There’s a family called Aise that I invite into my kitchen for dinner from time to time. Understated, sophisticated, classic and rich – I rather like them.
I am of course talking of mayonnaise, hollandaise and béarnaise. Mention these words and many a home cook runs for the hills. But here’s the thing – there’s really nothing to be scared of. NOTHING. Obey a few rules and you will be OK. Promise.
I had a bottle of KWV Petit Verdot begging to be opened. Now this is a special-occasion wine (see below) and obviously deserves special-occasion food. So I banged a rack of French-trimmed, free-range lamb into the oven. And I whipped up some béarnaise. Bursting with egg, butter, vinegar, lemon and lovely tarragon… it was a real special-night treat.
All you need is…
Rack of French-trimmed lamb (2-3 chops per person)
3 tbs white wine vinegar
2 tbs dry white wine
1 tbs water
½ tsp black peppercorns
2 shallots, very finely chopped (if you cannot get shallots, half a largeish normal onion will do)
1 bay leaf
Yolks of 2 large free range eggs, room temp
2 sprigs tarragon, finely chopped including stalks
115g salted butter, cut into blocks and at room temperature (the butter must be soft!)
1 tbs tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1 tbs chervil, finely chopped (replace with flatleaf parsley if need be)
Fresh lemon juice, to taste (optional)
Salt, to taste
Get the lamb on first as it can roast and rest while you make the béarnaise sauce. When I have excellent meat, like free range Karoo lamb, I do as little as possible to it. I always seal my roasts, so I start by adding some olive oil to a hot pan. I salt the meat lightly and I sear it on all sides in the hot oil to seal. Then pop the lamb into an ovenproof roasting dish and into a 180 degree Celsius oven it goes. I prefer my lamb medium rare, so I cook it until it’s 55 degrees Celsius in the middle (if you do not have a meat thermometer, invest in one – it’s the only way of really knowing what’s going on inside a roast). If you prefer it medium, take it to 62-66 degrees. Once the lamb has reached the required internal temperature; remove, cover with tin foil and set aside to rest for at least 15 minutes.
In the meantime make the béarnaise sauce. Add the vinegar, wine, water, peppercorns, shallots and bay leaf to a small pot and boil, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced to two tablespoons – it takes about 7 minutes. Remove and pour through a tea strainer to remove all the solid bits. Discard the solid bits, you just want the liquid. Allow the liquid to cool a bit.
Place your eggs in a heatproof bowl, add the cooled, reserved liquid and whisk. (Now traditionally one would use a balloon whisk. But life is too short for sore biceps, I use my trusty ancient electric handheld mixer.) Place the bowl over a pot of gently simmering water and whisk constantly until the eggs become pale, fluffy and start to thicken – it takes 4-5 minutes. Very NB: The bowl must not touch the water and the water must barely bubble. If it’s too hot, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. If you feel the bowl becomes too hot while you’re whisking, remove it from the heat for a few seconds.
Next add the butter, a block at a time, while constantly whisking – you can see why I go the electric route! Ensure that each block is fully melted and incorporated before you add the next. It seems impossible for such a small amount of egg mixture to take all that butter – believe me, it does. The gradual addition of the butter and all that whisking will thicken the béarnaise beautifully. Once it’s all incorporated, remove from the heat and whisk for a further 30 seconds. Add the chopped tablespoon of tarragon and chervil, and add lemon to taste. The lemon is optional, but don’t go overboard, a teaspoon or two tops.