[Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen isn’t just one of the best chefs going today, she’s also a fantastic writer. Here’s her take on a sauce you met earlier this week, only with her unique twist. Take it away, Amanda!]
It’s not one of French cuisine’s mother sauces, nor is it a “daughter” sauce, but it is my favorite sauce and it was actually invented by a woman (Clémence Lefeuvre) so that already puts it one up on fussy old Escoffier. It’s beurre blanc (white butter) sauce and it will rock your world.
Basically an emulsion of reduced white wine (sometimes vinegar) and cold butter, beurre blanc is a creamy white sauce that has a rich, unctuous, buttery flavor that’s balanced by the sharp, cutting acidity of the white wine. The result is a sauce that clings lightly to your food, tastes creamy but not overwhelmingly rich, and restores butter’s good name after years of mostly being associated with carnival food and heart attacks.
You don’t see beurre blanc around much anymore. It was a victim of the cuisine mincer purges of the 70’s and 80’s when chef Michel Guérard swept through French cuisine like a nonfat tornado and purged it of butter and the richer sauces. Granted, French cuisine probably needed its increasingly clogged arteries scrubbed clean at the time, but the beurre blanc baby was definitely lost with the buttery bath water.
Originally served at Clémence Lefeuvre’s restaurant in the tiny village of Saint JuliedeConcelles, beurre blanc was one of the crown jewels of French rustic cooking in the early 20th century, and was usually served over fish. Frankly, I think fish tastes better with less fat and more acid, but at the time fish were being drowned in cream sauce so this was at least a tastier compromise. Where it really shines, however, is with vegetables. In meat, fat carries the flavor, but vegetables don’t contain any fat so you need to add some yourself when you cook them. Beurre blanc is a great way to provide that fat but also enough acidity to keep your flavors clean and bright and kind of startling. That’s why my most popular beurre blancs are also my most acidic: Kaffir Lime Beurre Blanc and especially Grapefruit Beurre Blanc.
The good thing about beurre blanc is that it’s supereasy to make, and it tastes a lot more complex and classy than almost any other sauce. Just make sure your butter is refrigerator cold and that you let each tablespoon melt and incorporate fully before adding the next one. And don’t worry about the health effects. A little beurre blanc goes a long way, and it’s not like you’re sitting down to eat a bowl full of it with a spoon. Generally you’ll have about two to three tablespoons with each serving, just enough to make the vegetables come alive with a deep, smooth, velvety richness and a sharp, bright, clean acidity.
1/4 cup finely diced shallots
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 cups unsalted butter, refrigerator cold
Makes 2 cups
1) First, you’re going to make your reduction. Put all ingredients EXCEPT the butter in a large pot and reduce over medium low heat until you have approximately 1 tablespoon of liquid left (about 30 minutes).
2) In the same pot, add the ingredients below depending on which beurre blanc sauce you’re making:
GRAPEFRUIT BEURRE BLANC INGREDIENTS
1 cup grapefruit juice
1 grapefruit, zested
1 tablespoon sliced galangal
Salt to taste
KAFFIR LIME BEURRE BLANC INGREDIENTS
1 cup lime juice
2 limes, zested
6 kaffir lime leaves
Salt to taste
3) On medium low heat, reduce the ingredients to a 1/4 cup of liquid (about 30 – 35 minutes). Strain. This is the base for your beurre blanc sauce. DO NOT TASTE. It’s pretty gross at this point.
4) Put the sauce back into the pot over VERY LOW heat, then stir in cold butter, one tablespoon at a time, letting it melt completely before adding the next tablespoon. This is where it’ll emulsify and all come together. Don’t let it get above a simmer and definitely don’t let it boil or it’ll break the sauce.
5) Remove from heat, salt to taste, and try to serve immediately.