Simple and elegant: Brown butter sage sauce

In the world of Italian food, two sauces reign supreme: marinara and Alfredo. The latter is an American iteration and can be found on menus across the country. The former comes with a variety of add-ons. Add ground meat and your marinara becomes Bolognese. Add heat and it's arrabiata. But people often overlook a classic Italian sauce that's subtle, but sublime: brown butter sage sauce.

It's easy to make, and can be served with a variety of pastas. I tend to pour it over cheese or pumpkin ravioli. Since it's subtle in flavor, it shouldn't be used in dishes with overpowering flavors, such as recipes with Italian sausage, capers, or hot peppers. Brown butter sage sauce needs a mild plate of gnocchi or baked chicken to really shine.

dried sage

How to make brown butter sage sauce


  • Stick of salted butter
  • 10 dried sage leaves
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Optional: Shaved Parmesan


  • Try not to use a Teflon or iron pan, as the dark color will not allow you to properly see the butter's color change - use stainless steel.
  • Drop in the butter and let it melt slowly over medium-low heat. Stir constantly as it has a tendency to melt unevenly and burn.
  • As you see the color slightly go from yellow to brown, drop in the sage leaves by plucking them off the stem first (if on stems), then grinding through your fingertips, dropping them into the pan. This breaks open the sealed flavor and oils on the inside of the sage leaves, and creates a stronger flavor. It's the same reason people grind their coffee beans right before brewing. 
  • Stir and let it sizzle, being careful that the butter continues to brown, but not burn. 
  • Once the sage is well-integrated in the sautee and the butter is brown, remove from heat and add a squeeze of lemon.
  • Pour over the pasta, chicken, etc. If you'd like, top with shaved Parmesan.

pumpkin ravioli with brown butter sage sauce

...and that's it! Three ingredients, a few minutes on the stove, and a variety of things you can pour it over. For such a simple sauce, it's usually served in upscale restaurants, so by proxy, you can show off how cultured and elegant you are!



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