How to make a Beurre Blanc sauce

Salmon with beurre blanc sauce, spinach and lemon. Garnished with leeks. Traditional French dish. Close-up.
Copyright: tashalyubina

Beurre blanc is a warm emulsified butter sauce made with a reduction of vinegar and dry white wine normally Muscadet. In English it would be known as a white butter sauce. It is best served with fish such as salmon. It also lends itself well to other additions such as capers.

The origins of beurre blanc remain somewhat a mystery. A butter sauce was being used for centuries but its appearance as a defined recipe either comes with the two great chefs, Escoffier or Careme. Careme lived much earlier and used ingredients such as butter and flour, nutmeg, lemon and wine vinegar with the addition of a stock or just water. Escoffier also used similar ingredients but used boiling water. In both descriptions, whole butter finished the dish and was added as the thickening agent. Who can firmly lay claim to the dish is between these two.

Like Hollandaise has a mystique around it because it is often thought of as a tricky sauce to prepare and keep well. As Rick Stein states it is neither difficult or unstable and it certainly does not separate. It is easier to recover than a hollandaise. The recipe below is taken from Stein’s book on ‘English Seafood Cookery but there are many similar recipes in general French cooking books and this one keeps perfectly to the beurre blanc agenda.

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Equipment:

Recipe:

  • 60g/2oz. peeled and finely chopped shallots (echallots) such as Jermor but not red ones. If these are not available we use onions. 
  • 30ml/1/8 cup or 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 60ml/1/4 cup or 4 tbsp. dry white wines such as Muscadet
  • 180g/6oz. chilled unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 tbsp./30ml double or heavy cream
  • A few black peppercorns can be added for piquancy but it’s not necessary.
  • 1 tsp lemon juice if needed
  • 6 tbsp./90ml water
  • salt and white pepper to season with – at the chef’s discretion

Preparation:

  1. The chopped shallots, water, vinegar and wine are brought to the boil in a small saucepan and simmered until the liquid has almost reduced.
  2. Add the cream and cook a little further.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and using an electric or hand whisk, beat in the butter, small mounts at a time until it has all mixed in.

Rick Stein’s other method is to reduce the wine and vinegar mix, then add the cream as earlier. Then, add a few tablespoons of water and rapidly boil it. Whilst it is boiling add the cubed butter. The sauce is not as light as that produced in the first method but he claims it is acceptable and when we’ve tried it seems to produce one that doesn’t seem that much different in truth. It is also the method used to recover a sauce that has split because it got too hot or was left too long.

Some chefs strain out the shallots after it has been cooked to create an ultra-smooth sauce but this somewhat defeats the purpose of a solid sauce in this instance.

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