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

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