My husband–who is one and of my greatest supporters and honest critics–hates to cook, which is odd since he studied cooking at one of Europe’s great culinary schools, Le Cordon Bleu. He can be coaxed into the kitchen occasionally and his favorite thing to make is Beurre Blanc sauce. At Le Cordon Bleu they told him that if he could learn nothing more than this, that his time wouldn’t be completely wasted. This is literally Heaven on a plate and elevates anything it touches (traditionally fish) into something rare, delicious and special. I could eat it straight out of the pan (Dehillerin, of course!). In Julie and Julia there is a scene where Julia lovingly describes the reaction of the acidity of the vinegar on the fat of the butter…. In this case, the whole it truly greater than the sum of its parts.
What is this Heaven on a plate? Literally translated, it means “white butter” and is rich, hot butter sauce made with a reduction of vinegar and/or white wine (normally Loire, bien sur) and shallots into which cold, sweet butter is melted. This sauce is a classic part of Loire Valley cuisine. A beurre blanc is easy to make, although there is a risk of separation if it is not served immediately. When separation looms, one can add cream as a stabilizing agent and it is then called a Beurre nantais. The Loire town of Nantes is important as this sauce was invented by Clémence Lefeuvre at her restaurant “La Buvette de la Marine” in the village of Saint-Julien-de-Concelles on the banks of the Loire River, just upstream from Nantes.
This sauce on a simple piece of grilled fish is magical. Actually, that is upside down; nape the plate with the sauce and gently deposit your grilled fish on top and then a quick garnish and you are off to the races.
With a chiffonade of sage, we like it with pumpkin filled ravioli instead of the usual Beurre Noisette, or browned butter that is traditionally serve with.
Buerre Blanc can be adapted to many different uses—lemon juice instead of vinegar, herbs mixed in, stock added—the combinations are endless. My husband tells me of a Buerre Blanc he once made with red currants and juniper berries to go with grilled medallions of venison—really, if I wasn’t there to eat it I don’t want to hear about it!
Here’s to heaven on a plate!
Makes 2 cups of sauce
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup white wine vinegar
1 Tbs finely chopped shallot
1 lb unsalted butter, cold
Kosher salt, to taste
Heat wine, vinegar and shallots in a saucepan until the liquid boils, then lower the heat a bit and continue simmering until the liquid has reduced down to about 2 tablespoons. This should take about 10 minutes.
While the liquid reduces you can cut the butter into medium (½-inch) cubes, but either leave this until the reduction is nearly finished or return the butter cubes to the refrigerator to keep them cold while the liquid finishes reducing.
Once the wine-vinegar mixture has reduced to 2 tablespoons, reduce the heat to low and start adding the cubes of butter, one or two at a time, and whisk rapidly with a wire whisk.
As the butter melts and incorporates, add more butter and keep whisking. Continue until you only have 2-3 cubes remaining. Remove from heat while whisking in the last few cubes, and whisk for a moment or two more. The finished sauce should be thick and smooth.
Season to taste with Kosher salt. Serve right away.