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In case you haven’t noticed, butter seems to be a somewhat reoccurring theme in French cooking. I think this not-so-secret ingredient could be the secret ingredient in so many delicious things.
One of my favourite moments in Julie & Julia is Julie Powell’s expose about butter. Here is the clip:
So in honour of butter, I decided to tackle beurre blanc (or white butter sauce) this week. Beurre blanc is a truly magical creamy butter sauce accented by the tangy flavours of white wine vinegar, lemon and/or wine. There is a scene in the movie where Julia and her husband Paul are swooning over the greatness of beurre blanc, and at that moment I knew I had to try making it for myself.
I decided to serve my beurre blanc with fish, but you could also try it with chicken or any vegetable. The simplicity of the meat or vegetable is key as you are really using either or as an excuse to eat beurre blanc. In this case, think of the fish as an accessory to the feature: your white butter sauce.
While baking some asparagus in the oven, John took on the task of pan-frying the halibut, while I made the beurre blanc.
As you know, usually when you heat butter, it turns into a kind of oily, melted, clear substance. This is not what we are going for when we make the beurre blanc sauce. The key to beurre blanc is to heat the butter slowly so it maintains that magical creamy consistency.
I began by reducing the white wine vinegar, lemon juice and shallots into a kind of syrupy substance. Once I achieved this consistency, I melted cubes of cold butter into the pot, one by one, mixing very consistently and very slowly, waiting for each cube of butter to melt before adding the next. John was watching me and couldn’t help but grow impatient as I went through this disciplined task. I had to swat his hand away when he tried to sneak extra butter cubes into the pot to speed up the process. But my patience paid off, and the sauce was nice and creamy once I was done.
Don’t be afraid of attempting this sauce. It is actually not very hard to make. A little of patience is required to do this properly, but don’t worry – it is very easy!
We served our beurre blanc over pan-fried halibut on a bed of asparagus
- Follow the instructions carefully. It seems like it will be tedious to melt in one cube of butter at a time, but I assure you, it’s less work then it seems. You don’t want to rush things and over-cook the butter!
- We served our beurre blanc on halibut and asparagus, but try whatever white fish or vegetable you have on hand. .
- Keep your fish simple! The beurre blanc is so delicious and tangy you don’t need to add much to your pan-fried fish fillets. John seasoned our halibut with only salt and pepper, and that’s all that was needed.
WARNING: DO NOT OVER-CONSUME!!!
There is a scene in Julie & Julia where we cut between Paris in the 1960s and New York in the 2000s. We view alternate shots of the husbands of Julia Child and Julie Powell reaching into the medicine cabinet for antacids. At first this scene just seemed comical, but after over-indulging in beurre blanc, I understand.
There is just over 1 cup of butter that goes into this recipe. To serve, John and I had doled out a reasonable amount over our fish. But when we started eating our beurre blanc, we freaked out and all self-control was lost (it was THAT good!) We went back to the pot and continued to serve the sauce to ourselves, ignoring the quantity which we devoured. When we looked in the pot, we saw that there was only a small amount left. Panic set in as we realized that we had shared a nearly a cup of butter between the two of us. This is not normal for John and I, and was BAD NEWS.
As you can imagine, I did not feel so good for the rest of the evening – lesson learned.
Moral of the story – portion control! But don’t let this tale deter you from such a key life experience as enjoying beurre blanc. Just be sure not to over-indulge.
John and I agree that this is our new go to sauce. Yes, of course, we will make efforts not to over-do it next time, but I know for a fact this delicious sauce will find its way on to our plates in the near future. I can’t even describe how wonderful it is.
Beurre blanc is a truly delightful culinary experience! An easy dish that can be turned into a special and memorable dinner. Do yourself a favour and try it – I guarantee that it will be a meal you won’t forget!
(as Julia Child would say) Bon appetit!
Click here to view printable Word version of recipe:
Beurre Blanc – White butter sauce
By Julia Child
Step 1 ingredients: Flavour base
2 and ½ tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 and ½ tbsp. dry white wine, vermouth or lemon juice
1 tbsp very finely minced shallots or green onion
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp butter
Step 2 ingredients:
1 cup butter, cut into 16 cubes and chilled
Salt, pepper to taste
Lemon juice as needed
The trick is keeping the butter from becoming oily like melted butter. It must keep its creamy consistency. You can add more butter if you like, but if you use less than the flavour may be too acidic.
Prep: Start by cutting the 1 cup butter into 16 cubes.
- Boil step 1 ingredients: the liquid with shallots, seasonings and the 2 tbsp butter until reduced to a syrupy consistency. About 1.5 tbsp should remain
- Cut butter in cubes (16 pieces – do this in advance) Remove saucepan from heat and immediately beat in 2 pieces of chilled butter. As the butter softens and creams into the liquid, beat in another piece of butter. Set the saucepan over very low heat, and beating constantly continue adding each successive pieces of butter as each previous piece has almost creamed into the sauce. The sauce will be thick and ivory colored, the consistency of light hollandaise. Immediately remove from heat as soon as all the butter has been used. Beat in additional seasonings to taste.
Variation: Beurre Citron – Lemon butter sauce (try with fish, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower)
¼ cup lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt
Pinch of white pepper
½ cup butter – cut into 8 pieces
2-3 tbsp hot vegetable stock or water
- Bowl down lemon juice with salt and pepper until it has reduced to 1 tbsp.
- Remove from heat and immediately beat in 2 pieces of chilled butter. Set over very low heat and beat in the rest of the butter a piece at a time. Immediately remove from heat.
- Just before serving, beat in the hot liquid by driblets to warm the sauce. Correct seasoning and serve in a barley warmed sauceboat.