Skip to main content

“A great variety of delicious sauces can be made, by adding different herbs,” wrote Mary Randolph in her directions for this basic butter sauce. She recommended parsley, chervil, cress, and tarragon, among others herbs, and assured her readers that making this slightly thickened, elegant butter sauce is a “simple . . . process.” The sauce can be served as an accompaniment to various fish, poultry, and beef dishes.

This recipe is a modern adaptation of the 18th-century original. It was created by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book Dining with the Washingtons.



  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh stemmed herbs, such as parsley, chervil, tarragon, cress, or lemongrass (optional)


1. In the top of a double boiler, combine the butter and flour. Set over boiling water, and stir until the butter is melted. Add 1 tablespoon of the water and the salt and cook, while stirring, until the sauce begins to bubble.

2. If using the herbs, parboil them for about 3 to 4 minutes. Then drain, dry thoroughly, and mince before adding to the basic sauce. Add the second tablespoon of water if flavoring the sauce with herbs.

3. Remove the sauce from the heat, pour into a sauceboat, and serve warm. The sauce can also be cooled, covered with plastic wrap, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Warm slowly over low heat to serve.

Makes 2/3 to 1 cup