On Beurre Blanc

When it comes to Florida cuisine, the conversation starts with Norman Van Aken. The chef and author was among the first to realize the tropical food goldmine of the region, and his restaurants and cookbooks have had a huge influence on chefs in Florida and beyond. Now the chef/owner of Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando and Director of Restaurants at Miami Culinary Institute, Van Aken is also hard at work on his next book, My Key West Kitchen (Kyle Books), due out in fall 2012. In the meantime, he'll contribute to Food Republic with his "Word On Food."

Those among you who speak French or are culinary wunderkinds...know that beurre blanc means "white butter." Beurre blanc is one of the mainstay tools in any chef's repertoire. It is a classic sauce and one cannot know haute cuisine or le grande cuisine without it. Had enough French yet?

I had no idea what it was for the first seven years or so I was cooking. The kind of places I started cooking at would look at you crooked if you spoke a word of French...unless you said something like, "My Chevrolet needs a jump. Got any cables?"

I think of beurre blanc and almost get nostalgic for how green I was. My young chefs now know so much more about cuisine than I did when I was their age. It doesn't mean they've learned how to move the tickets perfectly, not get cut and keep the costs in line, but they'll learn that too.

I was working at a restaurant called The Port of Call in Key West the first time I made beurre blanc. The classic way is to reduce wine with some red or white wine vinegar, chopped shallots, some herbs and a twist (no more!) of peppercorns until the liquid is almost all gone, then strategically incorporate small pieces of butter, whisking steadily. You strain this through a chinois and then judiciously spoon some on your poached, grilled or sautéed fish, generally. Chefs created all manners of beurre blancs during the late '70s through the '80s. Raspberry was in vogue for a mercifully short period of time.

I was like a beurre blanc myself back then. A culinary sort of tabula rasa. But from that solid foundation and some others like it I grew.

Butter is the soul of French cuisine. Well, it was until recently. Now it shares the stage with warm vinaigrettes, essences, reductions, emulsions, jus, coulis, salsas and more. Yes, I did say salsas. In Paris, no less! But a good butter sauce. Well sometimes, it's just the right thing to do.

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