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Beurre Blanc
Rich with butter, beurre blanc is similar to hollandaise. But unlike hollandaise, it starts with a heady blend of dry white wine, vinegar and shallot. These acidic ingredients contribute to the sauce in two ways: They help hold the emulsion together, and they give the pale yellow sauce a distinctive flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot
  • 2 fresh tarragon or dill sprigs (optional)
  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or
     Pinot Grigio
  • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 16 Tbs. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
  • 1⁄4 tsp. salt
  • 1⁄8 tsp. freshly ground pepper, preferably
     white pepper

Directions:

Dice the shallot
Cut the shallot in half lengthwise and pull off the peel. Place a shallot half, flat side down, on a cutting board and make a series of parallel lengthwise cuts about 1⁄4 inch apart, stopping at the root. Holding the knife parallel to the board, make another series of cuts just to the root end, perpendicular to the first, also 1⁄4 inch apart. Now cut the shallot crosswise into small dice. Repeat with the second half if needed to measure out 2 Tbs. diced shallot.

Prepare the herb, if using
This pale sauce can benefit from a colorful garnish. Tarragon, with a subtle anise flavor, or dill, with its distinct aromatic flavor, is a good match for the sauce. Remove the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Gather the leaves into a small pile. Using a sharp chef's knife, mince the leaves. You should have about 1 tsp. minced herb. Transfer the minced herb to a small bowl, cover with a damp paper towel and set aside.

Cook the wine with the shallot
In a small nonreactive saucepan over high heat, combine the wine, vinegar and diced shallot. (Wine and vinegar are acidic ingredients that can react with an aluminum or uncoated cast-iron pan, giving an off flavor to the final sauce.) Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the liquid has reduced to 2 Tbs., about 5 minutes. This liquid, or any liquid evaporated and reduced by boiling, is called a reduction. Tilt the pan occasionally to estimate the amount of liquid remaining. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool for about 30 seconds. If the sauce is too hot, the butter will simply melt and not mount the mixture to a creamy consistency.

Cut the butter into cubes
While the wine mixture is cooling, cut the cold butter into 1⁄2-inch cubes. Cut each stick of butter in half lengthwise into slices 1⁄2 inch thick. Turn the slices 90 degrees and cut again 1⁄2 inch thick. Finally, cut the butter crosswise into 1⁄2-inch cubes.

Mount the sauce with butter
Turn on the heat to very low. You merely want to warm the mixture, not cook it. Place the saucepan over the heat. Add a few cold butter cubes to the shallot-wine reduction and whisk until the cubes are almost completely incorporated. Continue adding the butter a few cubes at a time and whisking until the mixture transforms into an ivory-colored sauce with the consistency of thick heavy cream.

Adjust the seasonings
Stir in the salt and pepper and then taste the sauce. It should taste both tangy and creamy, with a nice acidity from the wine. If you feel it tastes a little dull, stir in a bit more salt and pepper until the flavors are nicely balanced. Keep in mind that if you plan to use the herbs, they will add additional flavor.

Strain and garnish the sauce
Like hollandaise, beurre blanc is served warm but never steaming hot. To help it maintain its temperature, strain it into a warmed bowl. Just before straining the sauce, fill the serving bowl with hot tap water and let stand to warm the bowl. Pour out the water and dry the bowl, then immediately strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into the warmed bowl, being sure not to press the shallots through the sieve.

Serve or hold the sauce
Sprinkle the chopped herbs over the sauce. Serve the beurre blanc immediately or hold it. To hold the sauce for up to 2 hours, place the bowl in a warm place in the kitchen, perhaps near the stove. If the sauce starts to thicken, it can be thinned with a tablespoon or two of hot white wine or water. Makes about 2⁄3 cup.

Chef's Tip: Leftover beurre blanc can be chilled for up to 1 day and then used like a compound butter. Put small pieces of the cold sauce on top of hot food. It will melt and form a sauce.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Mastering Series, Sauces, Salsas & Relishes, by Rick Rodgers (Simon & Schuster, 2005).