Roasted asparagus is no big deal, right? To roast asparagus, you basically just roast asparagus – not really worthy of a dedicated blog post. But pair this under-appreciated vegetable with a traditional Béarnaise sauce and you’ve got something spectacular. It’s funny what a few egg yolks and some butter can do.
Asparagus is an ancient vegetable, found in records dating back 5,000 years. In fact, an asparagus recipe appears in the oldest surviving cookbook (Apicuius, 4th century AD). While widely used by the Greeks and Romans, it nearly disappeared after the fall of the Roman Empire, only to be reintroduced in the late Middle Ages by the French.
Béarnaise sauce is relatively modern, first developed in the 19th century. It is often associated with Hollandaise sauce, as it employs a similar technique of emulsifying fat (butter) in egg yolks and acid. While Hollandaise is made with lemon juice, a Béarnaise is made with an herb-infused vinegar reduction. The sauce has nothing to do with bears, or the capital of Switzerland (Bern), but rather is named after Béarn, a former province in southwest France. Fun fact: d’Artagnan (one of the main characters in The Three Musketeers) was from Béarn.
My friends at Pacific Merchants donated this Enamour dish for my recipe, which was pretty cool of them. Enamel-coated stoneware is very sturdy and versatile, and this dish is a thing of beauty. It can be used for baking and broiling, but in this case I used it as a serving dish. They are also offering 25% off purchases on their site for my readers, valid March 4-12, 2014! Use code DomesticMan at checkout.
Roasted Asparagus with Béarnaise Sauce
Béarnaise sauce adapted from Saveur and Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves (4 sprigs), finely chopped, divided
3 egg yolks
1 stick butter (or 8 tbsp ghee), cut into 8 pieces
salt to taste
1. Preheat your oven to 450F. In a small saucepan, combine the shallot, vinegar, wine, salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp of the tarragon. Bring to a boil on med-high heat and simmer until reduced to approximately 2 tbsp of liquid, about 4 minutes. Strain the liquid into a metal bowl (or a double boiler insert if you have one) and set aside, discarding the solids. This reduction will be your Béarnaise sauce base (similar to lemon juice’s function when making Hollandaise sauce).
2. Wash and trim the asparagus, then arrange on a baking sheet. Drizzle with your favorite cooking fat (I prefer lard) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until softened, about 10 minutes.
3. As the asparagus is cooking, let’s finish your Béarnaise sauce using a double-boiler setup. Bring some water to simmer in a saucepan, then place the metal bowl (the one with the Béarnaise sauce base) over the saucepan. You want the bowl to rest on the edges of the saucepan, suspended above the water but not touching it. This will allow you to gently heat the sauce and prevent the egg yolks and butter from separating.
4. Place the metal bowl over the gently simmering water and whisk the egg yolks into the Béarnaise sauce base. Whisk constantly as the yolks slightly thicken but before they solidify, about 20 seconds, then add a piece of butter, continuing to whisk constantly. As the piece of butter is just about melted, add the next piece of butter, and repeat until all of the butter is incorporated. Alternatively, you can use melted butter or ghee, adding in 1/8 of it at a time. Once all of the butter is incorporated, whisk in the remaining tarragon and salt to taste; you should be able to leave it in the double boiler for a couple minutes (stirring often) as you wait for the asparagus to finish, but with any luck it’ll finish at the same time as your veggies.
5. Once the asparagus is done roasting, place it in a serving dish and pour the sauce over it. Serve immediately.
** This dish pairs best with a rich protein, like steak or fish.
Wait until the piece of butter is almost melted before adding the next piece.