Beurre Blanc Sauce Recipe

March 30, 2010 7 Comments

Beurre Blanc Sauce

Butter + Wine + Vinegar = Beurre Blanc

Beurre blanc, or white butter sauce, is exceptionally rich due to all of the butter. The fattiness is nicely balanced with a white wine/vinegar reduction.  This classic French sauce pairs nicely with vegetables and lean meats.

Nantes is a city in France, located on the Loire River in the region of Brittany. With a population in excess of 800,000 it is the 6th largest city in the country. Nantes was founded by the Namnètes, a Gallic tribe around 70 B.C.  The area is no stranger to territorial conquests and was successively occupied by the Gauls, the Romans, the Saxons, the Franks, the Britons and the Normans.

More sordid aspects of its history include its prominent role in the slave trade, internecine civil war during the French revolution, and being the site of thousands of executions.  Hopefully that’s all in the past as Nantes is now a center of commerce, culture, and education, and boasts a reputation for a high standard of living.  Nantes is also the credited birthplace, (with a slight caveat), of one of the classic sauces of French cuisine: beurre blanc.

Hollandaise Fish Story

My equivocation about Nantes’ recognition in the genesis of beurre blanc reflects the extant contrariety about the sauce’s origin.  While many explanations exist, a popular one is this:  Somewhere in the early 20th century a chef by the name of Clémence Lefeuvre, in a village nearby Nantes, (and thus not in Nantes proper), was purportedly making a béarnaise sauce for fish.  Somehow she forgot to include the eggs and serendipitously created a beurre blanc. The new sauce was a hit and a classic was born.

I find that fish story a little hard to swallow, specifically the oversight of the eggs.  To understand the dubiousness of this lapse, one must first understand what a béarnaise is.  A béarnaise sauce is a tarragon-flavored hollandaise sauce.

A hollandaise sauce starts with beaten egg yolks to which cold butter (and seasonings such as lemon juice, salt and pepper) is added. Thus, the eggs are an indispensible first step and building block of the sauce. Trying to make a hollandaise and “forgetting” the eggs would be akin to making pasta and “forgetting” the boiling water.

In any event, whatever the details may be, beurre blanc is a decadently delicious sauce that pairs exceedingly well with fish, but also many vegetable dishes. Moreover, it is relatively easy to make. But be forewarned, it is literally not for the “faint of heart.”

Beurre blanc is exceedingly rich, cloying with the butter that forms its backbone.  So if you’re not cardiac or saturated fat-challenged, or simply allow for occasional indulgence, then grab your whisk and let’s hit the stove.

Making Beurre Blanc

Beurre blanc begins with a “reduction,” i.e., a seasoned fluid that is cooked to concentrate its viscosity and flavor.  The liquid is usually an admixture of white wine and white wine vinegar, combined with shallots, salt and pepper. Muscadet, a crisp and acidic wine from the Loire Valley is the traditional vino but any dry white wine will suffice.

After the reduction is cooked down to a syrupy consistency, begin whisking in cubed, chilled butter, until it is fully incorporated.  Some chefs also like to add a little heavy cream which is done just prior to the butter.  Salted or unsalted butter can be employed but some prefer the latter in order to control the exact amount of salt to be added.  Finally, beurre blanc is usually strained to remove the chopped shallots, unless you desire their textural presence in the finished sauce.

Be mindful of the heat level as you add the butter as excess heat can cause it to break.  This means it separates as opposed to becoming emulsified. If you notice the butter becoming oily, rather than thick and creamy, it’s starting to break.  To rescue it, immediately remove the pan from the heat and whisk in additional cold butter with vigor.  Once finished the sauce can be held for service by keeping it warm, not hot, on the back of a stove, plate warmer, or in a mildly heated oven.

Not unexpectedly there are many variations to beurre blanc aside from the aforementioned choice of wine, use of cream, type of butter and strain or not strain alternative. The basic reduction can be accentuated with other flavoring elements such as citrus juice, garlic, ginger, and different herbs such as basil, chervil or chives.  Indeed, a whole plethora of flavor profiles can be explored based on the target dish, personal creativity, and the chef’s whimsy.

At the risk of making things even more convoluted, a cousin of beurre blanc known as sauce vin blanc, is another maze of ingredient and procedural diversity.  There are three general approaches to making a vin blanc as outlined in “Cooking Essentials” the culinary textbook of the Culinary Institute of America (1997):

  • A poaching liquid (a seasoned liquid for poaching fish, chicken, etc.), containing wine serves as the reduction and egg yolks are whisked in before the butter. In essence this is a hollandaise sauce built upon a poaching liquid.
  • A poaching liquid combined with fish veloute forms the reduction. Veloute, one of the mother sauces of French cuisine is a “white” (meaning the bones are not roasted first), chicken, veal or fish stock, thickened with roux. Egg yolks are utilized, thus once more producing a hollandaise, only this time predicated on a combination of poaching liquid and fish veloute.
  • In the final vin blanc rendition, a traditional hollandaise sauce is made first, and then a separately reduced poaching liquid is added.

