Butter, I’m happy to say, is back in style.
In the 90s, America panicked when we found out that butter’s high saturated fat and cholesterol content could be doing a number on our hearts. Many switched to margarine, a man-made, vegetable oil-based substitute. Sadly, margarine doesn’t work nearly as well for baking: cookies get burned, muffins go flat.
So imagine the collective joy when the nutrition world announces that margarine has its evils, too, namely lots of trans fats, which can mess with human cholesterol levels more than actual cholesterol.
Butter might never be called a “health food,” but it’s not such a public sin to use it anymore. In fact, compared to processed sugar or high-fructose anything, it’s downright en vogue.
And there’s a fascination with butter that goes beyond its chemical makeup. Take butter sculptures. The first one I ever saw in person was at the Pennsylvania Farm Show about a year ago. It was an entire tableau, very manger-scene-like, of 4H kids and their animals. The sheer, remorseless caloric-ness of the thing was stunning.
Ever seen a festival tout a hydrogenated soybean oil sculpture? Not me.
Butter is multi-talented like that.
It has another side you may not yet have experienced: brown butter. The French call it beurre noisette. I call it a cooking hack if there ever was one.
Substitute it in any recipe that calls for butter, whether for baked goods, desserts, meat sauces, or vegetable sautées. It tastes richer, more complex, and a little bit like hazelnuts (really).
Start with unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size slices, in a pan over medium-high heat. As it melts, whisk frequently, keeping a close eye on the butter’s color. As it heats up, the solid components will separate from the liquids and begin to turn a golden brown color. The butter with froth up a little bit–that’s normal. When it looks about the color of a raw almond, remove the pan from the heat. Either use right away or cover in the fridge. Use it in the form the recipe specifies–melted, softened, etc.
Keep a very close eye on the color as you go, as the butter can burn in the blink of an eye. If it turns black or smells funny . . . whoops.
Once you’ve nailed it, try brown butter these ways:
Cook vegetables in it. I tried plain, cubed butternut squash, and you’d never guess there were only two ingredients in there. Very autumnal.
Spread on waffles, pancakes, toast, or English muffins.
Drizzle over roasted asparagus, broccoli rabe, green beans, or broccoli.
Toss with any kind of cooked pasta.
Blend with mashed potatoes.
Dab a pat on top of cooked chicken, steak, or seafood.
In actual recipes:
Use it in brownie or cookie recipes (no need to adjust amounts) to add a nutty hint without any nuts. Maybe you have an allergic friend, or maybe you don’t feel like going to the store just for a handful of pecans. Either way, butter saves the day.
Brown a few tablespoons of butter and, before it cools, whisk in 1/3 cup powdered sugar and a quick pour of milk. Use to glaze a cake or banana bread. Wait till the glaze sets to slice and eat.
Just one or two more ingredients, and you can legitimately call this a sauce: As 6 tablespoons of butter are browning, about 2 or 3 minutes in, stir in a chopped garlic clove and a quarter cup of chopped sage. If you want to thin it out, add a half cup of chicken or vegetable broth. Continue cooking for 2 to 5 more minutes, until thickened just a bit. Works over meat, veggies, or pasta.
My roommate and another friend (both good enough chefs that they don’t need “hacks,” might I add in admiration), recently used brown butter to make homemade ice cream. Holy crap. I cannot describe in words the extent to which your Edy’s-accustomed mind will be blown. This is their own recipe, adapted from this base.