Hollandaise vs. Béarnaise
Both hollandaise and béarnaise sauces are made by emulsifying two ingredients that don’t typically blend well together: butter and water. They both contain egg yolks and an acid to balance out the richness. It’s what happens next that sets them apart: Hollandaise gets its acidity from lemon juice (sometimes vinegar) and is usually seasoned with salt, white pepper, and cayenne pepper.
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Béarnaise, meanwhile, builds upon hollandaise with white wine vinegar, shallots, tarragon, and other fresh herbs.
Hollandaise, also known as Dutch sauce, isn’t Dutch at all, no matter what its name suggests— it’s actually about as French as a sauce can be. One of the five French mother sauces, the first documented recipe is from 1651 in François Pierre de la Varenne’s Le Cuisinier François.
"Make a sauce with some good fresh butter, a little vinegar, salt, and nutmeg, and an egg yolk to bind the sauce; take care that it doesn't curdle,” La Varenne instructs in the recipe for “asparagus with fragrant sauce.”
Hollandaise is pale yellow, smooth, and creamy. It’s often used to top eggs Benedict, asparagus, and fish.
Béarnaise is considered to be the “child” of hollandaise. Invented only 200 years ago, it’s a relatively new French sauce. Chef Jules Collinet is credited with creating it in 1836 for the opening of Le Pavillon Henri IV, a restaurant just outside of Paris that was home to French royalty in the 17th century. Inspired by the restaurant’s royal heritage, Collinet named his new sauce “béarnaise” after Henri IV. The popular king, who is believed to have been a lover of fine foods, was born in a region of France called Béarn.
Béarnaise is pale yellow, smooth and creamy, and flecked with green from the fresh herbs. It’s often served with grilled meat.
How to Make Hollandaise Sauce and Béarnaise Sauce
To understand how the sauces are made, you have to first understand emulsification. An emulsion is a mixture of two liquids (oil and water, in this case) that would ordinarily not mix together. Certain substances act as emulsifiers, which means they force the liquids together. The egg yolks, which contain lecithin, act as an emulsifier in hollandaise and béarnaise. Lecithin is a fatty substance that is soluble in both fat and water.
Why are you getting a chemistry lesson? Well, it’s important that your sauce emulsifies and does not coagulate. Coagulation, or thickening from a fluid to a solid, is what happens when you make custards and puddings.
If you’ve ever heard that hollandaise is tricky, this is why: It’s very easy to cook it incorrectly and end up with a curdled mess. To make these sauces properly, you must gently heat your ingredients while whisking constantly.
Check out our best hollandaise sauce recipe here and our best béarnaise sauce here.
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