April 30, 2012

Game-changer, Tip #4: Not Complex, Just {Compound} Butter

Growing up, I detested cold, raw, hard butter. I never buttered my bread. It was like biting into tasteless chunks of cold fat. I think my butter-loving gene went to my youngest brother, because he had a long-time love affair with butter and ate enough for the both of us. Knowing it wasn't socially acceptable to eat butter with a fork, he used bread as a vehicle to ingest butter. He piled it on his bread, gradually pecked away at it, and when none remained, spread more butter on same piece of bread and continued this process, careful never to get a mouthful of actual bread. Until someone {probably bossy older sister, aka me} yelled at him to stop from the other side of the table.

Don't worry about my brother's cholesterol or the lack of butter in my life - he grew out of that stage and I have since seen the light. To have survived a classical French culinary training, life in both France and Ireland, and come out on the other end not obsessed with butter would have been an impossible task. But butter is different in Europe. Without a doubt, it's creamier, a dose more salty and just more flavorful overall. Butter is often not refrigerated in Europe, rendering it always spreadable and never at danger of ripping your bread to shreds. The chilly temperature of the fridge is a common flavor-killer - lots of foods would be better enjoyed if taken from the fridge and allowed to warm, just slightly, enough to get rid of the chill. That way, rather than just tasting cold, you are able to enjoy the actual flavors of the food.

This is true for butter as well. Do your own experiment if you don't believe me. Take a small knob of butter out of your fridge and leave it out until it is room temperature. Spread that on a piece of room temperature bread. Taste it. Then take a cold slice of butter from your fridge and {try to} spread that on a piece of room temperature bread. Taste it. Which better highlights the flavor of the actual butter?

Allowing butter to live in a butter dish on your counter has added benefits beyond constant spreadability and better flavor. When room temperature, it is easily turned into compound butter, which is a fancy term for flavored butter. It might be an old-school technique, but making compound butter is definitely a game-changer.

Picture, if you will, a dollop of roasted garlic compound butter added to the top of a still-hot-from-the-grill steak, its melted, sweet, garlicky goodness spilling down the sides, permeating the steak for ultimate flavor. Try putting a dish of chive butter on the table next time you serve mashed or baked potatoes. What about orange butter for your Sunday morning pancakes? Take a welcomed break from the monotonous and spread cinnamon butter on your weekday morning toast. All you need is room temperature salted butter and your choice of herbs, spices or aromatics - the list of possibilities limited only by your imagination.

Recently, having gotten pretty sick of listening to myself talk about doing it, I finally decided to start growing herbs in our apartment. I have to say, beyond the obvious culinary benefits of having fresh herbs at my disposal, my mini herb garden has proven a thrifty way to decorate our place. Yesterday, I had my first "harvest" of lemon verbena, lemon balm and oregano. Since oregano and lemon are best flavor friends, I went for it and made this delectable compound butter destined for afternoon snacks and a possible roasted-chicken.

What you'll need:
Unsalted butter
Herbs, spices or aromatics
Salt and black pepper

If using herbs, mince them up. If using roasted garlic, turn it into a paste. If using raw garlic, shallots, ginger, etc, I recommend grating them directly into the butter to better disseminate the flavor throughout. If using citrus zest, use a microplaner.
In a bowl, add flavoring of choice, salt and pepper to the room temperature butter, gently folding the seasoning so as not to overwork it. You can also do this in the bowl of a stand mixer, using the ladle attachment on low speed.
Reshape by filling a ramekin or other mold and allow to chill slightly, if you'd like. Or you can try wrapping it tightly with plastic wrap or wax paper, and molding it into a long cylindrical log, like you would with cookie dough. If you allow it to chill in the freezer for a short while, you can slice the butter easily and arrange on a plate. {Remember to let it come back up to room temp before using it!}


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!