Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers: Lesson Seven

By Chef Ivan Flowers,

Last week we learned how to make a scampi sauce and lots of sauces that could be made from that technique. This week we will continue with sauces and you will learn how to make a beurre blanc.

Okay, stay calm, you can do this! Beurre blanc literally means white butter. The sauce is a hot emulsified butter sauce with a reduction of wine. A good beurre blanc is smooth, rich and buttery. So what is emulsified? An emulsion is a mixture of two liquids that would not normally mix together like water and oil. In an emulsion, you use emulsifiers to get those two liquids to not only get together, but to stay together.

What emulsifies this sauce? Butter, it contains lecithin. Lecithin is a fatty substance that combines with both oil and water. If you don’t get a sauce properly emulsified it will break, which means it will separate out into its water and oil counterparts. I’m going to teach you a technique that will assure your beurre blanc does not break. Plus, I will show you delicious variations on this versatile sauce. So let’s get cooking!

For your mise en place you will need a two quart saucepan and a good whisk. Also, one half cup white wine. Remember from last week, you want a wine that you like to drink so when you cook with it, it imparts a nice flavor.

Additionally, a tablespoon of minced shallots, now if you can’t find shallots, please use in equal ratio garlic and onion. You will also need four ounces cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces. We use unsalted butter so we can control the seasoning. Finally one tablespoon of heavy cream.

Start the sauce with the white wine and minced shallot in the saucepan. Have the saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the wine and shallots until literally only a couple of drops of wine remain in the pan. We do this to help stabilize the sauce and create a strong emulsion. Why does it work? Honestly, I don’t know, it is an old French technique I picked up working in kitchens and it just works.

Once you have just a few droplets of wine in the pan, you will start adding in the cold (it must be cold) butter a piece at a time. We keep the butter cold so we can control how fast it melts, which prevents the butter from getting too hot and breaking (separating into water and fat). So, drop one small piece of butter into the pan and start whisking. When the piece of butter just melts, pull pan off of heat and keep whisking. Whisk off of heat for 30 seconds. Then put pan back on heat and add another piece of butter. Again, whisk on heat until it is melted, then whisk off heat 30 seconds. Continue this technique until all the butter is incorporated into sauce. We whisk butter off heat to incorporate air and again, help develop that emulsion.

Once all butter is incorporated add the tablespoon of cream on the heat, whisk 30 seconds, then remove from heat and whisk 30 more seconds. Now, the French would tell you that you should never add cream to a beurre blanc, but guess what they do! Why? Because it smooths out the sauce and adds an extra layer of richness. The final step is to add salt and pepper to taste. That’s it!

If for some reason your sauce does break, don’t panic. You can fix it. Put one half cup cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until cream froths and bubbles to the top of the pan. Turn off heat and drizzle broken sauce into the hot cream, whisking the entire time. Your sauce will now be luxurious, velvety and emulsified again.

Now for the fun part, variations. For a citrus beurre blanc, start the same way with the wine and shallots. Once you have droplets, add one half cup orange juice, a squeeze of lime and a squeeze of lemon. Keep over the heat until the liquid is reduced to a syrup. Once you have a syrup, you will add the butter and cream, using the same technique. If the sauce is a little too acidic, simply whisk in some sugar or honey.

A beurre rouge starts with red wine instead of white. So start the sauce the same substituting one half cup red wine for the white and add one half teaspoon chopped thyme in with the wine. Once you have droplets, continue with the same technique.

Sweet beurre blanc you will start with the wine, but omit the shallots. After you incorporate the butter, scrape the pods out of one vanilla bean and whisk. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, use one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Now instead of finishing with the cream, you will finish with two tablespoons whipped cream. This makes the sweet sauce a little airier and thicker. Finally, whisk in two tablespoons of sugar.

As you can see, once you master a technique, the mystery (and fear) is removed from cooking any dish. As with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what creates delicious.

Chef Ivan Flowers brings 25 years of fine cuisine experience to Top of The Market, San Diego. Prior to becoming Executive Chef at Top of The Market, Chef Flowers owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale's Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's and Different Pointe of View.

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