OK, hands up, how many of you think drawn butter is just melted butter? And how many think it’s melted, clarified butter?
Well, your 19th century peers would disagree with you.
While many modern cooks, and even a few chefs, will tell you that drawn butter is just melted butter, the truth is, it really isn’t. Drawn butter sauce is just that, a true sauce. And every one of my 19th century cook books that lists a recipe for it, agrees.
And to make the point, a recipe for Melted Butter Sauce.
Followed by the recipe for Drawn-Butter Sauce.
Both recipes are from “The Table” by Alessandro Filippini, 1889.1
The good part is, while it’s not as simple as just melting butter, it’s not much more difficult. It starts as a simple light roux, add water and seasonings, simmer, then temper with a bit more butter. The addition of lemon juice at the end give it a slight acidic edge that is quite nice.
And here’s good part, you can make other sauces just by adding ingredients near the end of the simmer. Want a nice parsley sauce for potatoes? Just add finely chopped parsley near the end. Want a caper sauce for a fish? Just add chopped capers near the end.
Drawn Butter Sauce
3 oz butter
2 Tbsp flour
4 cups water
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper (white pepper preferred)
In a saucepan, melt 2 ounces of the butter, then add the flour. Stir continually until well combined, then continue stirring until it cooks the flour a bit, but do not allow to brown.
Add the water, whisking all the time, and bring to a good simmer.
Add the salt and pepper.
Simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes, whisking occasionally. The liquid should reduce some, and while it will not get thick, it will gain some body. The butter should not separate.
Add the remaining 1 ounce of butter, a small piece at a time, whisking constantly. When it is fully incorporated, add the lemon juice, whisk one more time, strain then serve.
Use generously on vegetables, seafood, or just about anything. This sauce can be easily added to in the late stages to make other sauces. Add a 1/4-1/2 cup of finely chopped parsley near the end of the simmer to make a parsley butter sauce, or chopped capers to make a caper butter sauce. Do not strain if adding herbs.
Filippini, A. The Table; How to Buy Food, How to Cook It, and How to Serve It.; The Baker & Taylor Co.: New York, 1889.