When I was 18 I spent a year in Devon, England studying music at Dartington College of the Arts. If you are ever in that part of England you should pay a visit to this beautiful part of the UK. The college was located at Dartington Hall which is now run as a conference center and bed and breakfast. You can visit the estate without staying there. The college has apparently moved out of the estate. It has a fascinating history.
My family had a long history at Dartington. My fathers’ mother taught piano there at the grade school, my mother was a voice student at the college, and it was there that my parents met. So it was an amazing experience for me to be there for a year before going to cooking school at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. I took lessons in oboe, voice, and classical guitar. I sang in the choir in the amazing Great Hall, and I took music theory classes and the like. All of this is a prelude to the story of my spring break trip of that year abroad. While my fellow students were partying hard I took my trusty moped and hopped the Channel ferry to France arriving in Roscoff, Brittany. I cut a diagonal swath through France (I’ve never calculated the distance but boy was my ass sore!) ending up in the Alps. From there I took a night train to Rome arriving on Good Friday. Not being a very religious person I was oblivious to the ramifications this holiday had on accommodations in Rome!! I finally managed to find a shared room in a pensione through the help of a guide at the train station who amazingly did not rip me off. But I digress…… The point is, while I was traveling through France I was finally tasting all the exciting and fabulous flavors of French cooking firsthand. I had read about many of these dishes and tried to cook some of them at home from Julia Child’s books. But here was the REAL DEAL. Being a student I was on a very tight budget. I stayed at Youth Hostels whenever possible and I chose restaurants mostly based on their low priced menu. But when I got to Lyons (which was the first big city I had come upon – I saved Paris for later) I had trouble finding a restaurant that met my budget. So I wandered around and finally found a place that had a main course listed for 28 Francs or so. That was about $6.00 then (1980) which seemed a little low, but I actually didn’t even know what the item was. Well it turned out to be a Daurade and it was served with the most delicious sauce I had ever tasted (even better than hollandaise which was my favorite up to that point). I figured out when I got to cooking school that it had been a beurre blanc (white butter sauce). And I learned how to make it for myself!!The funny ending to the story is that the Daurade actually cost me about 128 Francs (they must have left off the 1 on the menu in front). After recovering from the sticker shock (I could have gotten several full meals elsewhere for the price of that one fish), I figured, Well it was worth every Franc! So here is a basic recipe for Beurre Blanc.Make it. Memorize it. It seems rich but you don’t need a lot on your plate.It lends itself to many variations of flavorings. Change the wine, change the vinegar, add herbs, add purees, do what you want with it.
Beurre Blanc – White Butter Sauce – Yield about 1 cup sauce which will serve 4-6 as an accompaniment to grilled fish.
½ cup White Wine
½ cup White Wine Vinegar
½ cup Shallots, Peeled and Chopped
½ # Butter, Unsalted,
the best you can afford
Salt and Pepper to taste
Combine wine, vinegar, and shallots in small saucepan, bring to boil, reduce until almost dry. Cut butter into small cubes, whisk into reduction off heat a few pieces at a time. Season to taste
Heavy Cream can be used as a stabilizer if you need to hold the sauce for a time before serving. I like the purity of the sauce without it. For ½ # butter you would use about 2 Tbsp. cream, add it to the reduction, bring to a boil, then add the butter as above.