Truffle Béarnaise Sauce

A relation of the mushroom, these dark blackish fungi deliver an earthy taste that one cannot quite recollect but which the subconscious recognizes as of the earth.

Truffles are an unusual ingredient to take on a camping trip and we've included this recipe as a curiosity, although this sauce is excellent with any meat , chicken or fish.

It tastes of all things and like nothing else at the same time and exudes a base and homely taste akin to potatoes or cauliflower or turnip and all things grown in the ground.

Food can be a funny thing – for instance the reproductive cells of a fish (caviar) can be repulsive to some and a true indulgence to others. Truffles, on the other hand, are a real seducer of the palate and it is rare to find someone who is not captivated by their unique flavour.

We recently stumbled across brief supply of truffles in the unlikeliest of towns - the lead and tin mining town of Mount Isa. The local kitchenware store had proudly displayed a sign in their front window pronouncing - 'Truffles arriving Wednesday.'

Seventy dollars secured us a pungent walnut sized piece. (yes, they are dear as poison and difficult to source in Austaralia.) They had been airfreighted into town the overnight and arrived in a coldpak inside a foam esky to maintain freshness.

If you get the opportunity and feel inclined to purchase some of this delicacy then we suggest you eat them quickly and generously. Truffles don't keep for long and don't freeze well, losing flavour very quickly.

Be generous when adding them to a recipe. If you are prepared to fork out the high Australian price for truffles then you should really enjoy a robust and full bodied culinary experience.

truffles in emulsion

Preparation Time 15 minutes Cooking Time 25 minutes

Makes 250mls (1 cup)

Ingredients (serves 2)
  • a good walnut sized piece of grated truffle
  • 10 black peppercorns, crushed
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) white wine vinegar
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) dry white wine
  • 60g (about 2 large) eschalots, peeled, finely chopped
  • 3 tbs finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves and stems
  • 2 tbs finely chopped fresh chervil leaves and stems
  • 3 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 125g butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • Salt & ground black pepper, to taste

The secret to béarnaise sauce is adding one liquid to another in a slow, steady stream while whisking vigorously. This method is necessary because its ingredients don't mix easily and the same is true of hollandaise sauce and mayonnaise - all three are known as emulsion sauces.

The eschalots and herbs are finely chopped to extract the maximum flavour during the short cooking time. And, because a herb's flavour is most concentrated in the stem, these are used as well as the leaves. If chervil is unavailable, increase the amount of tarragon to 5 tbs.

Place the crushed peppercorns, vinegar, wine, eschalots, tarragon and chervil in a small non-aluminium frying pan. Bring the mixture to the boil over high heat. Boil, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until the liquid reduces by about half (you will need 2 1/2 tbs).

Strain this mixture through a fine sieve into a small heatproof bowl, pressing with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the eschalots, herbs and peppercorns.

Béarnaise sauce must be cooked over gentle, even heat because the egg yolks will curdle if the temperature is too high.

The best way to ensure gentle, even heat is to cook the sauce in a bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water.

Quarter fill a saucepan with water and place a large heatproof bowl on top. The bowl should fit snugly in the pan and its base should reach halfway into the pan. If the base of the bowl touches the water, the sauce may overcook and curdle.

Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Place the pan over high heat and bring the water to the boil. Reduce heat to low so the water is barely simmering.

Place the egg yolk/truffle and the strained peppercorn/herb liquid in the heatproof bowl.

Use a balloon whisk to whisk the egg yolk mixture until combined. Place over the simmering water and whisk constantly for 5-7 minutes or until the sauce begins to 'bind' and cling to the whisk.

The bowl should be warm, but not too hot to handle. Control the temperature of the whisking bowl by lifting it from the saucepan, allowing to cool and returning to the heat.

Add the butter to the sauce a cube at a time, whisking constantly and adding each cube only when the one before melts and is thoroughly combined (this process should take up to 10 minutes).

Season with pepper, and taste before seasoning with salt.

Serve immediately. Béarnaise sauce is usually served just warm.

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