Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Whisk Wednesdays—Brochet au beurre blanc (Whole Poached Pike with White Butter Sauce)

Poisson au beurre blanc et rouge (Poached Fish with White and Red Butter Sauce)Beurre blanc (burr BLAHN or burr BLAHNGK), which means "white butter", is a classic French sauce that turns half a pound of butter into something "light" and delicious. It's similar to Béarnaise sauce {without the tarragon or eggs} since it's a reduction of vinegar or white wine and shallots into which butter is whisked in, but it's a little easier since no eggs are involved. Again, we're emulsifying this week!

This recipe called for brochet, or pike. The River Loire, which is the longest in France, is home to numerous fish, including pike. Unfortunately, the Loire River is too far from Ottawa and pike was not to be had. After seeing numerous recipes with beurre blanc over a variety of fish, I decided to go with our favourite — Salmon with a beurre blanc — and for a color difference — Sea Bass with a beurre rouge.

{Confession time: Although I should have practiced my fish filleting, I chose the easy route and bought fillets ready to poach. I did, however, buy a trout that needs knife attention and will give that a go sometime this week.}

A bit of history
There is some controversy about the history of beurre blanc. One theory is that the Anjou region is the birthplace of this sauce and that it was first served at the restaurant "La Poissonnière" in Anger. The more popular theory is that around the beginning of the 20th century, a cook named Clémence Lefeuvre served this sauce at her restaurant "La Buvette de la Marine" on the banks of the Loire River near Nantes. The legend says that she meant to make a Béarnaise sauce but forgot to add the tarragon and egg yolks.

A bit of butter Beurre blanc is mostly butter, so it's important to use one you like. No margarine allowed! Jean-Yves Bordier makes the "best butter in all of France”. He comes highly recommended by many foodies, including Dorie Greenspan, Clotilde Dusoulier, and David Lebovitz to name only a few.

Butter sculptureSince Bordier's butter isn't imported to any stores in Ottawa, I decided to try my own taste test and gathered up all the varieties of butter I could find in the Byward Market in Ottawa. I found seven varieties: three unsalted and four salted. Then, at home, we enjoyed a taste test. {Have you ever tasted seven different butters at one sitting?!}

Click to enlarge image
Butter taste testI was amazed to find each one had its own distinct flavor and qualities. One tasted acidic, another nutty, one was bland, another rich. There was also no agreeing on which one was best, so I made the executive decision as the "chef" and picked my favorite unsalted one to use in the beurre blanc sauce (Saputo Unsalted at $5.99 a pound, which is $1.50 more than the brand I usually buy!).
"It was the best butter,”
the March Hare meekly replied
— Lewis Carroll
Most beurre blanc sauces call for unsalted butter, but I read one post by Ms. Glaze's Pommes d'Amour where she uses salted butter without fail. {I'll have to give that a taste test someday.}

A bit of cream…or not
Traditional beurre blanc doesn't include cream, but many recipes (including the one in Le Cordon Bleu at Home which uses crème fraiche) include it to help stabilize the sauce and guard against the sauce breaking. The cream provides more emulsifying power. {You can find out more great science facts behind this sauce in Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher.}

If cream is added, the sauce is called Beurre Nantais.
A bit of wine
I made both a beurre blanc using white wine and white-wine vinegar and a beurre rouge using red wine and red-wine vinegar. The pink salmon had the the beurre blanc, and the white sea bass was ladled with beurre rouge.

Beurre blanc et rougeFor the beurre blanc, I used Muscadet (Muss-ka-day), which means "wine with a musk-like taste", and it's the wine usually used in this sauce. It's a dry French white wine made in the Loire Valley near the city of Nantes that uses the Melon de Bourgogne grape varietal. I was able to find a good bottle of Muscadet (LCBO #143016) at a reasonable price at my local wine store.

For the beurre rouge, I used a rosé (LCBO #355347) from the Languedoc region in France.

"Le vin est la plus saine des boissons."
"Wine can be considered with good reason as the most healthful
and the most hygienic of all beverages."
— Louis Pasteur (printed on the cork of the Muscadet)
A bit of know-how
The first step in making beurre blanc is reducing the shallots, wine, vinegar, thyme and bay leaf until it's a syrupy glaze. Once you have the glaze, let this mixture cool for a bit and remove the thyme sprig and bay leaf. [If called for in the recipe, add the cream or crème fraiche. I used cream since I didn't have any crème fraiche.] Then slowly whisk in the softened butter, a bit at a time. Whisk constantly. Take the pan on and off the heat to whisk in the butter without melting it. Make sure you don't let the mixture boil or it will separate, and it cannot be re-emulsified at this point. Taste. Add salt. Taste. Add more butter if it's too acidic. Taste.

