A simple but elegant French sauce, beurre blanc or "white butter" ably demonstrates why cooks so cherish butter as an element of their creations. Its rich flavor plays an important role in that popularity, but its physical makeup also contributes. Not a pure fat, like oil or tallow, butter consists of globules of milk fat emulsified in a small quantity of water. Beurre blanc turns it into a sauce by adding more liquid to form a warm, flavorful emulsion with a creamy texture.
Things You'll Need
- Small saucepan
- White wine
- White wine vinegar
- White pepper
- Wire whisk
- Mesh strainer
Cut your butter into cubes of approximately 1 tablespoon each. Keep them in the refrigerator while you prepare your other ingredients, because the butter must be very cold when you make the sauce.
Mince a shallot and place it in a small saucepan with the white wine and white wine vinegar. Add a pinch of salt and fresh-ground white pepper, and bring the mixture to a boil. It must reduce through evaporation until the wine and vinegar are reduced to about 1 1/2 tablespoons of thick, syrupy-looking liquid.
Remove your saucepan from the heat and add one or two cubes of butter to the wine mixture. Whisk it vigorously with a small wire whisk until it's completely melted and incorporated into the wine mixture. Turn the burner down to low heat.
Return your pan to the heat and add the cubes of butter one at a time, whisking each one vigorously until it's fully incorporated before adding another. Never let the mixture come to a boil, which will cause the butter to separate. You might need to lift the saucepan from the burner occasionally, if your stove doesn't reliably provide a low-temperature simmer.
Repeat until all the butter is incorporated and the mixture has a thick, pale-yellow appearance reminiscent of Hollandaise sauce. Strain it through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the shallots, then taste it and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve immediately over fish, chicken or other mild-flavored foods.
Tips & Warnings
- The finished sauce should have a finely balanced mixture of richness and acidity. If it tastes too rich, add a few drops of lemon juice to brighten the flavor. If it's too acidic, whisk in an extra tablespoon or two of butter to mellow the flavor.
- If the sauce begins to separate visibly into fat and liquid, remove it from the heat immediately and whisk in a few drops of ice-cold water. Once that's incorporated, whisk in another piece of cold butter. The sauce should come back together.
- Beurre blanc has a resemblance to Hollandaise sauce, but unlike its better-known cousin, it isn't stabilized with egg yolks and will begin to separate in as little as 15 minutes. Whisking the sauce every few minutes will help, if you must keep it warm until your guests arrive. Restaurants frequently add a small quantity of heavy cream to the wine mixture as it reduces, a "cheat" that helps stabilize the sauce and keep it usable for a longer time.
- If you make the same sauce with red wine and red wine vinegar, it's called "beurre rouge" instead. Its flavor is similar, but its ruddy color makes it an appealing match with pale scallops, rosy lobster and crab, or other rich seafoods.
- Photo Credit Burke/Triolo Productions/Photodisc/Getty Images
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