Chef Notes: Brown butter, baby

Chef Notes: Brown butter, baby

Who doesn’t love butter?  I’m talking about the real deal, not margarine, not real butter mixed with olive oil, and not some “healthier” blend of oils made to taste like butter. I use nothing else. There is no real substitute.

I was always mystified by the brown butter sauce. I saw it on menus and recipe titles a lot but I was constantly being told how difficult it was to make, how easy to burn, how delicate it was. Well, I was finally taught by an expert. I did a stage at Craft Steak, Tom Colicchio’s place at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, and witnessed the Sous Chef demonstrate the technique to a line cook who had just had his ass chewed off for messing up the brown butter sauce three times in a row. While I felt bad for the cook it was a revelation.

It’s so easy it’s almost embarrassing. First, let’s talk about butter. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but butter quickly absorbs odors and tastes. If you are storing it on a butter plate uncovered in the butter section of the refrigerator, chances are if you take a little taste of it plain you will notice that strange refrigerator taste that some foods take on. While this may not be a problem when you are dumping a couple of pats onto your broccoli or even spreading it on toast, you don’t want that refrigerator taste in your brown butter sauce. I recommend storing the extra sticks of butter in a zip top bag or a plastic container so that you always have fresh butter available. Second, it’s better to use unsalted butter for this sauce. You don’t have to, certainly don’t let that stop you from trying i,t but salted butter tends to brown quicker, so you’re going to want to keep an extra close eye on it and will need to be careful about the seasoning on whatever you’re going to serve it on. Third, be sure to use a heavy bottom pan. I like cast iron for this, and have a bowl standing by so that you can get it off the heat immediately when it is ready. And lastly, don’t walk away from it.  The sauce literally takes about five minutes so stay put and keep an eye on it.

Brown Butter Sauce

Serves 4-6 depending on application

1 stick of cold unsalted butter cut into 6-8 chunks

Salt to taste


Place a heavy bottomed small skillet over medium-low heat. Let the pan warm enough so that the bottom is evenly heated. Add the butter to the pan and melt. You will notice the butter begin to separate. The milk solids will rise to the top. Within just a few minutes those milk solids will begin to brown. As soon as you notice the browning, begin to stir and don’t stop stirring until the color is like a medium-dark caramel. Remove from heat and immediately pour into a heat safe bowl. Keep stirring to assist with cooling and to ensure that cooking stops. Salt to taste.


Serving ideas:

Scrambled eggs (just add your eggs to the pan instead of pouring into the bowl)

Sauce for ravioli, cappelletti, tortellini or other stuffed pastas

Sauce for winter squashes such as butternut or pumpkin

Sauce for other vegetables such as corn, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, beets

Sauce for scallops, shrimp, fish

Substitution for regular butter in recipes for brownies, bars, cakes, frostings

Many chefs like to add an herb while the butter is browning. For example, drop in 2 or 3 sage leaves and you’ve got a sage brown butter sauce.

You’re going to love the nutty, caramel flavor of this sauce. You only need a tablespoon or two per person and it really adds a beautiful, silky, depth of flavor.

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