Yes, it's French — but don't let that intimidate you. Alex Hitz's simple, classic sauce makes anything and everything taste better.
Beurre Blanc — it's nothing short of magic. Honestly, at this point in our yearlong relationship, I feel as if I can share a closely guarded culinary secret with you: If you can make a superior sauce, people will think you cook much better than you actually do. Forget "culinary arts," "knife skills," "braising," or any of the other typical themes of beginners' cooking courses, and jump right ahead to something that requires very little acumen at all, ensures success, and provides near-instant pleasure: sauce making.
In time for grilling season, the sauce that seems just right is that most classic of all French sauces: beurre blanc. It's a reduction of shallots, white wine, and lemon juice, with cubes of cold butter whisked in to make a luxurious, fully emulsified sauce that explodes with flavor. It's really easy to do, and tastes like you've been cooking for hours, but nothing could be further from the truth. It takes only 10 to 15 minutes to reduce all this — maybe a little more or maybe less, depending on the size of your saucepan — and then a couple of minutes more to whisk in the butter. The traditional version can be a little bit temperamental, so I've added the slightest bit of heavy cream to stabilize it. That way, you can reheat it without worrying that it will break. I didn't invent this trick, but sure wish I had — it's a great idea.
To say beurre blanc is transformative is to say the very, very least. A tablespoon of this deliciousness added to a lovely piece of plain grilled or poached fish is nothing short of a bona fide gift from the heavens. The same goes for chicken, shrimp, and, depending on what you add to this sauce, even beef. Here's another bit of news: That same tablespoon of sauce can make any overcooked whatever palatable as well. (I'm quite sure you, of all people, would never have any friends or family who would dare overcook things on the grill, but just in case.) It almost doesn't matter what you put this stuff on — the results will nearly always be successful. It's so good I might even want to eat it on an aspirin.
Feel free to experiment with this base by stirring in a couple of tablespoons of chopped dill, or tarragon, or parsley, or roasted red peppers, or sautéed tomatoes with fresh basil, just as you finish making the sauce. You can even add a little Dijon mustard and serve it over a wonderful piece of grilled beef.
I can't tell you how many people claim that they don't usually like fish but love it when I serve it at my house. I'm dying to tell them it's just the sauce, but that'll be our secret.
Happy cooking! Love, Alex.
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
1 cup white wine
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) salted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1. In a heavy saucepan over high heat, combine the shallots, wine, and lemon juice. Boil the mixture until it is thick and syrupy. This will take between 10 and 15 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to very low, and add the cream, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the cubed butter, a little at a time.
3. When the butter is fully combined and the mixture is emulsified, remove it from the heat. Serve the sauce immediately, or store it in a thermos until you are ready to serve. The sauce can be made up to about an hour before serving, and then reheated. Do not let it bubble on the reheat.
Once you've mastered this base, get creative! To vary the flavor, you can add a couple of tablespoons of any of the following ingredients to the finished sauce: chopped chives, dill, tarragon, or parsley; pureed or chopped roasted red peppers; a little mustard; or sautéed tomatoes with fresh basil.
Photo by Luca Trovato