Imagine a sweet, tangy, and buttery sauce that magically makes any bland food taste amazing. Slather it on fish, chicken, tofu, or vegetables, and you’ll instantly get a mouthwatering dish. What if this sauce was easy to make? Let’s learn about beurre blanc and why you’ll love this French sauce.
Beurre blanc contains 4 ingredients. This complex-tasting sauce is tasty enough to stand alone. Yet, its simplicity makes it a piquant base for additional seasonings and creative twists.
The legend goes that a French chef in the city of Nantes, in the Brittany region, forgot to add eggs and tarragon to her béarnaise sauce. As a result, she accidentally invented the beurre blanc, which has become a beloved French sauce to adorn fish and other delicate proteins.
You’re going to learn how to make beurre blanc. Don’t let its French name and appearance in haute cuisine establishments scare you off. It’s surprisingly straightforward, and I’ll share dozens of tips to help you succeed.
What is beurre blanc?
Beurre blanc roughly translates to “white butter”. It’s a French sauce that’s made from a flavor base of wine, vinegar (both acids), and shallots. Once the flavor base is cooked down, cold pats of butter are whisked in to create a velvety, medium-bodied, daffodil-yellow sauce that resembles aioli sauce.
What does beurre blanc taste like?
When the creamy sauce first hits the tongue, you taste the tangy brightness of the wine and vinegar. The sweetness of the shallots balances some of the sharpness and adds complexity. Then the richness of the butter envelops your tongue to give you a luxurious mouthfeel.
If you don’t strain the beurre blanc through a sieve, the bits of shallot give you another layer of texture beyond the velvety sauce to keep your palate intrigued.
Here are some ideas for how you can customize the classic sauce.
Instead of wine, use beer or champagne for the acid. Here’s a “beer blanc” recipe from Food52 (and a good play on words). I’ve seen recipes call for dry vermouth instead of white wine.
Instead of alcohol, use fruit juices and aged vinegars. For example, use lime or lemon juice as a substitute for the wine and vinegar. Add some lime or lemon zest for a boost of flavor. This makes a beurre citron.
TIP: Make sure you have enough acid to balance the fat from the butter. The acid balances the richness. If using a fruit juice, add white wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar to make sure you’ve got enough brightness.
You can use red wine and red wine vinegar to make a beurre rouge.
Use heavy whipping cream to make beurre nantais. The classic beurre blanc recipe doesn’t contain any cream. However, some chefs call for cream in their recipe, which can help stabilize the emulsion so it’s less likely to separate.
Some recipes finish the beurre blanc with herbs and/or mix-ins that add texture and flavor:
- Herbs: 1 tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary, sage, dill, saffron, basil, chives, or tarragon
- Condiments: 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
- Seasonings/other mix-ins: 1 tablespoon of capers, 2 tablespoon of finely chopped roasted red pepper,
NOTE: Use your imagination to customize the sauce. I’ve seen a Japanese-style beurre blanc recipe that substitutes white wine with sake, white wine vinegar with rice vinegar, and uses ginger instead of shallots. This guide from Culinary Pro introduces coconut curry beurre blanc and spinach beurre blanc variations.
How to know when beurre blanc is done
The greater danger to beurre blanc is overheating it. That’s why you should pull the pan off the stove as soon as the sauce is done.
To recognize the sauce is ready, watch for a creamy texture like mayonnaise and pale yellow color. Unlike whipped cream, beurre blanc won’t hold stiff peaks. But it will coat the back of a spoon. It shouldn’t be watery like a yellow puddle.
TIP: If you’re unsure, preemptively remove the pan from the heat and keep whisking. The residual heat in the pan might be all your need to reach completion. If not, it’s always easier to apply more heat to the sauce than to fix a broken sauce.
Tips for success
Three most common mistakes when making beurre blanc are:
- The heat is too high: The butter melts and your sauce becomes a yellow puddle instead of having the fats emulsify into the water. Watch the sauce diligently when it’s cooking over the stove. Lift your pan off the heat periodically if it looks like the sauce is getting too hot (the sauce is too hot if you see the butter melting instead of softening).
- You added the butter all at once: This isn’t as big of an issue as #1 above. The problem with adding all the butter at once is that it tempts you to turn up the heat so you can melt it all quickly, which leads to mistake #1.
- You didn’t use cold butter: After chopping the butter into slabs, return the butter to the fridge or freezer while you reduce the wine, vinegar, and shallots.
Ultimate TIP: I found 110-130 ºF / 43-54 ºC temperature to be the sweet spot. When I whisked the butter at that temperature, it softened easily and incorporated into the sauce at a fast enough pace that I didn’t feel like it was going to take forever. But it didn’t go so fast that it felt like I was on the verge of breaking the sauce. I used the probe on my digital thermometer to measure the bottom of my pan.
Beurre blanc (French butter) sauce for fish, chicken, and vegetables
- Chopping Board
- ¼ cup (60 ml) white wine
- ¼ cup (60 ml) white wine vinegar
- ½ small (15 g) Shallot
- ¼ cup (60 ml) heavy whipping cream, optional
- 1 cup (225 g) butter, about 2 sticks, cold
- Gather the ingredients.
- Chop the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces. Place the cut butter in the freezer while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Finely chop the shallots.
- Place the wine, vinegar, and chopped shallots into a sauce pan. Heat on high.
