Oh, what’s occurdling? Spoiler alert: It’s the bearnaise sauce

A couple of weeks ago* I finally removed the frozen chicken remains from the freezer and made stock.

*Yes, it has taken me an overly long time to post this.

I wasn’t sure how many boney leftovers I would need so decided that 2 would suffice. It was only once my 2 frozen carcasses were sitting in a pan full of cold water that I read the words “I would use the carcasses of 3 chickens.”

Given that there wasn’t enough room in my largest pan to fit the remains of another bird (that I didn’t have) I decided to just carry on.

I peeled a carrot, halved a celery stick, stuck a clove in a small white onion, chucked it all in the pan with the frozen bones and added the herbs and peppercorns.


True to form, I had forgotten to buy leeks at the supermarket. By this point, you’re probably wondering why I don’t write shopping lists.

On this particular occasion, I did write a list, it’s just unfortunate that I left it on the coffee table and only realised when I got to the supermarket.

Thankfully, Nigella says she often leaves out the leek if she doesn’t have one, so figured I could get away with it.


As the stock came to the boil I skimmed off all the bubbly scum stuff then reduced the heat to let it bubble for the next 3 hours.

When it was done, the kitchen smelled amazing (which was torture for the dogs). I drained off the stock and let it cool before skimming off the fat then bagged it into portions to freeze and use later.

So far, so simple.

Riding the stock success high, I then tried my hand at bearnaise sauce. I’ve never eaten bearnaise sauce before and as such had no idea what I was really aiming for.

I started by chopping a single shallot, which was so unbelievably strong that my eyes were streaming within seconds of peeling it.

After blindly hacking up the shallot, I tossed it in a pan with some tarragon, bruised peppercorns, white wine vinegar and white wine.

Then it went onto the heat to reduce down.

Then it all got pushed through a sieve.

At this point, I had absolutely no idea what any of this was going to achieve.

Now for the deja vu bit… I separated three eggs (which I am now a master at), put the yolks into a bain-marie and whisked over the bubbling water adding in the reduced, shallot-infused liquid.

Next I added the butter bit by bit using the same method as I did for hollandaise (only this time, I’d actually remembered to buy the unsalted butter).


This was a much less peaceful process than it was for hollandaise mainly because I was running a little short on time and after the stock-making the kitchen looked like I had fought a war against food using every utensil I owned.

Once the butter was absorbed, I had a bright yellow sauce that tasted pretty damn amazing. I carefully squeezed in the lemon juice, ground some white pepper and it was done.

I was so ridiculously pleased with myself – I even did a mini-celebratory dance with a wooden spoon.

After the mystery sauce was made, the rest of the dinner was a doddle. I set about flash-frying two ribeye steaks, occasionally glancing over at my beloved sauce which was still looking saucy and yellow and wonderful.

I flipped the steaks over, turned the heat down and when I looked up again, the sauce was a curdled mess.

Words cannot convey the feeling of absolute horror I felt at this moment.

First I whisked.


Then, remembering what I had learned from mayonnaise making the other week, I reached for the kettle and poured in boiling water.


A swift Google later and I was pouring a splash of milk and whisking it (frantically) into the sauce.

Much to my surprise, it came back together. The only problem was that the sauce was now thin and watery.

I looked at the bain-marie. It was still on the heat. I should have turned it off after the sauce was done, which I would have realised if I’d read the recipe and not danced around the kitchen.

But there was nothing to be done about it now. It still tasted great, but it was thin and runny like school dinner custard.

My heart sank. I took the steak off the heat and left it to rest and as I cast my eye over the recipe, I once again spotted Nigella’s wise words advising to throw an ice cube in the sauce in the event of curdling – as was the case with hollandaise.


Still, the thin sauce made an excellent addition to the steaks but I couldn’t hide my disappointment having encountered the bearnaise’s proper saucy brilliance before the accidental over-heating.

I think the main takeaway from all this is that I clearly have an issue with reading recipes properly.

And writing shopping lists.

And remembering to take the shopping list with me to the supermarket.

And also that all celebratory dances should wait until dinner is ready.


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