December 16, 2003

Beurre Blanc and Friends

I got a bunch of email recently asking about "beurre blanc", probably due to the fact that I refer to making a sauce "via the beurre blanc method" fairly often.

Beurre blanc (French meaning "white butter") is considered one of the "modern" sauces. It is very elegant and tastes great (assuming you like butter), but actually isn't very hard at all to make. Ironically, in spite of the amount of butter, it is often referred to as a "light sauce". This is not a reflection of the calorie count, but rather that the consistancy of the sauce is light rather than heavy.

The sauce makes use of the fact that butter is itself already an emulsion (albeit in solid form). McGee points out in The Curious Cook that you can make a beurre blanc out of nothing more than butter itself. Beurre blanc basically takes "mounting with butter" (the process of whisking in butter at the end of a sauce to add shine and flavor) to the extreme, such that the sauce itself is a liquid, flavored, butter.

There are a few downsides to this sauce. It can be difficult to make in small amounts (quantities below would probably sauce dishes for 4-8 people, I'm guessing -- you can cut the amounts in half if you have a good small pan) because it is hard to whisk such a small amount. It does not reheat at all (it will break if you attempt to do so). You will need to perform the whisking of the butter right before service, or optionally keep the sauce in a thermos (a great trick that works very well). And, finally, you don't want to eat sauces like this every day.

First, Basic Beurre Blanc.
In a heavy sauce pan, combine:
- shallots, 1
- wine vinegar, 1/8 C
- white wine, 1/4 C
and cook over medium heat until you have reduced the liquid almost to a glaze. This combination of reduced sour ingredients is known as a "gastrique" and may be made ahead of time. At this point some recipes add a small amount of heavy cream to "make the sauce more stable" but I haven't found that to be the case. I do sometimes use cream when I want the sauce to be more "white" or "creamy" looking.

Place pan over low heat and begin adding whole unsalted butter. Whisk constantly to encourage butter to melt and to form an emulsion. Don't add next amount of butter until first is almost completely incorporated. Continue adding butter until desired consistancy is reached (I'd probably use between 1/2 and 1 pound for the above amount of gastrique). Maintain low heat. Do not allow sauce to boil (or even simmer). Do not allow sauce to become so cold as to become solid. If you feel the sauce is becoming too warm, move away from heat and add butter quicker (which will cool the sauce). If you feel the sauce is becoming too cold, wait a bit between additions of butter. Salt/pepper to taste at this point.

Once desired amount of butter has been added, strain to remove shallots and either a) serve right away or b) pour into a thermos where the sauce will keep fine for up to 2 hours. Beurre blanc is often served over fish, such as salmon, often when poached.

Some varients:

Modified "buffalo" sauce (used for "Buffalo Monkfish")
- 1/4 C red wine vinegar
- 1/2 small can tomato paste (1-2 Tablespoons)
- 1/8-1/4 C Frank's Hot Sauce (or to heat preference)
Reduce by about 1/3, whisk in 1/2 pound unsalted butter. No need to strain.

Hazelnut Beurre Blanc (excellent on green beans)
- 1/2 C chopped hazelnuts (or other nuts)
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1/8 C champagne vinegar
- 1/4 C white wine
Sautee hazelnuts and shallot in a small amount of butter. Add liquid and reduce to form gastrique. Whisk in 1/2 pound unsalted butter. Strain.

Saffron Vanilla Cream (used for scallops)
- 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out and added
- small pinch saffron
- 1/2 C heavy cream
- 1/2 C light chicken or vegetable stock
Combine in a small pan and reduce to about half volume. Remove vanilla bean pieces from pot. Whisk in 1/2 pound unsalted butter. Do not strain. Shake before using to ensure vanilla seeds are visible in sauce.

Tomato Vermouth Sauce (I usually serve with shrimp)
- 1 shallot, minced very fine
- 4-6 cloves garlic, minced very fine
Sweat in a bit of butter and then add:
- 1 C dry vermouth
Reduce in pan until 1/4 of original volume, then add:
- 1/2 small can tomato paste (1-2 Tbs)
- 1/4 C very heavy geletin dark chicken stock (optional)
Whisk in 1/2 pound unsalted butter. Optionally strain. Then add chopped parsley.

Posted by dowdy at December 16, 2003 08:00 AM