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La Belle Cuisine
Julia on Sauce Beurre Blanc
(White Butter Sauce)
Julia and Jacques
Cooking at Home
Julia Child and Jacques Pepin,
1999, Alfred A. Knopf
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
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
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
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
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
cellent quality, her famous sauce, good French bread, small boiled
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
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
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
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
She removed her pan from the heat and vigorously whipped in two lumps
cold butter, which creamed, then two more that creamed. She then set
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.
sure that my base was strongly acid, and the sauce was beautiful.
I did note
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)
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
Holding a butter sauce. Careful here! White butter
sauce is much more delicate than hollandaise. Too much heat and the emulsion
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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