Main content starts here, tab to start navigating
a plate of food with a fork and knife

Beurre Blanc

Known to most chefs as the perfect pairing for seafood and vegetables, the decadent yet elegant, finicky yet malleable beurre blanc is the French Mother sauces’ rebellious sister who walks to the beat of her own whisk. 

If you’re not a classically trained chef or culinary die-hard, you may be thinking “isn’t it just butter?” and/or “who are the Mothers?”

The simple answer: the Mother sauces are the five foundational French sauces defined by Chef Auguste Escoffier which serve as the basis for secondary sauces, colloquially known as the “daughter sauces”. Just like their namesake, the Mothers need patience and attention; they do not like to be rushed or hurried, and, if they get too hot, they can fall apart. Although they can be finicky, they are ultimately forgiving and malleable, and can usually be won over with some melted butter. They also serve as the foundation for all great cooking. The Mothers are the core building blocks for creating complex flavors and can be found at the core of most well loved dishes we know today.

The five Mothers are:

  • Béchamel – flour, butter, & cream

  • Veloute – flour, butter, & light stock

  • Espagnole – flour, butter, brown stock, & tomato

  • Tomato – flour, butter, & tomatoes

  • Hollandaise – egg yolks, acid, & butter

Unlike the traditional Mother sauces, beurre blanc does not incorporate a stabilizer (such as a roux) to thicken. Instead, it is thickened through emulsification, or the forced mixture of two or more liquids that are typically unmixable i.e. oil and water. Mastering emulsification is one of the essential techniques expected of a young professional chef, requiring you to understand the interactions of viscosity, temperature, and speed when combining ingredients.

As a young professional cook, you are expected to have these techniques down pat. I will say that at this point in my career, I now make a remarkable beurre blanc… though it didn’t come without its hiccups. Like many things in the kitchen, however, you don’t truly understand them until you fail at them once or twice – a lesson I learned the hard way. 

I was working my first big job in the city at a fine dining restaurant next to Central Park. We were five minutes from opening; the first of 200 covers eagerly waiting to order their lunch when my sous chef approached me holding a quart container of brown, oily liquid. The young, anxious, and overzealous cook I was, immediately exclaimed, “I have no idea what that is! It’s not mine!”

My mind raced… is that my beurre blanc?! 

How could it be? I thought back to that morning …. I was rushing, sure, but I made it every morning and it had never broken once! Though a fundamental lesson in French cooking reminded me: patience is rewarded… and rushing leads to broken sauce. Instead of whisking all of the cold cubes of butter into the reduced liquid, I had left a few cubes to slowly melt into the emulsified structure…those leftover cubes couldn’t emulsify without being whisked in and incorporated particle by particle, resulting in a cup of clarified butter sitting at the stop of each quart.

Needless to say, as she yelled, “Sam! It’s your beurre blanc!” I already knew.

My face melted to the floor and fear swept over me. That was everything I had prepared for service and there was no way in hell I could figure out how to fix it in time.

As I stood there in a dead panic, she shook her head and gathered up the quarts. She then grabbed a large pot, a giant whisk, and some ice water. She poured each quart back into the pot, slowly whisking and incorporating small amounts of ice water. Within 5 minutes, the sauce was whole. She saw my mystified stare, laughed, and walked to the pass.

Moral of the story: if you’re patient with your Mother, you will be rewarded.

Moral of the story: never rush a Mother.

Moral of the story: patience is rewarded in the kitchen.

Moral of the story: rushing leads to broken sauce.

When it comes to making your own beurre blanc, these are the key techniques to keep in mind:

  1. Viscosity:  maintaining the correct ratio of butter to liquid ensures that the viscosity of your sauce will be just right – not too thin, not too thick. You want a 16:1 ratio of butter to liquid aka 16oz butter to 1oz liquid.

  2. Temperature: When making a sauce without a thickening agent (like flour or cornstarch), the temperature matters significantly more; it needs to be juuuuust right. Exceeding 120°F greatly increases the chances of your sauce breaking. At the same time, your sauce can’t be too cold (around 100°F) because it will break at the first sign of heat. 

  3. Butter: Since butter is an emulsion of fat, milk solids, and water, keeping it as cold as possible maintains its structure. When butter is melted, it separates and the fat rises to the top. Using cold butter allows you to have more control over the heat; melting butter slowly will prevent the butterfat from separating too quickly and allows you to slowly incorporate with your liquid.

  4. Storage: This depends on how and when you plan on using your sauce. If using  right away, you don’t want the temperature to fall below 98°F. If using right away, DOH states it needs to be above 140°F (at home 100-115°F). You can also freeze or store cold for up to 2 weeks. In order to reheat, take a tablespoon of simmer water and add the cold Beurre Blanc to it while continuously whisking. Continue to slowly add the butter in until you achieve the proper thickness.

Speed: When incorporating your cold butter, the most important thing to remember is you need to maintain the same temperature with the speed at which you add your ingredient for it to be a stable sauce (emulsified correctly). Also, make sure that all of the cold butter is emulsified before putting the sauce away. You can add your butter one by one making sure each cube is melted before the next or all at once mixing rapidly in order to break down the butter at an even temperature rate.