The Best of 2012…Chef Notes: Compound Butters

The Best of 2012…Chef Notes: Compound Butters

We’re picking our favorite posts of 2012 this week and we couldn’t resist this column by Chef Amanda about making your own flavored butters. I started making my own after my boyfriend, Jamie Oliver, (What?! He’s married?) did a Christmas special where he included a little chat about them. They really do make a difference in your dishes. I like to have a garlic and herb butter around for making my potatoes or pasta extra, super delicious and there’s always a bit of cinnamon butter lurking in my frig for French toast and pancakes. This post was originally printed on November 15th. Here’s Chef Amanda’s tried and true advice….

My son Logan, who turned 13 last week by the way, loves butter. I don’t mean he has a passing fancy for it, I mean the kid likes it on everything and the more the merrier. We use only the real thing in our house. Despite its bad reputation for being high in fat, it’s actually lower in total fat than most fats/oils. Given what it brings to the table, and that when used for flavoring or as a sauce you need small amounts, it’s not a bad option.

An incredibly simple way of adding or enhancing flavors is through the use of compound butters. Compound butters can be sweet or savory. They can be used to top meat, seafood, or vegetables, as spreads for breads or crackers, or as a dip for crudités. They are quick and easy to make, and when stored properly, will keep for weeks in the refrigerator.

Start with softened butter. You don’t want to melt it but it should be soft enough to easily mash and stir. Think room temperature cream cheese, something like that. You can use salted or unsalted. Then choose your ingredients. Do you want savory or sweet?  What are you topping? Keep in mind that sometimes a savory dish benefits from a sweet topping. For instance, pork chops are great with a maple-raisin compound butter.

Next, prepare your additives. I usually limit myself to three. If you try to mix in too much the butter will not reform properly and won’t hold together. Some common flavor combinations include: chive-parsley-lemon, roasted pepper, rosemary-orange, capers-sundried tomato, maple-raisin, cranberry-orange, liver-shallot, mushroom-shallot, walnut-vanilla-bourbon, gorgonzola-dried cherry, goat cheese-dried apricot, shrimp-white wine-lemon zest. The list could go on and on. You can add a generous ½ cup of finely minced dry/moist ingredients and up to ¼ cup of liquid to 1 lb of butter. Obviously if you’re adding a protein like the liver or shrimp you’ll want to cook and very finely mince or even puree with a bit of olive oil if you want it really smooth. If you’re using peppers, shallot, onion, garlic, or mushrooms you should roast, caramelize, sweat, or sauté them and then cool after adding.

Then, mix all of your ingredients until well blended. Taste and adjust seasoning. Finally, spoon onto parchment paper or plastic wrap and roll into a log. Chill until firm. To serve, slice into rounds about ¼ – ½ inch thick and top your favorite cut of steak, pork, chicken, or fish straight from the oven, pan, or grill so that the butter melts. Or try serving them on baked potato, corn on the cob, on top of a gorgeous pile of broccoli, cauliflower, or asparagus.  Another way to serve is to load your freshly made compound butter into a piping bag and, while still at room temperature, squeeze into ramekins.  This makes a beautiful presentation when you’re serving it for pancakes, French toast, breads, muffins, or crudités.

One of my favorite ways of serving fish is to simply poach or bake and then serve with a little disk of shrimp-white wine-lemon zest compound butter. It’s beautiful, simple, and very light.  And the additional 50 calories or so is well worth it. Get creative, give it a try, and let me know what you think.

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