White fish with white wine butter sauce
Preparation and cooking time: 40min
Ask any local from the Loire – from Orléans to Nantes – to name a classic dish from the region and it is the beurre blanc with river fish they will undoubtedly recommend. Made with butter and white wine, it is similar to hollandaise or Béarnaise sauce but without the egg yolks. Despite its simple ingredients, its technique is one to master over time. After 30 years serving it to guests at the magical Château des Briottières, Hedwige de Valbray has perfected the art: “The hard part is stopping the butter from melting. That’s why people add in the cream, it emulsifies it,” she says. “You have to serve it immediately. It’s quite rare to see [on menus] – you don’t often find it in Paris restaurants, because it’s so fragile.”
The traditional fish to serve it with was pike, found in abundance in the River Loire, but Hedwige is not a fan. “It has lots of bones and rather a muddy flavour.” Little wonder, then, that those living along France’s longest river found a way to make it more enticing. “That’s why they invented a sauce, to soften it,” she says. While pike is not often the order of the day now, the sauce remains a classic and is used to enhance white fish, scallops, pork and chicken. Hedwige serves the mouthwatering beurre blanc over zander, or pike-perch, as she has always done here. Her kitchen is just metres from the elegant dining room, so the dish can be whisked quickly to the table. These more delicate river fish are more fitting for the setting – one of the most elegant châteaux in the Western Loire. “The pike was eaten by fishermen, it was a poor person’s food,” says Hedwige, “but in the châteaux, they would eat zander with beurre blanc. It’s a very old recipe.”
- Boiled potatoes, to serve
- Garden vegetables, to serve
- 4 shallots, chopped finely
- 250ml (83/4fl oz) white wine (ideally Muscadet)
- 200g (7oz) white fish per person (ideally zander, or cod if unavailable)
- 250g (83/4oz) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 3 tbsp single cream (optional)
- Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add the potatoes. Simmer until cooked (roughly 15 minutes), then set aside.
Add your choice of garden vegetables to a steamer. Steam for 5-10 minutes until cooked, then set aside.
Put the shallots and wine in a casserole dish with a large base. Simmer until the wine has all evaporated (approx five minutes).
In a steamer, steam the fish over a medium heat until it is cooked through. Keep warm and covered until ready to serve.
Over a very low heat, vigorously stir (or whisk) in the butter a little at a time so it softens and thickens, but don’t let it melt. If it starts to melt, add the single cream and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Add salt and pepper, then pass the sauce through a sieve to eliminate the shallots.
Pour over the fish and serve immediately.
Serve with the boiled potatoes and garden vegetables.
IMAGE © LONELY PLANET/ RIVER THOMPSON
First printed in our sister publication France Today
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