While living in Europe I've decided to brush up on my high school French and learn more about French cooking, which of course involves consuming inordinate amounts of butter and wine. Oh pity! Usually regional foods are distinguished by specific ingredients, kaffir lime leaves and fish sauce in Thailand, saffron and smoked paprika in Morocco, and so on. After cooking only a handful of French classics my suspicion is that French food is distinguished not by ingredients but by technique.
As I glance at recipes from a few different cookbooks, I notice a familiar grocery list: shallots, white wine, leeks, butter, cream, tarragon, sea bass, mussels, and courgettes. What was that last one? Courgettes. Sounds exotic and delicious, but as my British friends will tell you, it's nothing more than the humble zucchini. Perhaps that is part of the allure of French cooking. The French take the most simple ingredients and transform them into mystical little morsels of absolute heaven.
And while we're demystifying things, let's get to that problem of portion sizes. In America we grouse often about the minuscule portions served in French restaurants. A problem to be sure if one were to order only one course. But as I'm learning, even vegetables are their own course in French cuisine.
In my previous post I suggested a method of preparation for green beans as recommended by Julia Child. While sampling different options for serving sauteed beans, I tried Julia's beurre blanc. Forgive the forthcoming blasphemy, but I did not enjoy it. The tang of the vinegar and excessive use of butter--I never thought there could be such a thing--rendered the sauce heavy and astringent. My mouth had that film of a pan that didn't get completely washed.
Thus, after following Julia's recipe to the letter I experimented with my own and humbly offer it to you here.
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/3 cup dry white wine
3-4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into teaspoon-size bits
pinch white pepper
Simmer the shallots, white wine, 1/2 tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper over medium heat until reduced to about 2 tablespoons total volume. Remove from the heat and whisk in 2 teaspoons of butter. Return to low heat and continue whisking in teaspoon after teaspoon of butter as each one melts into the sauce. Serve immediately over vegetables or fish.