Like everyone else in the UK I am absolutely desperate for spring to arrive. These grey skies, raw winds, bare trees and frozen crocuses are getting to me. There are two options: buy a lightbox or start adding spring flavours into my food despite the fact the view suggests it is January. One of my favourite fresh light flavours is tarragon. I adore this herb even if I cannot for the life of me get it to grow for me. The slightly liquorice, slightly aniseed taste is probably my favourite fresh herb and bunches of it from the deli are my indulgence. It works beautifully with chicken or fish or eggs, making very versatile.
However there is no finer use for tarragon than Béarnaise sauce. Sharpened with a pucker of vinegar and poured heartily over anything, but preferably steak, I adore the stuff. I made some on Saturday night and was faced with the greatest of middle class dilemmas. Should I reduce the recipe to one egg yolk and run out or go with all three and eat it all week? You can probably guess the answer.
It’s such a simple sauce to make, especially if you use Béarnaise essence instead of reduing your own vinegar. I can’t guarantee that when you buy some you’ll end up having a very bizarre conversation with Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin about it as I did when buying some a few years ago for Mister North, but it’s very useful to have for quick batches of Béarnaise all the same. But what to do with the leftovers? We heaped some on a fishfinger sandwich, lifting it from nursery food to utter joy. I then dipped a slice of cheese on toast into the sauce boat next day which was fantastic. And from there I wondered, could you make rarebit from it?
I’ve only ever made this once before. A rare savoury dish in a sea of wee buns in my home economics classes at school, I made a truly vile version with barely cooked out flour in my roux, economy grated cheddar and burned to a crisp toast. Forced to choke it down in class, I’ve never eaten this simple supper dish since, blaming it instead of my poor cooking skills in those days. But could I convert myself to it by adding Béarnaise?
Béarnaise Sauce: makes half a pint
- 100ml white wine vinegar or 1 tbsp Béarnaise essence
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 4 sprigs tarragon, finely chopped
- 3 egg yolks
- 150g butter, cold and cubed
Simmer the white wine vinegar in a pan with one sprig of tarragon and the shallot for about 20-30 minutes until the vinegar is very much reduced.
Make a double boiler by placing a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Put the egg yolks and the vinegar reduction into the bowl and begin adding the butter slowly. Stir constantly and the sauce will begin to thicken gradually. Add the rest of the chopped tarragon. Try not to dunk your finger in it until you actually serve it.
Easter Rarebit: serves 2 (adapted from Felicity Cloake’s The Perfect version)
- 1 tablespoon mustard powder
- dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- 2 tablespoons stout
- 100g Lancashire cheese
- 100g Béarnaise sauce
- 4 slices of bread
- wholegrain mustard and capers to serve
After some questioning on Twitter I was pleased to see that rarebit did not need to risk a roux, but could simply be made using egg yolks to thicken the sauce. This is where substituting the Béarnaise made this even easier.
Place the mustard powder in a pan and add the stout to make a paste. I find freezing leftover stout from other recipes in ice cube trays equals about a tablespoon per cube. Add in the cheese and melt to make a gloopy fondue like sauce.
Toast the each side of the bread, one less than the other. Add the Béarnaise sauce into the cheese sauce and spread over the toast. Grill lightly until bubbling and golden. Serve with a little smear or two of mustard and a dabbling of capers and devour while piping hot.
This is so incredibly easy and quick to make that I couldn’t quite believe it. Packed with heaps more flavour than standard cheese on toast, I am an absolute rarebit convert. The buttery tarragon kick makes this the most luxury quick meal around. A fried egg would make it a little more substantial and really enhance all the flavours. I have no idea if this rarebit is Welsh not, but it will certainly make a perfect Easter treat this weekend…