Hopefully I’ve elucidated all of the nuances of beurre blanc and vin blanc without giving you too much of a headache.  Let’s get back to basics and make a straightforward beurre blanc sauce.

Chef Mark Vogel

Beurre Blanc Sauce Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 1 cup

Beurre Blanc Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

2 oz. dry white wine

2 oz. champagne or white wine vinegar

3 shallots, minced

3 sticks (12 oz.) butter, plus extra if needed, chilled and cubed

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne pepper (my optional twist on the classic recipe)

How To Prepare At Home

Combine the wine, vinegar and shallots in a sauce pan, preferably a saucier. A saucier has sloping sides, making whisking easier and more efficient. Cook the mixture until a syrupy consistency is achieved.

On medium heat begin adding the butter, constantly whisking. When the butter is incorporated add the salt and peppers.

Taste the sauce. If too astringent add more butter and if too flat add a few drops of vinegar, (or lemon juice). Adjust the salt and pepper to taste as well.

Pour over your cooked fish, vegetables, or more up my alley, a big juicy steak.

Last modified on Mon 27 January 2014 2:47 pm

Filed in: Sauce Recipes

Comments (7)

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  1. Steve says:

    Great post about one of the most versatile sauces so many people are afraid to even try.

    When we get our affiliate program up and running this week you’ll be able to embed the video you linked to right into your blog to keep readers in your space.

  2. Steve says:

    what level of heat during first step of reducing wine/vinegar mixture?

    Hi Steve, let me ask Chef Mark who contributed this post on this sauce. – RG

  3. Chef Mark says:

    High heat to facilitate the speed of the reduction. Lower to medium for the introduction of the butter though.

  4. chef girard says:

    the instructions are correct,,,i was taught to start with white wine,,,’Chablis”,,,shallots,,garlic,,,,and two peeled lemons,,,reduce,,,then add butter as for mentioned,,,i intend to add dill tarragon and thyme to my mixture while reducing,strain,,,then add the same fresh herbs to Finish the beurre blanc,,,and drizzle over seasoned pan seared Pollock fillets.

    Thank you Chef Girard for contributing. – RG

  5. Joyce says:

    if you are reheating cold burre blanc what temperature does it need to reach to be safe to serve?

    Hi Joyce, great question so I asked my friend Chef Jenni to reply and here is what she said –

    Trying to reheat a beurre blanc, especially to heat it to well above the upper limit of the danger zone, is an exercise in frustration and futility. A beurre blanc is nothing more than some reduced wine and/or vinegar along with some shallot. To this base, you add softened butter a bit at a time to make an emulsion. It is rather like a Hollandaise in that way, but it is more delicate since there are no eggs or yolks in the formula to assist in emulsification.

    For this reason, a beurre blanc is very delicate and should be made a la minute (at the last minute), or as close to serving as possible and then kept warm in a Thermos-type bottle or in a double boiler over just hot, not boiling, water. If you want to get a jump on dinner, you could make the reduction base the day before, heat it up the day of serving to about 150F–well outside the temperature danger zone. Then, you’ll want to let it cool a bit before mounting in your butter.

  6. Trudy Fennell says:

    sure is a whole lot of shallots…3 medium shallots or 3 Tablespoons of shallots???

    Trudy, 3 shallots is not that much for 24 tablespoons of butter. Maybe the recipe is to much for most folks but if you cut it in half, that would be 1 to 1 1/2 shallots which seems right.

  7. Trudy Fennell says:

    also, any chance of a metric conversion chart somewhere on the recipe area?
    My scale weighs in metric and I attended a French Pastry School where everything we did was in Metric but some of my students other than having a scale, don’t have a clue. It would be handy for some readers/cooks especially the liquid measures for some. I really am thrilled that I found your site/blog I would rather prepare in metric than convert once one does everything in Metric for a while it is so much more precise….but the metric only may prevent a few from giving a recipe a try….
    Thanks for listening. Keep them coming! You have a FAN!
    I was looking for a recipe and found a treasure!
    Thanks Trudy for the kind words. Did you see the converter in the footer of every page? It has conversions for ounces to liters but I’ll have to work on weights next.

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