) you can buy pastuerized eggs. Btw, thanks Ruhlman I make mayo and aioli with a stick blender all the time, never thought of using heated butter for a hot emulsion.

  • betty in munich

    We just grilled steaks last night for dinner. (Argentinian Grass fed Fillet Mignon-rare please) and I too wondered what to do about a sauce. I made pan-seared mushrooms. Next time, will do this sauce!

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    James, I am absolutely amazed at your editing techniques and filming. I think you have found your forte (what you excel at) and am sorry my own kids who are so much older than you can’t take a video of their mom…so lucky dad and remember don’t ever give big discounts on the labor intensive editing : but one once in a while for your old dad is okay….really I enjoyed the movie. Make more…(doesn’t only have to be cooking)

  • Shirley Kuang

    Even I’m not so used to the way to ur grill for I’m new in America, Great to read this through and have more ideas about how to grill! Cuz I love the savvy moment!

  • Mike

    I made this twice now. The first time it didn’t thicken, I think because I dumped the butter in too quickly for the yolk to be able to emulsify the butter (I melted the butter in a small dish). The second time I used a measuring cup like you did in the video so I could control the pour rate better, and it came out wonderful! Thanks for posting this.

  • Derek

    I made this Saturday afternoon to go with steak for lunch. Very nice. The sauce completely made up for the fact that I criminally overcooked my steak.

    I’m wondering if I would get an “easy Hollandaise” if I used the same recipe/technique, but left out the Tarragon?


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