Beurre Blanc sauce, also known as Beurre Nantais - a French classic that's best served with fish. Although optional, add a smoky twist by briefly infusing a simple sachet of Lapsang Souchong tea.
What is Beurre Blanc Made Of?
A classic beurre blanc (literally 'white butter') is an emulsion of butter with shallots. It's a delicate sauce with a subtle taste of shallots, made with white wine vinegar and white wine.
It is then thickened by beating in copious amounts of chilled French butter - often a little lemon juice is added.
Cream is optional and sometimes added to stabilize the sauce - something I do in this recipe simply as I have reduced the butter.
Why is it also called Beurre Nantais?
According to many dictionary sources (such as my French Larousse Gastronomique), there are two names for this 'mother' sauce, as it was invented in 1890 in the Loire, near Nantes by Clémence Lefeuvre, cook to le marquis de Goulaine.
She made the sauce quite by accident to serve with the local Loire river's pike (brochet). Aiming to make a Béarnaise sauce, she forgot the egg yolks and tarragon -thus inventing le Beurre Nantais or Beurre Blanc.
Purists will say to use a white wine from the Loire as a result but any good dry white works well. On the same theme, use the best and favourite vinegar if you can of the gourmet writer, Alexandre Dumas: le vinaigre d'Orléans.
Beurre Blanc with Reduced Butter
I originally posted this recipe with smoked tea in July 2011 for this herb-hugging John Dory recipe.
Since I published the recipe, I've altered the sauce to reduce the whopping amount of butter normally used for this classic. As a result, although cream is normally an option, I add this to make it easier for the sauce to thicken naturally, rather than solely rely on the butter.
The sauce is still glossy, creamy and rich - rather like how I wish to be this year!
Adding Smoked Tea to Beurre Blanc
This is my Auld Alliance inspiration; it's where saucy France hugs Scottish salmon on a plate. Good fresh organic salmon fillets are served with a rich French sauce.
However, instead of the classic beurre blanc sauce that often has lemon juice added, I've replaced it with a subtle smoky flavour via a sachet of smoked tea.
As long as it's infused for only 5 minutes, it doesn't overpower the fish. It adds that je ne sais quoi, giving this French sauce an intriguing taste.
Is it smoked fish? No, it's the sauce.
How to Make a Beurre Blanc
To make a Beurre Blanc, it's quick and easy. However, after a few easy mistakes over the years there are a few important steps to ensure the sauce thickens without splitting.
First fry finely chopped shallots in a little of the butter until translucent.
Add the vinegar and wine then a little cream. If using, add the smoked tea sachet (only infuse for 5 minutes).
For an extra smooth sauce, strain out the chopped shallots.
Many people like to keep them in but I press them out with the back of a spoon, extracting as much juice and flavour from the shallots to retain their flavour.
At this stage when the sauce is reduced and warm (not scalding to the touch and not too cold either), add the chilled butter and whisk or stir vigorously until thickened. Add salt and ground pepper to taste.
The sauce is ready when you can draw a line in the pan with a spoon.
What if my Sauce Splits?
If the sauce is left on too high a heat, it risks splitting (the butter separates from the sauce). This has happened a few times if I leave any extra sauce on the heat and forgotten about it while serving guests.
As the sauce does freeze, it also happens if you defrost any extra frozen sauce directly in the microwave. So it's best to defrost it thoroughly at room temperature.
The good news is the sauce can be saved. Heat 2 tablespoon cream in another saucepan (or heat in a bowl in the microwave) and vigorously whisk in the sauce gradually.
Beurre Blanc (or Sauce Nantais)
Beurre Blanc Sauce
- 50 g (2) shallots finely chopped
- 150 g (5.5oz/ 10 tbsp) unsalted butter chilled, diced
- 2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 200 ml (7fl oz/ ¾ cup) dry white wine
- 60 ml (2fl oz/ ¼ cup) heavy cream (30% fat) crème fleurette
- pinch salt (fleur de sel) & freshly ground pepper (to taste)
- 1 sachet Lapsang Souchong tea OPTIONAL
- Gently fry the shallots in some of the butter for 5 minutes until translucent but not browned.
- Add the vinegar and white wine and boil for 10 minutes until reduced by over half so that it looks a bit syrupy. Lower the heat and add the cream, stirring until well combined. Take off the heat and add the Lapsang Souchong teabag. Leave to infuse, covered, for 5 minutes.
- Remove the teabag if using (and shallots using a sieve if you like the sauce smooth, otherwise this step is not necessary). Return to a gentle heat. It should be hot enough to the touch but not cool. Vigorously whisk in the cold diced butter gradually until the sauce is combined and glossy.
- Season the sauce to taste and serve immediately. Alternatively, keep on a very low heat as close as possible until ready to serve or set aside to cool covered and reheat very gently.
This recipe was first published in July 2011 then published separately on January 12 2019 but has now been completely updated.