Braised Leeks with French Butter Sauce: Holiday Elegance, Meet Seasonal Simplicity
The holiday table must please everyone, old and young, foodie and fast-foodie, picky-eaters and everything-tasters. Everyone has their dish that just has to be on the table, which often means the menu is essentially written before we’ve even started to plan. And while that does make holiday menu planning relatively easy, it can be (dare we say?) a little boring for those of us who want to use this season of feasting to try out some new or exciting recipes! So, fellow food lovers, fellow Francophiles—this gorgeous, elegant braised leek recipe is for you! It’s texturally lovely—sort of silky and delicate, a gentle celebration of the most elegant allium—and subtle in its richness. It gives you a chance to practice making the famous French butter sauce known as beurre blanc—a skill any enthusiastic home cook is excited to master. And—always sort of exciting—it requires you to open a bottle of white wine.
Ingredients You’ll Need to Make Braised Leeks
While this braised leek recipe may sound high-brow—French sauces always make things sound fancy, right?—it’s actually the very soul of simplicity. Yes, making beurre blanc — aka French white wine and butter sauce—might sound like an intimidating prospect. But the ingredients are simple and so is the technique. We will walk you through the whole thing. First, the ingredients. Nothing fancy, nothing weird, and nothing requiring a goose chase. All you’ll need to make braised leeks is:
White wine. Any dry white wine that you love to drink will be perfect here, and you’ll get bonus points for using a French varietal, since you’ll be using it to make the beurre blanc. Sauvignon Blanc is a great choice—abundant, easy to find and easy to find affordable bottles of. Or, if you want to have a little fun, look for a Muscadet, which is made with a grape called Melon de Bourgogne.
White wine vinegar. Yes, you really do need to use white wine or champagne vinegar here—beurre blanc means “white butter sauce” and is all about the color. Red wine vinegar or balsamic would mess up the color (or lack thereof) of the sauce.
Stock (chicken or vegetable stock)
Heavy whipping cream.
White pepper. Again, this is about the color of the finished sauce—use white pepper.
How To Make Braised Leeks
Prepare the leeks. This part is a little fussy—you’ll want to trim off the roots from the bottoms of the leeks and the dark green tops, which are rather tough. Then, slice them in half lengthwise and rinse out any grit or dirt that may be (that often is) hiding between the leaves. But, while you rinse, try to keep the leek halves as intact as possible so that they’ll look beautiful in the pan.
Cook the leeks in a bit of olive oil until they take on a light golden color. Start with the cut side down, and flip them over after 2-3 minutes. You’ll probably need to do this in two batches.
Nestle all of the leeks—cut side down—in the pan together. Pour in half of the wine, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and enough stock to cover the leeks.
Bring the pan to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the leeks are tender when pierced with a knife. It’ll take about 30 minutes.
Et voilà! You made braised leeks! Lift the leeks out of the pan, but don’t dump the liquid or scrub that pan out just yet though. It’s time to make that lovely beurre blanc.
Tips for Making Beurre Blanc
Like all great French sauces, beurre blanc is all about the simplest ingredients and the application of just a bit of culinary technique. In this case, you’ll be whisking like crazy—seriously, do not stop whisking—to create an emulsion of butter in wine and stock. It gets a lovely kick from shallots and white pepper, which provide a perfect lifting contrast to the richness of the butter and cream. Our best tips for making this creamy French butter sauce are as follows:
Be ready to whisk like crazy.
Have your butter very very cold and...
have your heavy cream at room temperature.
How To Make Classic French Butter Sauce (Beurre Blanc)
For this recipe, you’ll lift out the leeks (tongs are handy for this) and leave the leek-scented liquid in the pan. You’ll build your beurre blanc out of that remaining braising liquid. Here’s how:
After the leeks have been set aside, pour the rest of the white wine and vinegar into the pan. Add the shallots and bring the leftover braising liquid back to a boil. Let it reduce.
Pour in the room temperature cream, salt and white pepper.
Lower the heat and get ready to do some serious whisking.
Whisk in 4 tablespoons of the chilled butter. Whisk whisk whisk.
Slowly add the remaining butter a few pieces at a time, whisking constantly.
The sauce is done when it is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Kill the heat! Season the sauce to taste with salt and white pepper. If you want a completely smooth beurre blanc, pour the sauce through a fine mesh sieve to strain out the shallot pieces.