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The process of creating a butter-based sauce essentially involves reversing butter’s emulsion from one where the water molecules (typically about 15% of butter) rest in butterfat molecules (typically 80% or more) to one where butterfat rests among water molecules. Looking at the big picture, it’s as though the process of transforming butter into cream is reversed, so that the butter makes a creamy sauce.

While chemically complex, you can easily see the butterfat-in-water effect when you thicken a sauce with butter. If you’ve ever tried to make a butter-based sauce only to have the liquid fat in the sauce separate out, you’ve experienced the fragility of the fat droplets that are suspended in the liquid. The separation you see is caused by heat (as low as 135°F or 57°C) damaging the membranes around the fat droplets, thus allowing the fat to leak out.

Beurre blanc, or white butter, is the classic French white sauce that’s known for its richness and creaminess. Beginning with a wine or vinegar reduction, butter is whisked in until it has the consistency of heavy cream. As with all butter sauces, beurre blanc is fragile, and can easily break down when exposed to heat.

To make beurre blanc, combine 1 cup (240 ml) dry white wine, 1-1/2 oz. (45 ml) white wine vinegar, and 2 finely diced shallots in a saucepan. Reduce over medium high heat to a volume of 2 tablespoons (30 ml). Cut 2 cups (480 g) cold butter into small pieces. Set the pan over low heat and add butter a few pieces at a time, whisking continuously. Add more butter as previous addition is almost melted. Continue until all the butter is added.

Similar to beurre blanc, beurre monte is typically made with water (rather than a reduction) as a base, and is often used to poach fish and delicate proteins. Beurre rouge, or red butter, often loses its color when the sauce’s red wine is reduced. Food writer and former caterer Francine Maroukian suggests intensifying the red color of the sauce by using beets’ natural color. She advises thinly slicing the beets and adding them to your aromatics in a pan with some butter. Then, add a bottle of red wine and cook until the volume is reduced by 25%. Finally, strain the sauce and slowly whisk in softened butter. Voila!

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