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La Belle Cuisine - Classic Sauce Beurre Blanc

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Julia on Sauce Beurre Blanc
(White Butter Sauce)
The Classic Method

Julia and Jacques
Cooking at Home

Julia Child and Jacques Pepin,
1999, Alfred A. Knopf

“It looks like a hollandaise sauce when you spoon it over your beautifully poached fish, but it is only warm flavored butter – butter emulsified, held in suspension by
its strongly acid flavor base. You’ll not find this sauce in your Escoffier since it is
a regional not a classic recipe. Some regional sauces didn’t get recognition until
the 1920s and 1930s, when they became popular with the French themselves as
they toured the country in their new-fangled automobiles, and, of course, with foreign tourists.
White butter sauce was a specialty of Nantes, on the Loire River, where the local culinary specialty was ‘brochet’ au beurre blanc. ‘Brochet’, or pike, is a fine large white-fleshed fish with splendid taste and texture but full of big and little bones seemingly running in every direction – much like a shad. It has taken something
like this divine sauce to make it a desirable fish. The sauce emerged from obscurity in the 1930s, but began to be known in the 1950s, about the time Paul and I came
to Paris. It then became immensely popular during the era of nouvelle cuisine,
and is now in limbo because, however marvelous its flavor, it is a butter sauce.
In those 1950 days of ours my colleague Louisette Bertholle, who had a good
nose for culinary gossip, had heard than an authentic beurre blanc was to be had
at a small Paris restaurant, Chez La Mère Michel, in the sixth arrondissement. Obviously, we had to go at once and the six of us – Louisette, Simca (my other colleague), and our husbands foregathered for lunch at the restaurant on the
rue Rennequin.
It was indeed a small and modest restaurant with six to eight tables and an open kitchen at the side. Madame Michel was a small white-haired woman probably
in her sixties, who had a modest air and quiet vigor. Her husband was her helper, meeter, greeter, waiter, and factotum. The two of them ran it alone, it seemed.
'No brochet today,’ Madame announced to us and the two other occupied tables.
It was not the season. She was giving us all some fine fresh turbot.
As we sipped our cool white wine, a Muscadet from the Loire, and gossiped
amiably with the other guests, we learned that this was the meal she always
served. It was what her faithful clients came for: carefully poached fish of ex-
cellent quality, her famous sauce, good French bread, small boiled potatoes,
and a little parsley or watercress for garnish. For dessert she offered an excel-
lent fruit tart made in the neighborhood, and coffee.
We asked her to come sit with us, during a lull, and as we talked she invited us
to come with her to the kitchen during her next order – exactly what we hoped
she would do. Soon, after four new customers arrived, she beckoned to Louisette,
and the three of us joined her in the tiny kitchen adjacent to the dining room.
As I remember, it was just a little room, with counters on either side of an old
household-type stove.
As we crowded around her she poured a good dollop of white wine and of white-wine vinegar into a very French-looking enameled saucepan, brown on the out-
side, with a marbled gray interior (I bought one just like it after lunch and still
have it). She started boiling her liquids, rapidly adding a generous spoonful of
minced shallot and several grinds of white pepper.
‘Look,’ she said, while boiling the liquid down to a syrupy glaze, ‘very important, this base.’
She explained that it was the strong acid base that would force the butter to
cream and remain in suspension.
Then she pointed to her butter. It was cold, and cut into tablespoon-sized lumps.
She removed her pan from the heat and vigorously whipped in two lumps of the
cold butter, which creamed, then two more that creamed. She then set her pan
over very low heat, tossed in a new lump of butter, and continued to toss in a
new lump as soon as the last had been absorbed. ‘Alors,’ she said finally, as the
last lump disappeared into the sauce. ‘Goutez!’ We tasted, and found it good, but
she shook her head and beat in a little more salt. She tasted again; it was like a
mayonnaise, ivory yellow, smooth. ‘Bien!’ She nodded in satisfaction as she
dipped and drained her pieces of poached turbot onto warm plates and crowned
each with a generous serving of sauce; then she handed them to her husband
for garnishing and serving.
‘Now you go home and make it yourselves,’ she beamed at us, shaking our
hands cordially as we thanked her a ‘thousand times’ – mille fois.
And we did go home and make it, me with my new brown-enameled pan.
I made sure that my base was strongly acid, and the sauce was beautiful.
I did note that if your base is really acid the sauce itself can be a bit
too acid. In that case, simply add more butter to dilute it.”


Sauce Beurre Blanc (White Butter Sauce)

Proportions for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of sauce

1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 tablespoon finely minced shallots or scallions
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
8 to 12 ounces [1 to 1 1/2 cups, or 2 to 3 sticks]
chilled best-quality unsalted butter,
cut into 16 or 24 pieces

Making the sauce. Follow Madame Michel’s procedure as described
by Julia above.

Holding a butter sauce. Careful here! White butter sauce is much more delicate than hollandaise. Too much heat and the emulsion breaks down
and you’ll have melted butter. Keep just barely warm to prevent it from congealing.

Leftover sauce. It will congeal. Use like flavored butter, or heat it a little
bit at a time, as for Hollandaise: …set a small saucepan in another sauce-
pan of warm water, and stir the sauce by spoonfuls into the small pan,
warming it a bit at a time.

A Tribute to Julia Child
Happy 90th Birthday, Julia!
Julia Child in her own words...

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