As you can see, the first gardenias of the year have just come into bloom — a noteworthy occasion to me, since gardenia is one of my favorite smells of all time. This being a food blog rather than one about horticulture, however, I couldn’t just get a picture of my favorite flowers without including one of my favorite dishes: pan-seared rainbow trout with buerre blanc.
“Buerre blanc” in French translates simply as “white butter,” and while it isn’t considered to be on quite the same level as classic sauces like hollandaise or bernaise, it’s still a simple, yet versatile addition to your culinary repertoire. The sauce is formed by the creation of an emulsion, one of our favorite food tricks that forces oil (melted butter in this case) to mix with liquid (a white wine reduction). The result is a luscious, tangy sauce that won’t overpower our fish, but will add a great deal of flavor. I especially like it with trout, because while trout is a wonderfully flavorful fish, it isn’t a very fatty one — and the addition of this buttery sauce is exactly the kick it needs. To cook your trout, simply heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a skillet, pat your filet dry, then salt and pepper both sides. Start skin side down, flipping the fish when the edges begin to brown, then turning again after about 3 minutes — simple as that. Now, the sauce:
- 4 tablespoons white wine. The traditional wine used is Muscadet, which shares a home in the Loire Valley of France with this sauce. I used a semi-sweet Mount Bethel wine, and pretty much any wine that pairs well with fish will work here.
- 4 tablespoons white vinegar, rice vinegar, or lemon juice. Depends on how tangy you like your sauce.
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots.
- 14 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces. Keep it chilled until you are ready to use it!
- Salt and pepper. Some folks like to get fancy and use white pepper, so do that if you want.
Put your wine, vinegar, and shallots into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cut the heat down to a simmer, and allow the liquid to reduce to approximately a teaspoon and a half of liquid. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in two pieces of the chilled butter, whisking so that the butter does not melt but rather emulsifies with the wine reduction. The tricky part of this sauce is the balancing act that takes place now: you must keep the sauce warm enough to slowly melt the butter, but not hot enough to cause the butter to separate — which will break the sauce. I place the sauce pan on a very low flame and swirl the butter in one piece at a time, raising the pan off the burner whenever the butter seems to be getting too frisky. The end result should be a light, airy sauce that coats food well. The tangy flavor and velvet mouthfeel of this buttery concoction are fantastic.
If you need to hold the sauce you can put your saucepan into a larger pan of warm water. The addition of herbs such as tarragon or dill to the reduction can take this sauce into entirely different (and wonderful) directions. Some people prefer to remove the shallots for a smoother sauce, but I like the stronger flavor that comes from keeping them in. Good luck, and happy cooking!