I used to consider myself an anglophile—my Rainman-like recall of Hugh Grant movies alone betrays this fact, and my frenzied consumption of any and all meat pies certainly doesn’t help. Plus you should hear my cockney accent. But I’ve been thinking lately that I’ll have to change my European allegiance from England to France, at least where French butter sauce is concerned (Who am I kidding? What French sauce doesn’t concern butter? Y’all doin’ it right). It’s probably a crime that it took me so long to experience the richness and the creaminess of hollandaise, béarnaise, or beurre blanc sauce. Don’t ask me how long though because that teeters dangerously close to asking my age, and, as a lady, I don’t have to answer that. You could probably pinpoint my love of French sauces, however, to around the time I started working in a fine-dining restaurant.
When I’m not cooking for friends, cuddling the assorted poodles in my life, or binge-watching something bad for me on Netflix, I can be found a few nights a week serving tables at a fine-dining restaurant in Honolulu. There I open expensive bottles of wine and drool over tiny portions of seafood that are usually paired with a sauce that the chef’s plated like a Pollock painting. I do not deign to try to re-create what I serve; I have, though, been inspired by some of the chefs for whom I’ve worked. It was here in Hawaii that I fell in love with beurre blanc sauce, and it took many, many baby steps and Stuart Smiley affirmations to work up the nerve to try it at home.
But try it I finally did. If you are an anxious home cook like I often can be, I recommend surrounding yourself with cheerleaders like Micah and Kyle so that you don’t panic as you emulsify butter in a flavorful reduction of wine, lemon, and vinegar. In fact, it was Micah’s suggestion to reserve the shallots for garnish instead of discarding them. Somehow, despite my pessimistic projections, I managed to create a beurre blanc that defied my expectations and perfectly complemented the seared scallops I paired it with. And this success (really, these scallops) cemented my devotion to classic French cooking.
Some advice—if you’re emulsifying for the first time, don’t rush. Remove the pan from heat every other time you add a cube of butter for your own peace of mind. Sauces can break, but that shouldn’t break your spirit. Just start over. Once you work past the initial intimidation you’ve outlined for yourself, this is actually an easy and rewarding sauce to make. And once you successfully make it, you’ll be saying “Bonjour!” in your worst Julia Childs impersonation, eating baguettes on the street corner and smoking galouises. Congrats, you little Francophile. Bon appétit!
- ¼ cup dry, drinkable white wine
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 3 sprigs thyme
- ½ tsp black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbsp shallots, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
- 12 U15 scallops
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Coarsely ground pepper
- In a 2-3 quart heavy saucepan, combine the first 7 ingredients and bring to a boil over a moderately high heat. Reduce until you have approximately 2 tablespoons of liquid.
- Once the mixture has reduced, strain the shallots and herbs/seasonings out through a sieve. Reserve the shallots/herbs so that you may use later for plating (as pictured).
- Return the remaining liquid into the sauce pan over moderate heat and add heavy cream.
- Bring to a boil and allow to cook for at least a minute or until the cream has reduced back down to just over 2 tablespoons of liquid.
- Remove the butter from the fridge, and, taking the pan off the heat, add one piece and whisk in vigorously until melted and combined. Keeping the heat on moderately low, add the butter one piece at a time, whisking after each to incorporate. Occasionally remove the pan from the heat to add the butter to prevent the sauce from warming too quickly. It should not return to a boil at this point as that will break the sauce. Continue adding the butter until it has all emulsified. Use immediately, and if you can't, keep covered and warm, but not on the stovetop.
- Rinse the scallops, and then dry them thoroughly with a paper towel.
- Sprinkle the scallops with coarse salt and pepper.
- Bring a sauté pan to a high heat and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Once it is sizzling hot, return the heat to medium and add half of the scallops.
- Cook for about a minute on one side until they are easy to flip over, and then cook for another minute on the flip side. This should accomplish a fine sear, but be careful not to overcook them as this will make the scallops rubbery.
- Once properly seared on each side, remove to a dish and cover with aluminum foil until ready to plate. Sear second batch of scallops.
As pictured, we served these scallops on our champagne risotto with roasted asparagus. However, you can serve these by themselves with the lemon beurre blanc sauce or with potatoes or rice. Use some of the cooked shallots on top of the scallops for an extra burst of flavor.