There’s an old assumption that French sauces are all heavy handed and overbearing, but nothing could be farther from the truth. There are a bunch of variants, many of them light and delightfully complimentary. One of my absolute favorites comes from Grenoble, the city tucked up into the edge of the French Alps. Sauce Grenobloise is a delight, and it’s great for so much more than fish.
Grenoble is perhaps most food famous for gratin dauphinois, that decadent potato dish, and frankly, that makes sense – The Rhône-Alpes region of France favors such hearty delights, without a doubt. It’s interesting to me that sauce grenobloise hails therefrom. Yes, it’s a butter sauce, but it’s simple and light-handed, complimenting a dish while staying in the background, as a good sauce should, oui? Ah bon – and it’s pronounced, grehnoh-blewahs-ah, by the way.
Grenobloise, (a play on sauce Meunière), is comprised of butter, lemon, parsley, capers, and some croutons. Almost always paired with fish, it imparts a subtle richness and a truly delightful tang – But its charms are wasted if limited to only piscine pairings – Grenobloise will compliment a wide range of foods and dishes, and is a perfect vehicle for raising leftovers to new heights.
First off, some great target fish pairings, oui? Personally, I favor firm fleshed white fish, like halibut, tuna, and cod, but salmon, flounder, sole, rockfish, bass, trout, catfish and panfish will also shine. Lobster, crab, clams, and mussels are also great pairings.
We eat very, very little fish because of the delicate condition of our oceans and fisheries, so we’re more likely to pair grenobloise with chicken, pork, or lamb, and it’s sublime on freshly scrambled eggs. Let us not forget the non-animal based proteins – fresh, firm tofu and beans are great. There’s also some wonderful pulse, grain, and cereal options, like lentils, beans, rice, and wild rice. And grenobloise is a delight with veggies like asparagus, spuds, artichokes, brussels sprouts, and lettuce salads.
Making grenobloise couldn’t be easier, albeit there are plenty of opportunities for tweaking the recipe. Ratios must be a bit fluid, as the power of parsley, lemons, and capers will vary. In the purest incarnation, the sauce is made solo, on the stove top, and added to whatever you wish. If on the other hand, you’re sautéing or pan frying something, making the sauce in that same pan when your other stuff is done isn’t a bad idea at all – It’ll lend some subtly married flavors to the finished dish.
Obviously, freshness and quality matter here. The better your ingredients, the better the sauce. It’s hard for most of us to get fresh butter, so this might be a great time for you take a swing at making your own – The results will reward you richly. Likewise, fresh green parsley from your garden is best – Most French recipes call for flatleaf, but if curly is what you’ve got and/or prefer, by all means use that.
Finally, if you’ve ever wondered what ‘nonpareil,’ or sometimes ‘Non Pareil’ on a jar of capers means, it means they’re way good. After they’re picked, capers are sorted by size, then brined or dried or salted. The smallest are the priciest, one that ‘has no equal,’ as the French put it – They’re the best for taste and texture, and that’s what you want.
1/4 Cup fresh unsalted Butter
1 small fresh Lemon
2 Tablespoons Nonpareil Capers
2 Tablespoons fresh Parsley
1/2 Cup Croutons
If you don’t have croutons handy –
Preheat oven to 300° F and set a rack in the middle position.
Grab a nice, thick slice of densely crumbed bread, (whatever you like – Let’s not get fussy…)
Cut bread into roughly 1/2” squares.
Spread croutons on a baking sheet and bake until light golden and crunchy, about 4-7 minutes.
Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
For the Sauce –
Zest the lemon and cut it in half. Reserve half for the juice, and carefully slice out the flesh from the other half, removing pith and fibrous stuff. Dice the flesh.
Mince the parsley.
Drain the capers.
In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add the butter and melt. Again, if you sautéed or pan fried something, by all means use that pan to make the sauce in.
Whisk the butter steadily, and take care that it doesn’t burn. Cook until the butter is golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the lemon zest, juice and flesh, capers, and parsley. Whisk to incorporate and allow all that to heat through, about 1-2 minutes. NOTE: The butter may foam up when the citrus juice hits it, so be careful.
Remove sauce from heat.
Arrange croutons on whatever it is you’re saucing and apply sauce liberally.
Enjoy – and you’ll need a piece or two of fresh, crusty bread to sop up every last drop with.
A crisp, cold Pilsner, or Provençal rose wouldn’t hurt either.