5 Ingredients or Fewer

Julia Child's Beurre Blanc (White Butter Sauce)

December 16, 2015
10 Ratings
Photo by Emily Dryden
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes 1 1/2 cups
Author Notes

As an editorial team, we distinguish, often, between "home-cooked" and "cheff-y," the latter being foods like "black trumpet mushroom duxelle," "sauce albufera," and "Castelmagno 'mousseline'" (all examples from the Per Se menu), along with all sorts of emulsions, coulis, gelées, foams, infusions, reductions, and canapés.

When I first saw "beurre blanc" on the menu of Charleston restaurant in Baltimore, I immediately assumed it fell within the cheffy parameters. It hit all the marks: (1) a member of a collection of mysterious sauces (see albufera and mousseline); (2) a French name that makes you sound either silly or snooty whilst pronouncing; and (3) real estate next to "oyster and button mushroom fricasé" and a minimally-styled menu. Et voilà!

But when my dish came to the table—pan-fried turbot on top of creamy yet crispy sautéed mushrooms and a pool of rich, lemony yellow sauce—I abandoned my confusion over its name and its components. All I cared about was making sure the silky butter made it onto every piece of fish and every mushroom on my plate.

And, lucky for me, beurre blanc isn't so snooty after all. "However marvelous its flavor," wrote Julia Child in Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, "it is a butter sauce."

A classic sauce from Brittany, it looks like hollandaise "when you spoon it over your beautifully poached fish, but it is only warm flavored butter—butter emulsified, held in suspension by its strongly acid flavor base," explains Julia. White wine is reduced with white wine vinegar and shallots (and some chefs add cream for a stable, smooth sauce), then a whole lot of butter is whisked in slowly, piece by piece, and the mixture is seasoned with lemon juice.

Butter sauce with a French name and an air of pretension that makes it more acceptable to eat than actual butter sauce? Count me in.

But beyond that, beurre blanc is also better than the "butter sauce" (that is, melted butter) I used to toss with spaghetti. As Francis Lam explains:

"You make this sauce with enough tart ingredients to counteract the richness of the fat, so that it plays a trick on your tongue, where you can taste both but neither dominates."

It's a gentle dip into the rich, fatty flavors rather than a violent plunge into grease, and it's a cheffy-esque condiment with real-life applications: Use anywhere you'd like to drizzle food with (or drown it in) better-tasting butter: on roasted or steamed vegetables, on shrimp or fish, on chicken, or, if you really are cheffy, on lobster or truffles.

And once you've mastered the basics, Lam has some suggestions for taking your beurre blanc game up a notch: Start with red wine instead of white (this will make even fancier-sounding beurre rouge); use a fruit juice mixed with an aged vinegar; finish the sauce with herbs or spices or mashed anchovies.

Helpful tools for this recipe:
- Rig-Tig Modern Butter Box
- Food52 x Dansk Kobenstyle Saucepan & Butter Warmer
- GIR Silicone Grip Whisk (Set of 2)

Sarah Jampel

Test Kitchen Notes

Though beurre nantais, also known as beurre blanc (meaning "white butter"), is not one of the five French mother sauces (béchamel, espagnole, hollandaise, tomato, and velouté), it is a base recipe from which many other sauces are built. This French butter sauce in particular does not have an emulsifier and relies solely on the butter, though cream may be used to help stabilize it or at least start the emulsion.

"The original version, from Brittany, is almost always prepared with Muscadet wine," James Peterson writes in Sauces: Classic and Contemporary Sauce Making, which "has the crisp, clean flavor and the acidic edge essential to a successful beurre blanc. If Muscadet is unavailable or too expensive, other wines can be used, but if only wines containing relatively little acidity are available, it may be necessary to add a few additional drops of vinegar to wake up the sauce at the end." Appropriately, Julia Child's beurre blanc sauce recipe below calls for vinegar to ensure this acidity.

