Beurre blanc is lovely smooth, tangy, elegant butter sauce from the Loire valley in western France. Invented in 1890, the beurre blanc was intended to accompany fish from the Loire river. Originally conceived to accompany Pike, these days it is served with just about any fish. Whatever fish is chosen, it is best poached in a white wine court-bouillon, ideally a Muscadet from the region.
The renowned French gastronome Curnonski stated that “The high Priestess of the beurre blanc was la Mere Clémence who kept an auberge at Saint-Julien de Concelles, on the left bank of the Loire just upstream from Nantes. Legend holds that she intended to prepare a béarnaise sauce but forgot the tarragon and egg yolks. Locally it is still referred to as “beurre raté”, meaning “failed butter”.
Ingredients (for 2 people)
2 salmon fillets (150g each)
FOR THE COURT BOUILLON
an onion, finely sliced
half a stick of celery, finely sliced
a carrot, thinly sliced
a few peppercorns
a sprig of thyme and of parsley
a bay leaf
a strip of lemon peel
200 ml dry white wine
1 litre of water
a couple of pinches of salt
FOR THE BEURRE BLANC
a shallot, very finely chopped, almost a purée
50 ml white wine vinagre
100 ml dry white wine
200 g best quality butter
salt and white pepper
To prepare the court-bouillon (the poaching liquid), simmer aromatic ingredients with a couple of pinches of salt in the wine and water for about fifteen minutes. Strain out the solids.
To make the beurre blanc, put the chopped shallots into a saucepan with the wine and vinegar and cook gently until the liquid is all but dried up, no more than a tablespoon left. Over a very low heat, the butter is whisked in, a couple of lumps at a time, and each addition fully incorporated before the next is added. The sauce requires constant whisking. Keep the pan warm enough to melt the butter, but not so hot as to boil it which would cause the sauce to split. Check the seasoning, then strain out the shallots. The sauce is kept warm until ready to serve, and given a good whisk every few minutes. (If left to cool and then reheated it will split.)
Bring the court-bouillon to a simmer. Drop in the fish and poach it for five minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet. The fillets must cook very gently indeed, the liquid not even simmering but merely shuddering. Remove the fish and place on a paper towel. Cooked to perfection, the fish should just flake when pressed. Lightly season the fish, plate it, and spoon the warm sauce generously over and around it.
So here we have the classic Beurre Blanc that I believe the chef Clemence Lefeuvre would approve of, rich and buttery yet still light and tangy. I do hope you’ll give this magical, creamy, classic French sauce a try.