How to Make Beurre Blanc & Scallops with Crispy Ham
Some of the world’s best creations have been happy accidents: penicillin, Silly Putty, Coca-Cola, and, legend has it, beurre blanc. Sometime in the early 20th century, Clémence Lefeuvre, a chef from a small village outside of Nantes, went to make a béarnaise sauce but forgot to add the egg yolks and tarragon, resulting in the rich, creamy, slightly acidic sauce we now know as beurre blanc. And thank goodness for her blunder because it’s one of our all-time favorite sauces — and it’s much easier to whip up than some of the classic mother sauces.
Beurre blanc starts with a white wine, white wine vinegar, and shallot reduction, then some heavy cream, and finally, the eponymous butter. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child writes that with a spoonful of beurre blanc, “an otherwise simple sauté can be marvelously yet astronomically (even lethally) fattening.” So even though she says you can add up to half a pound of butter to the white wine and shallot reduction, ultimately, “the amount of butter is up to you.”
Us? We went straight for the hedonistic half-pound. It helps create a thick, sublimely creamy beurre blanc with just a bit of whisking — however, our test kitchen chefs have a few tips that’ll take your sauce from “white butter” to something worthy of a Parisian brasserie: First, make sure you reduce the white wine mixture enough (you really only need about 2 tablespoons of reduction to start your sauce). Second, add the butter slowly. Third, beurre blanc will separate or become oily if it gets too hot, so you may need to take it on and off the heat as you whisk to achieve a proper emulsion.
The result is a rich, smooth sauce with a little punch from the shallots and some bright tang from the wine and vinegar. All that acid makes beurre blanc the perfect companion to a variety of seafood, from flaky white fish (like pike, the most traditional pairing) to shrimp. Here, we’ve seared scallops and given them a collar of crispy serrano ham and a bed of peppery arugula, sweet mandarin oranges, and tart pomegranate seeds. It’s a light, bright dish with a playful mélange of flavors and textures. The ham is a wonderfully salty foil to the lush scallops and the juicy pops of fruit, and the beurre blanc ties it all together with a rich, exquisite bow.
We’d make this meal for any occasion that calls for some easy luxury: birthdays, anniversaries, or Friday date night with the S.O.
If you manage to muster up some moderation and wind up with leftover beurre blanc (not likely, but miracles happen), we’d suggest spooning it over asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or any other vegetable the kids typically won’t eat without a creamy something-or-other on top. We also like it over grilled chicken — perhaps with a side of potatoes to soak up all that buttery goodness. Also acceptable: using beurre blanc as a too-sleepy-to-make-hollandaise alternative for eggs Bennie, our favorite Sunday brunch.
Yield: About 1 cup
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp minced shallots
½ tsp black peppercorns
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
Kosher salt, to taste
2 sticks unsalted butter, cubed and cold
In a medium saucepan, combine the wine, vinegar, shallots, and peppercorns over medium heat and reduce until about 2 tablespoons remain.
Stir in the cream and season with salt. Bring to a rapid simmer for 1 minute, whisking continuously, and then turn off the heat.
Add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, whisking until smooth after each addition. If the sauce cools too much to melt the butter, warm it over low heat, and then continue to add more butter. Be careful: if the sauce looks oily or separates, it’s too hot — take it off the heat, whisk until creamy, and then continue to add the butter.
When all of the butter is incorporated and the mixture is smooth and beginning to thicken a little, season it with salt and strain it through a sieve. Serve immediately.
Scallops with Crispy Ham
Beurre blanc (see above)
8 large scallops
4 slices serrano ham, sliced in half lengthwise
Kosher salt, to taste
1 cup loosely packed baby arugula
1 mandarin orange, peeled and separated into segments
1 Tbsp mandarin orange juice
2 Tbsp pomegranate seeds
½ tsp extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch black pepper
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp butter
Prepare the beurre blanc, take it off the heat, and set it aside with a lid to keep it warm.
Clean and pat the scallops dry with a paper towel, then season with salt.
Wrap each scallop with ½ slice of ham, secure the seam with a toothpick, and season with additional salt.
In a medium bowl, gently toss together the arugula, mandarin orange segments, mandarin orange juice, pomegranate seeds, and olive oil. Season the salad with pinches of salt and black pepper, and set aside.
In a large sauté pan, heat the grapeseed oil to high heat and gently place the scallops in the pan, being careful not to splash any oil. Sear the scallops until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes, and then flip each one individually.
Add the butter to the pan. Once the butter has melted, baste the scallops by spooning the butter over them repeatedly for 3 minutes, flip the scallops back over, then transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate.
To serve, remove the toothpicks, divide the scallops among 4 small plates, drizzle with beurre blanc, and garnish with a pinch of arugula and mandarin salad. Serve warm.