Sauces: Pan Sauce and Beurre Blanc

Flickr creative commons license by jeffreyw

Want to elevate your cooking? If you’re mostly a basic cook but want to find simple ways to make your cooking even better, then I’ve got a single word for you: sauce. Sauces are great ways to add flavors to your foods.

If you were all budding chefs studying cooking in depth, I’d go into detail here about the mother sauces: there are five (or six – depending on who you ask) including:

  • Velouté – A stock-based white sauce.
  • Béchamel – A flour, milk, and butter white sauce.
  • Espagnole – A rich brown sauce
  • Hollandaise/Mayonnaise – An egg yolk and fat emulsion
  • Vinaigrette – 1 part vinegar, 3 parts oil, and other herbs/spices
  • Tomato

From these sauces, many others are born. For example, if you add tarragon to hollandaise, you get béarnaise. If you add some gruyere to béchamel, you’ve got a great topping for mac n cheese or scalloped potatoes.

That’s really all I am going to say about the mother sauces today. Instead, I’m going to talk about some simple sauces you can make to add flavor to cooked meats. So, instead of having a plain steak, you could have steak with a wonderful port wine sauce. Instead of a plain piece of fish, you could have halibut topped with a delicate beurre blanc.

Pan Sauces

What we’re really talking about are pan sauces, and here’s what I like about them. Once you’ve cooked your protein in a pan, you can use the drippings in the pan to make a really fantastic pan sauce. To make a pan sauce.

  1. Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside, tented with foil. I like to cook many of my proteins in an ovenproof saute pan just so I can then use it to make a fabulous sauce.
  2. Put the pan over medium high heat on the stove top. If you’ve cooked some really fatty piece of meat, you may want to remove some of the clear fat from the pan before you do so.
  3. Add some aromatics such as shallots, onions or garlic and saute in a little oil leftover from cooking.
  4. Add an acidic liquid or alcohol to the pan such as vinegar, lemon juice, white or red wine, etc. As you add this to the pan, scrape up all of those amazingly flavored brown bits to incorporate them in the sauce.
  5. Toss in some chopped herbs. Let the sauce simmer on the stove for a bit to reduce by about 50 to 75 percent.
  6. Once the liquid has reduced, add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces. I add the butter a piece at a time, whisking it to emulsify. This will thicken your sauce and add richness.
  7. Taste your sauce and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  8. Serve immediately over your protein.

Beurre Blanc

This is one of my favorite sauces for seafood. I particularly like it over seared sea scallops. It has a delicate yet delicious flavor that really enhances the sweetness of the scallops.

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces and chilled until very cold
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  1. Simmer shallots, wine, and vinegar in a saute pan, cooking until liquid has reduced by about 80 percent.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat momentarily, whisking two pieces of butter (one at a time) into the pan.
  3. Return the pan to low heat and continue whisking butter in a piece or two at a time until it is completely incorporated.
  4. Taste and season. Serve immediately.
  5. You can change the flavors in this by adding herbs such as basil or by adding a little citrus zest.