The sauce will separate above 58ºC (136ºF) and solidify below 30ºC (86ºF). (Link)
When you whisk cold butter into a hot sauce, it's called monter au beurre (mounting a sauce with butter). {I tried making this sauce once with cold butter and once with softened butter and found it much easier when the butter was soft. I had to use the heat more often and whisk more vigorously when I used the cold butter.}

Traditionally, the sauce is not strained. If the shallot is chopped fine enough, it doesn't distract from the texture of the sauce.

Beurre blanc is best served immediately, but can be held in a thermos or over a simmering water bath. If re-heated, it will break easily. Since it doesn't contain eggs there isn't the same worry of bacteria growth that you have with Béarnaise and Hollandaise.

To save time if you're entertaining, you can prepare the reduction of shallots, wine, vinegar, thyme, and bay leaf ahead of time and whisk in the butter just prior to serving.

A bit of variety
To change the taste of beurre blanc, you can use all sorts of different flavors in the reduction or whisk in one of the compound butters mentioned last week instead of plain unsalted butter. I used the Maître d'Hôtel compound butter in a third version that I made, which definitely gave it a flavor boost. Here are some other ideas for flavoring beurre blanc.

A bit of entertainment
Here's a great video showing how to make beurre blanc.

A bit of fish poaching
To cook the fish, the recipe calls for a court bouillon, which is a fancy name for cooking broth. After you've brought the broth ingredients to a boil and simmered them for about 15 minutes to marry the flavors, you let the mixture cool a bit before adding the fish. {I threw the pot into the refrigerator to speed up the process since I was running behind.} Add enough water to cover the fish, put the lid on and bring to a boil. Remove the pot from the heat and let cook for about 30 minutes, covered. Pretty simple.

Click to enlarge image
Poisson au beurre blanc (Poached Fish with White Butter Sauce)You can find the recipe for Brochet au beurre blanc (Whole Poached Pike with White Butter Sauce) in the book Le Cordon Bleu at Home. To see how the rest of the Whisk Wednesdays group fared with this week's recipe, click here (or check out the sidebar) and then click on each blogger!

Tasting Notes
Beurre blanc is delicate, light, and full of fat! But it's so much easier than making a Béarnaise. I enjoyed the beurre blanc made with the compound butter, but my husband liked the beurre rouge best. These sauces definitely make plain, old, boring fish more delicious to eat! Too bad about the calories!

Traditional beurre blanc has 428 calories per ¼ cup. — New York Times
Next Week (September 10)
• Salade de Sardines Crues aux Epinards (Spinach Salad with Fresh Sardines) page 197-198 {discussion of Vinaigrettes page 55}…Just so ya know: I won't be using the sardines!

. . . . . . . . . .

Running total: $711.62 + $4.50 (court bouillon) + $12.55 (fish) + $6.63 (beurre blanc) = $734.85

Butter used so far: 7 pounds, 27 tablespoons


NKP said...

Wonderful post, I especially like the quote from Alice in Wonderland - a personal favourite.
I used Lactancia as I like the taste, I have not come across the butter you used.
Looking forward to next week!

Steph said...

I really enjoyed that informative post. I used to think that butter was just butter, but you're right.. there is definitely a difference between brands! Definitely stay away from shopper's drug mart.

Leslie said...

Lovely educational post! I would have LOVED to be there for the butter tasting! I could LIVE on butter! Well, I probably would live that arteries would probably clog in 3 days!!!

Anonymous said...

OMGosh! Shari, what a fabulous post! I love the research you do on the foods. It's kind of like a lecture accompanying the lesson. You really put yourself into this, and I appreciate it a lot! I look forward to this so much each week! And now...Braises? Oh, HAPPY Day! I think I have almost all the meat cuts, save the veal, on hand already! MMMmmmmm!

Anonymous said...

I love the Obama Butter cow! An excellent video. And how many calories per quarter cup?! Yikes. It sounds delicately delicious. Excellent, educational post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, nice post. I learned a few new things. I catch pike around here all the time and the butter sauce looks amazing. I will have to try it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the amazing difference in flavor when it comes to butter. Last Christmas, I made butter cookies using a premium butter (Sjor, from Iceland), and the results were absolutely phenomenal.

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Anonymous said...

Well...I've managed to catch a pike or two when fishing in Norfolk, so now I'm gonna cook one!
Great blog!

Jan said...

A fantastic post! This was so helpful to me as I have to make a lemon butter sauce this week in front of a TV camera! Thank you.