My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sauce Béarnaise; Sauce Choron

Béarnaise sauce. Sauce Béarnaise. It’s been a steadfast member of every chef's culinary repertoire since 1836;
an old war horse of a sauce if there ever was one.

Sauce Béarnaise begins life as a hollandaise sauce but includes a reduction of white wine, wine vinegar, shallots and tarragon. Regarding the classic hollandaise, Julia claims that it’s the most popular of sauces, but perhaps, also the most dreaded.

I love that.

Begin with ¼ cup of white wine, ¼ cup of white wine vinegar, a minced shallot and 2 Tbs of fresh tarragon. Reduce this over high heat until 2 tablespoons remain, strain and let it cool.

Now for the dreaded part: The hollandaise. It’s basically egg yolks to which an acid is introduced and then thickened with a substantial amount of melted butter. The thing is, it can get into all sorts of trouble. It can easily separate, not thicken at all, can quickly scramble if the heat’s too high -- all sorts of dreaded accidents can occur. But, follow Julia’s three pages of detailed directions, and all will be well.

Begin by whisking 3 egg yolks in a bowl over simmering water. Add 2 Tbs of cold butter and whisk until it’s melted. (Not too hot, or you’ll have scrambled eggs.) Now, add the reduction that you’d strained and cooled. Oh, and you’ve also melted 2 sticks of butter which is waiting to be incorporated.

Gradually, drop by drop, begin adding the hot, melted butter to the egg yolks. (Not to fast or it’ll separate.) As it becomes thick, more butter can be drizzled in. And more. And more. Keep whisking. There’s a lot of whisking involved. If you’re a middle-aged woman, sleeveless apparel would be ill-advised.

Finish the sauce with chopped, fresh tarragon and parsley.

I wanted to showcase this wonderful creation. I had pan-seared salmon filets, artichoke hearts, and fresh asparagus, all of which would get swathed with it. This was going to be an all-out Béarnaise extravaganza.

But wait! As with most recipes, Julia had supplied a couple of variations, and there it was. Add a bit of tomato paste to Béarnaise, and it becomes a Sauce Choron.

Tomato paste in Béarnaise? Never heard of it, but it sounded terrific. So, some of the Béarnaise was set aside and easily became a sauce Choron to be spooned over itty-bitty baby potatoes.

Here’s the meal:

The real surprise was the sauce Choron. I’d never heard of it before and perhaps a lot of other folks haven’t either. I’ll certainly showcase it from here on out. After all, if you’ve triumphantly conquered a Béarnaise, why not serve something truly unique by simply stirring in a spoonful of tomato paste? It was fantastic on the baby-taters but would be truly astounding over a filet mignon or even a grilled rib-eye.

See, now this is what cooking is all about. You head in one direction and discover something even better and totally unexpected. I just love it when that happens;
in cooking . . . and in life.

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