When spring rolls around, I think of asparagus and ramps and morels. But I also think of butter. Lots and lots of wonderful butter, but not in the way you might suspect. I think of beurre fondue, the butter and water emulsion that I prefer to use to cook these wonderful spring goodies.
You may not have heard of beurre fondue unless you’re a culinary school grad or a food geek, but you know about it if you’ve ever heard the term “butter poached.” This is what Thomas Keller uses to butter poach his lobster, although I think he uses a slightly more concentrated form of emulsion. He calls it beurre monte’, but I really can’t figure out if there’s any difference between these butter sauces.
Regardless, I first learned about beurre fondue 10 years ago when Tom Colicchio’s first book, Think Like a Chef, came out. This is one of my all-time favorite cooking books, as so much of it focuses on technique, flavor profiles, and other culinary basics. Beurre fondue is just butter that has been emulsified into boiling water. The technique is simple: Get about half to 3/4 of an inch of water boiling in a small saucepan. Whisk in unsalted butter about a tablespoon at a time. Continue adding the butter until you’ve added anywhere from 12 to 16 tablespoons. If droplets begin to form, add a bit more water, as that’s a sign you’ve evaporated too much water.
Now, take some asparagus, peas, fish, mushrooms, whatever and poach it at a very gentle simmer in this ultra-rich sauce (transfer it to a wider skillet). You’ll end up with the most delicious, decadent (but seemingly light) dish you can imagine.
Some folks par-cook their food first and finish it in the beurre fondue, but I love to cook it from beginning to end. I particularly like to cook morels in this sauce, as the final flavor is heavenly. I recently made a dish of mahi-mahi with morels, shallots and local asparagus, with all the vegetables cooked in the beurre fondue. I served the dish in shallow bowls, making sure there was plenty of the butter sauce to go around. It was spring on a plate and one of the best tasting things I’ve ever made.