Years ago, I cooked at Craigie on Main, a French-inspired bistro in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Like any good line cook, I purged my station of all nonessentials; the few mise en place that I kept on hand included salt and pepper, vegetable stock, a squeeze bottle of lemon juice, minced chives, and beurre monté.
That last one, emulsified melted butter, has long been the lifeblood of many professional French kitchens. Mine sat at the edge of the French top, where it was just warm enough for the butter to remain creamy and fluid.
Throughout service, I’d ladle a splash into the various pans I was shuffling. Suddenly, the food would glow: Turnips and radishes would turn glossy. A broken pasta sauce would pull together. Meat and vegetable juices would swell with velvety body.
It was a last-minute touch of luxury, and it could be slipped into any dish because monté is nothing more than butter whisked into a little simmering water.
That versatility makes it a great tool for home cooks too: You can whip up a batch in 10 minutes, flavor it with all sorts of seasonings (savory or sweet), and use it to add richness and polish to whatever you’re cooking: Steamed vegetables. Roast pork or potatoes. Filled pastas. Seared scallops. A platter of ruffly crepes. Think of it as butter in sauce form.
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How to Make a Basic Monté
Beurre monté looks and feels luxurious, but it’s nothing more than butter whisked into simmering water until the mixture thickens. Here’s how you make it.
- Bring water to gentle simmer.
- Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time until it melts.
From Melted to Monté
The difference between beurre monté and melted butter looks and feels like the difference between velvet and raw denim: a substance that’s luxurious versus one that’s unrefined.
Structurally, the difference between them is emulsification—the process of fusing together liquids that would normally separate. Butter, a solid emulsion of fat and water, breaks when you melt it, causing its fat and water to separate and turn thin and greasy. Monté is butter that’s simultaneously melted and rebuilt into a new emulsion by thoroughly whisking it into hot water.
The whisking breaks up the fat into tiny droplets that get dispersed throughout the water until it thickens to the consistency of heavy cream.
Science: From Cream to Butter to Beurre Monté
Most of the time, we want our emulsions to be stable, but if you think of beurre monté’s true starting point as being the cream used to make the butter, the sauce can be thought of as an emulsion that was broken—then broken again.
Here’s how: Cream is a fat-in-water emulsion. But when it’s churned, the dispersed fat globules are slammed against one another until they stick, and when it’s strained of buttermilk and kneaded to make butter, the mixture becomes a water‑in‑fat emulsion. When that butter transforms into monté by being melted and whisked into a little hot water, the emulsion switches to a creamy fat‑in-water emulsion again.
When cream turns to butter and then to beurre monté, the type of emulsion changes from fat-in-water to water-in-fat and then back to fat-in water.
The inner workings of monté are admittedly complex, but making it is easy.
All it takes is a little precision, starting with the right ratio of butter to water. You need just enough water to give the fat droplets space to disperse without touching one another but not so much that the mixture is thin and lean (and won’t allow for the addition of any liquid seasonings).
The temperature of the butter and water matters too: The butter should be well chilled and the water simmering but not boiling. That way, the butter melts slowly so that its fat droplets gradually become available and don’t overwhelm the emulsion as you’re building it, and the water doesn’t evaporate so much that there isn’t enough of it to keep the fat droplets separate. It’s easy to control by bringing the water to a simmer over a medium-high flame and then lowering the heat as soon as it comes to a simmer.
Science: Melted Butter versus Beurre Monté
Anything you’d dip in melted butter (shellfish, artichokes, crusty bread) would be better dipped in beurre monté—which takes only minutes more to make. Whereas melted butter slips off food in a thin pool, the French butter sauce lusciously coats and clings to food, thanks to emulsification.
Melted Butter: Thin and Slippery
Solid butter is a water-in-fat emulsion (tiny droplets of water surrounded by fat), and when it melts, the emulsion breaks: The water and fat separate from each other, so the mixture feels slippery and greasy and resists clinging to food.
Beurre Monté: Thick and Clingy
This creamy sauce is a so-called fat-in-water emulsion made by whisking pieces of cold butter into barely simmering water. As the water slowly melts the butter, the constant whisking breaks up the fat into droplets. These get dispersed throughout the water, repelling each other and impeding the water’s flow, until the mixture thickens and turns rich and silky. And because the fat droplets are surrounded by water—and water, unlike fat, is attracted to moist foods—the emulsion clings beautifully.
Finally, be sure to add the butter slowly and whisk vigorously after each addition—especially early in the process when you’re establishing the emulsion. I like to drop in 1 tablespoon at a time and whisk it for 20 to 30 seconds before adding the next so that the butter has a chance to melt and its fat breaks down into sufficiently tiny droplets.
Monté, Your Way
Beurre monté is simply butter in sauce form, so it pairs well with a range of seasonings—sweet or savory. Here are ideas for varying its flavor.
- Stock: Add savoriness by substituting stock (vegetable, chicken, dashi, etc.) for the water, being careful to account for salt in the stock when seasoning the sauce to taste.
- Herbs: Whisk in 2 teaspoons minced fresh herbs. Hardy types such as rosemary can be added at the start of cooking, while delicate varieties such as tarragon should be added at the last minute so that they don’t brown.
- Wine: iff on beurre blanc or beurre rouge by reducing 1/3 cup wine plus 1/4 teaspoon onion powder to 3 tablespoons and substituting it for the water. Season to taste with herbs (tarragon, thyme, rosemary), salt, and wine vinegar.
- Preserves, booze, and juice: After adding the butter to the water, whisk in any combination of jam or jelly (11/2 tablespoons) and booze or juice (11/2 teaspoons). For example: raspberry jam and Chambord; apple jelly and brandy; plum preserves and amaretto.
Fancy Sauce on the Fly
The whole operation takes minutes, though monté can also be made ahead and held for hours; just pop a lid on the pot and keep it very warm but subsimmer (aim for a temperature between 135 and 160 degrees).
Either way, the buttery base can be seasoned to match anything you’re cooking. Some of my favorite additions include stone-ground mustard, gochujang, and apricot preserves with peach schnapps. But the best way to appreciate it is to grab a stick of butter and peek at the condiments in your fridge and pantry.
You’ll be rewarded with the easiest fancy sauce you can make.
Rich, bright, mustardy beurre monté effortlessly dresses up the most basic green vegetable. Beurre monté brightened with tangy apricot preserves makes a next-level topping for crepes.
Want to Make It Ahead?
Beurre monté comes together very quickly but can also be covered and kept warm over your stove’s lowest setting for up to 4 hours. Note that it will break if simmered for an extended period of time, and it cannot be cooled and reheated.