A note on holding a beurre blanc: According to Peterson, "When beurre blanc is held for any length of time, it will begin to thicken and must be thinned periodically with heavy cream, water, court-bouillon, or another appropriate liquid, either cold or hot." A broken sauce can be fixed by whisking in reduced heavy cream (heavy cream that has been boiled down)—though, Peterson writes, "this can be done only once." But all this to say, a beurre blanc sauce is not as fussy as it sounds, and learning how to make one will significantly enhance any plate of fish, steak, or vegetables. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Julia Child's Beurre Blanc (White Butter Sauce)
  • 3 sticks cold unsalted butter (24 tablespoons), cut into tablespoon-sized chunks
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pinch white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
In This Recipe
  1. Have the butter ready (cut and in a small bowl).
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring wine and vinegar to a boil. Add shallots, salt, and pepper. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. (There should be about 1 1/2 tablespoons of liquid left. If you reduced it too far, add 1 tablespoon of water to remoisten.)
  3. Remove pan from heat. Whisk 2 pieces of butter into the reduction.
  4. Set pan over low heat and continue whisking butter into sauce a chunk at a time, allowing each piece to melt before adding more. Remember to maintain low heat and never let the sauce come to a boil once the butter is added, or the sauce will separate.
  5. Remove sauce from heat and whisk in the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning, then strain through a fine sieve into a bowl.
  6. Serve with fish, poultry, or vegetables.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Rudolf Rassendyll
    Rudolf Rassendyll
  • Crystalynn Hyatt
    Crystalynn Hyatt
  • Sarah Jampel
    Sarah Jampel
  • Haris Ocampo
    Haris Ocampo

11 Reviews

CCBakes July 11, 2022
I love this recipe and my guests love it, too! I use it on fish and slathered it on poached asparagus. I prefer this recipe than ones that call for heavy cream. While it does make the sauce a bit more stable, if you watch the heat closely while adding the butter, than you are completely fine.
Rudolf R. April 17, 2021
Three thoughts after making this a couple times. Esp. if using cream (or ½&½ - works...), use an immersion blender rather than a whisk. (Also useful when making Hollandaise & Bearnaise sauces, but there, the egg thickens things, where in beurre blanc thickness is result of the emulsion merely.) A tea strainer is GREAT for sieving the sauce. Rather than salt & (white) pepper, i used a seasoned salt, half sea salt and half equal parts garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, coriander & dill (essentially a steak rub...) ground to a very fine powder. Also, one suspects this would be an interesting alternative to Hollandaise sauce.
Crystalynn H. December 18, 2020
I loved this! Thanks for the additional references with the recipe. I definitely modified it to use less butter and tossed my mushroom and spinach spaghetti in it! Would love to know if wanting to add cream, when and how one might do that? Will try again!
Rudolf R. April 17, 2021
After making the extract of shallts & bay leaf (or tarragon, or dill...), let it cool a bit, then just a tbsp of cream (or ½&½); you may need to add a ½tbsp more butter and you may find emulsification takes longer.
Crystalynn H. December 18, 2020
I loved this! Thanks for the additional references with the recipe. I definitely modified it to use less butter and tossed my mushroom and spinach spaghetti in it! Will try again!
tillthen May 10, 2017
I made this recipe(from Julia's red book) 45 years and as I recall there was an option to add mushrooms which I did. It was used on filet of sole. Absolutely outstanding. I'v used on white fish, shell fish, and chicken......always a hit!
tillthen May 10, 2017
.....that should read "45 years ago".
Francesca D. December 21, 2015
What do yo duo with all this beurre blanc? Can you re-heat it without it breaking?
Sarah J. December 21, 2015
You can easily halve the recipe. BUT if you do end up with lots leftover... you can reheat the sauce very slowly (some use a double boiler) and whisk in 2 to 3 tablespoons of warm liquid like cream, water, or broth. It does have a tendency to separate when rewarmed.
Haris O. December 29, 2015
Thank you for the amazing recipe Sarah
Rudolf R. April 17, 2021
Or make less. This recipe scales beautifully. Also, if you warm a slice or two of ham for breakfast, serve eith a poached egg or neatly cut hard-boiled egg, maybe just cold from the fridge and melting on the ham?