Beurre Blanc: Adoptive Mother Sauce

Seared scallops with a white chocolate beurre blanc.

In culinary school I was taught that beurre blanc, while not a mother sauce, is a sauce of great importance. Interestingly, though it bears resemblance to Hollandaise, it doesn’t have nearly the same number of variations or “lesser sauces”. In my culinary text there were only two beurre blanc variations: herb butter sauce (throw some chopped herbs into your beurre blanc), and beurre rouge (use red wine in the initial reduction instead of white).

In the Eleven Madison Park cookbook there are at least five variations on classic beurre blanc:

  • Lemon Beurre Blanc. Using a lemon reduction instead of wine and vinegar. I haven’t made the EMP recipe yet, but it calls for an insane volume of 1 cup lemon juice for a pound of butter.
  • Orange Beurre Blanc.
  • Citrus Beurre Blanc. Using grapefruit, orange, and lemon.
  • Brown Butter Beurre Blanc. A funny name as it means “brown butter white butter….” A small amount of brown butter is added partway through the whisking in of the cold cubed butter.
  • Mushroom Beurre Blanc. A quick but concentrated mushroom broth with lots of white wine serves as the liquid base. Because this liquid does not have the acidity of the classic wine/vinegar mix, the recipes calls for lime juice to be added to the finished sauce.

If you want to look at this in a generalized sense, there are three ways to do variations on a beurre blanc

Change the Liquid in the Initial Reduction

White wine and vinegar are traditional, but as you can see from EMP citrus is a welcome stand-in. Acidity is important to balance a beurre blanc. I’m keen to try a variation with some apple verjus I made last summer.

Change the Fat Being Emulsified

For this to be a beurre blanc the bulk of the fat needs to be properly emulsified cold butter, but you can add small amounts of other fat, as EMP does with the brown butter. I think a small amount of bacon fat could make a great sauce to accompany scallops. The beurre blanc in the photo above contains white chocolate.

Add Another Component

Herbs are the most obvious, but there are lots of great ideas from the classic Hollandaise variations. A beurre blanc ‘choron’ (ie. with tomato concentrate) would be tasty with shellfish. Or beurre blanc ‘foyot’ (with meat glace) could be great with steak.

Other general notes on the beurre blanc recipes in the EMP cookbook:

  • They generally start with much more liquid than the recipes I use, as much as 6 fl oz per pound of butter (compared to 1.5 fl oz in my culinary text).
  • A few of them also include heavy cream. Technically this is a beurre nantais, which according to Larousse stabilizes the emulsion. Unlike Larousse, which says to add the cream at the end, EMP adds it partway through the reduction.
  • At least one of the recipes say to hit the finished sauce with a stick blender to ensure emulsion is complete.