It had to be done. The words came out of my mouth, the vision appeared in my head, and my fate was sealed.
Does this ever happen to you? Going from zero to completely obsessed in a matter of seconds? About something that had not ever really crossed your mind before?
Let me back up. I had a great visit to Findlay Market last Saturday, my haul included chorizo, Portugese-style Linguisia sausage, this vibrant locally produced Raspberry Jam (which, with cashew butter and homemade bread made just about the best CB&J ever) , a sample of rich, velvety gelato, some very tasty zucchini, several pounds of perfectly supple, ripe tomatoes and a quart of Kennebec potatoes that had been in the ground only a few hours earlier.
So on the way out, almost as an afterthought, I picked up a pound of large sea scallops. It’s funny – the same thing always happens when I buy seafood, and it never happens when I’m shopping for beef, chicken or pork – a fellow shopper ends up asking me what I was “going to do with them.”
“Oh, Ida know,” I replied, trying to maintain a level of foodie-cred without coming across as pretentious, “Just sear ‘em, maybe a simple sauce.”
The “searing” and the “simple” had the virtue of being the truth, but the “simple sauce” utterance felt like one of those ancillary lies one is forced to tell when one is called out on an initial whopper.
So I had to make “a simple sauce.” But, candidly, my sauce repertoire felt painfully limited here. What sauce? A bechamel? Ick. A veloute would be too heavy, a tomato sauce would be overkill, and a mayo would be just… goofy.
Which basically leaves beurre blanc, which, to be candid, I have never made before. It’s basically an acidic liquid, usually white wine spiked with lemon juice or vinegar or vermouth, (Sometimes a plop of cream is added as well) is greatly reduced before a considerable quantity of butter is whisked in.
Whisk carefully and you are rewarded with a rich velvety sauce that combines the richness of butter with the zing of the wine. Whisk without caution and you will have melted butter spiked with bits of shallot and acid. Still very tasty, as I learned, but not beurre blanc.
The idea is to take advantage of butter’s small quantity of lecithin, a natural emulsifier that serves to hold acid and fat together. This is why honey/mustard vinagrettes stay together a little better.
(I cite this Bonus Recipe as evidence: 1/2 t honey 1/2 t dijon mustard whisk together with 1t fussy white vinegar, slowly add 3t of good olive oil and shake vigorously.)
Beurre blanc is fraught with peril. Your acidic liquid has to be reduced just so. Butter must be added slowly. And, most diabolically, the temperature must stay warm enough to melt the butter but not so warm that the fat and the water separates.
The sauce, however, does not work without a net. Failure results in some VERY tasty melted butter, if you can stand the little specs of shallot and the heightened flavor from the wine. I used my first batch of fail to garnish some popcorn, an ear of sweet corn, even make a killer grilled cheese. Again, it’s great stuff. But it’s not a rich, velvety sauce that one can drizzle over shellfish or chicken or veggies, or, when no one is looking, just eat with your fingers.
This picture is what “fail” looks like, after it resolidifies. Like I said, it’s very tasty, just not a sauce.
This was a culinary task that was sudden, inexplicable, and seemingly impossible. And the more I think about it, I am reminded of that cheesy 80s movie where Matthew Modine literally wrestles his way to greatness with the aid of sullen stares from Jake Ryan of Sixteen Candles Fame and the music of Journey.
Seriously, my fate was sealed before I even got back to my car. I absolutely HAD to make a beurre blanc. The irony of the situation, in that Mr. Modine spent the entire movie trying to LOOSE weight, is not completely lost on me.
Anyway, here (Tweaked slightly from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)
1/2 Cup plus two tablespoons white wine
2 Tablespoons of some other acidic ingredient, like lemon juice or vermouth or more white wine
(I’m sorry for the bizzarre portions, you really just need 2/3C of liquid, most of which should be wine)
1 stick butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 T Cream
1 small shallot, minced very fine
Salt to taste
Place the shallots and the liquid into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce until there is about a couple of tablespoons of syrupy liquid left in the pan. Turn heat down to low and whisk in the cream.
Remove the pan from the heat. Start adding butter a pat at a time, whisking constantly. You may need to work on the heat/off the heat until all the butter is incorporated, but make sure the mixture doesn’t get “too” hot. If you see it starting to separate, get it off the heat PRONTO.
This sauce will thicken a little bit as it cools.
Pour over something. In this particular case: scallops seared on a medium skillet full of the rendered goodness of two strips of bacon. Bacon solids and parsely to garnish. Yum.
Thanks To Lan of Angry Asian Creations fame (and otherwise one of the funniest people I know) for correcting my pop culture reference.