- Reduce the wine-vinegar base until there is about 1 tablespoon of liquid left, about 5 minutes. If using cream, add the cream and reduce until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
- Turn the heat down to low. Remove the pan from the stove. Add 2 pieces of butter into the wine-vinegar liquid. Whisk the butter into the sauce.
- Return the sauce to the stove. Continue whisking. Once the 2 cubes of butter have melted, add 2 more pieces of cold butter and whisk to mix.
- Continue to heat the sauce and whisk in cold butter until all the butter is mixed into the sauce. Keep the sauce around 110-130 ºF / 43-54 ºC to avoid overheating the sauce while keeping a good melting pace.
- The sauce is ready when all the butter has been mixed in. It should be creamy and pale yellow. Avoid overheating the sauce. I like to remove the saucepan from heat once the last 2 pieces of butter are half melted. The residual heat will continue cooking the sauce.
- Enjoy the beurre blanc sauce!
How to fix your broken emulsion
Diagnose what happened: Did the sauce break because it was too hot? Did the sauce never form because it was too cold? Is the sauce congealed and gritty?
You can tell the sauce broke because it was overheated if the sauce is bright yellow and there is clarified butter floating on top and solids at the bottom of the bowl. This means the oil and water separated.
Fix the sauce: Allow the sauce to cool until about 110 ºF / 43 ºC. Add 1 tablespoon of iced water, cold court bouillon, or cold cream to the sauce. Heat it over the lowest heat setting and whisk it until it begins to come together to form a pale-yellow, creamy sauce.
NOTE: If the above strategy doesn’t work, you can still enjoy the liquidy sauce. It won’t have the intended thick, creamy texture, but it’ll be delicious.
TIP: If you continue to struggle with a broken sauce and you’re not using cream, I recommend you add the cream. It helps stabilize the emulsified state. Add the cream after reducing the wine, vinegar, and shallots. Cook the cream mixture until it can coat the back of a spoon. Then add the pats of butter.
Can it be made in advance?
Yes, you can make beurre blanc in advance.
The key is to keep it warm and to stir it periodically to prevent it from solidifying, drying over with a skin, or from splitting.
How to store it
Once the sauce forms, remove immediately from the heat.
If you intend to eat it within a few hours: Store the sauce in a vacuum flask to keep it warm. If you don’t have one, you can store it in a lukewarm water bath (no hotter than 150 ºF / 65 ºC and don’t accidentally get water in the sauce!).
Keep the water bath on low so there are periodic bubbles but the water in the bath is not boiling. We want to reduce the risk of overheating and thereby breaking the sauce.
If you have a cooking range (where the oven is below the stove) and the oven is turned on, you could keep the sauce at the back of your cooktop over the warm oven to keep the sauce warm.
TIP: Regardless of how you store it, stir it often to avoid having the sauce skin over.
If you intend to eat the sauce over days or weeks or months: You can put the leftover sauce in an airtight plastic or glass container for storage. Seal it with the lid to avoid contaminating it with errant flavors in the fridge or freezer.
NOTE: It keeps for 3 days in the fridge. Freeze it if you intend to store it for longer.
Can you freeze it?
Yep. I tried freezing it in a plastic container, and it worked beautifully.
How to reheat it
A lot of chefs and food writers claim that you can’t refrigerate or freeze beurre blanc.
I’d agree. Kind of.
When you reheat the sauce, it can reform into its emulsified state. But it looks grittier and it tastes different. The texture is less smooth. Plus, it’s easy to break the sauce when you reheat it.
I think it’s worth saving leftovers and reheating it for later. But you have to accept the sauce won’t be identical to its freshly made state and appreciate that it will still taste tangy, rich, and luxurious (i.e., delicious).
I had good luck with these techniques for reheating the sauce:
- I zapped the frozen puck of beurre blanc in the microwave for 15 seconds. Yes, 15 seconds. This softened it up and half melted the top. I mixed it all together until I got a thick, creamy pale yellow sauce again.
- I put the sauce in a warm water bath after it fully solidified. I stirred it vigorously with a spoon until it returned to its emulsified state. It looked grittier but it tasted great.
How to scale the recipe
Because beurre blanc is so tasty, I can understand if you want to make restaurant-level quantities of this sauce.
Knowing the challenges of storing it and reheating it, it might be smarter to make as much as you need because it’s easy and quick to whisk up a new batch.
However, if you’re hosting a dozen guests and/or you want to meal prep for the week, here are the quantities that worked for me to make a large batch (inspired by Culinary Pro):
- 4 oz. / 120 g / ½ cup white wine
- 4 oz. / 120 g / ½ cup wine vinegar
- 4 oz. / 120 g / ½ cup cream (optional)
- 1 oz. / 30 g / 2 tablespoons shallots
- 1 lb. / 450 g / 4 sticks / 2 cups butter
What to serve with beurre blanc
- Vegetables: steamed, boiled, or microwaved vegetables
- Chicken: poached chicken breast, roasted chicken breast or thighs
- Seafood: lobster, crab, fish, shrimp, scallops
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FAQ about beurre blanc
What’s the difference between beurre blanc and hollandaise sauce?
Hollandaise contains eggs whereas beurre blanc doesn’t. Hollandaise is often made with a double boiler for temperature control to avoid cooking the eggs. It’s often used with poached eggs to make Eggs Benedict.
Beurre blanc is an easier sauce to master with fewer ingredients and is typically served with fish, though you could serve it with poached chicken or eggs.