The first recipe of "The Nero Wolfe Cook Book" by Rex Stout is for Eggs au beurre noir. For the black butter sauce he gives the following instructions:

"In a skillet melt [...] four tablespoons of butter over a medium heat. When white waxy particles have settled to the bottom, pour the clear liquid off into a bowl. Return the clarified butter to the pan and continue to cook until it has turned a deep golden brown..."

Now I have tried this recipe with unsalted butter, with salted butter, using a low heat, a medium heat, enough heat to create a fire hazard. I also tried different methods of clarification, all to no avail. The "deep golden brown" is only achievable, as far as I can tell, with unclarified butter. Indeed it appears to be the toasted butter solids that produce the golden brown.

I would have given up on this recipe altogether if it wasn't corroborated by other sources. It makes me wonder if, for example, American butter differs substantially from European butter. Does anyone know if black butter sauce can be made with clarified butter?

  • 6
    Hmm. I always understood the dark golden brown color is produced by the browning of the milk solids in the butter (unclarified). I've never heard of starting with clarified butter and trying to brown it.
    – hobodave
    Jul 30, 2010 at 21:09

4 Answers 4


@Chris: Does the recipe from the Nero Wolfe cookbook say anything about dumping the milky/watery portion out of the pan before returning the butter to it to brown?

Clarified butter WILL NOT brown, that is the purpose for clarifying it. The milk solids are what brown. The portion that usually goes to the bottom will be the whey and the milk solids initially tend to form the "scum" on the top. To me it sounds like he's trying to suggest that you should pour the butter & solids off, dump out any whey, and then return the butter to the pan so you can heat it to the point of a dark brown without it splattering (which is caused by the water in the whey). 4 tablespoons of butter isn't going to have much whey in the first place so just cook the whole butter to the beurre noir point.

  • This does makes a great deal of sense. If that is indeed the case, though, then the directly quoted "clarified butter" is a misnomer... a case of poor paraphrasing perhaps?
    – Aaronut
    Jul 31, 2010 at 3:32
  • Yes, I think that's the case. Jul 31, 2010 at 4:48
  • No paraphrasing: the quote is from page 4 of the 1973 printing. There is no instruction to dispose of the whey so your answer satisfies me that I have mistakenly read that into the recipe. Thanks. Jul 31, 2010 at 11:34
  • 2
    @Chris: I actually meant poor paraphrasing on the author's part, not yours (FYI).
    – Aaronut
    Jul 31, 2010 at 13:31

There's recipes for beurre noisette and beurre noir in my go-to book, the Joy of Cooking, and neither of them call for clarified butter. Just plain, ordinary, unsalted butter.

The "clarified" part of clarified butter is just fat, and to the best of my knowledge, fat doesn't brown/toast. It would almost certainly be the solids that do that!

In fact, ghee, a similar product, is basically butter left to simmer for an hour or so - and during this time, the milk solids will separate and turn brown - that's how you know it's done.

I'm pretty sure the answer is no; beurre noir is not made with clarified butter. Something's not quite right with that recipe.

  • 2
    Beurre noisette or noir cannot be made with just clarified butter. You need to add some sugars and proteins to it. The linked recipe is probably copied without being tried by its author.
    – papin
    Jul 31, 2010 at 2:14

Fanny Farmer also has Eggs au beurre noir - very simple.

Butter Pepper Salt 4 eggs 1 teaspoon vinegar Put one tablespoon butter in a hot chafing-dish; when melted, slip in carefully four eggs, one at a time. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until whites are firm. Remove to a hot platter, care being taken not to break yolks. In same dish brown two tablespoons butter, add vinegar, and pour over eggs.

Note that Nero Wolfe somewhere has a discussion of Eggs au Beurre Noir that INCLUDES adding vinegar - and does not mention clarified butter.


I don't think that "browning" involves milk solids....

Browning is the caramelizing of the sugars in meat.

So I think this is possible to be done with clarified butter.

I "brown" meats usually with olive oil, which also does not have any milk solids.

  • 2
    Browning is several reactions, including caramelization of sugars and the Maillard reaction between amino acids & sugars. Both of those definitely happen in places besides meat, for example bread. You can brown meats in clarified butter, yes, but you can't brown clarified butter itself (at least not without setting it smoking). Non-clarified butter contains sugars and proteins and thus can be browned.
    – derobert
    Jul 25, 2011 at 20:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.