Oftentimes the humblest, most overlooked ingredients in your pantry are the ones that can be the most transformative in your cooking. As I previously waxed philosophic about salt (another misunderstood game-changer), butter falls into the same category. Evident in more foods than you’d probably care to know, butter proves to be way more than a bread-basket wingman.
A Brief History
I will not bore you with the perhaps repetitive chronicle of French chefs’ love for butter. However, it is interesting and noteworthy to understand why it’s somewhat of a historical figure in the culinary world. One of the first ingredients created for consumption, butter is first notably written about nearly 4500 years ago on a limestone tablet. It used to be so costly to make that it was reserved only for special occasions, like royal or religious ceremonies. In fact, some countries (specifically India and Tibet) still use butter in religious ceremonies. Butter has been a staple for cooks for centuries and for good reason. It’s the world’s most popular fat, and you’ll never find a restaurant (excluding vegan restaurants) that don’t stock it in bulk—often in many different varieties.
Butter is the essential component to many classic food preparations. Take, for example, beurre blanc (French butter sauce), Bagna Cauda (Italian dip similar to fondue, made with anchovies, garlic, and butter), and buttercream (classic American frosting.) You can see that butter transcends countries and cultures; its relevance is apparent, and it’s totally necessary in the past, present, and future.
So we obviously see that butter is everywhere: you can make sauces with it, blah blah blah. But how do we use it in a new, interesting way at home? For starters, make flavored butters! Now, the very 1990s fad of “compound butters” may seem a little passé, but try to keep an open mind. Just because we’re making flavored butters doesn’t mean they have to be boring. Rosemary butter or paprika butter: those are simple enough, and at the very least, they’re a step up from the plain stuff.
Think about what flavors would naturally go with something with butter. Okay, I know it sounds confusing. For example, think clams, white wine, garlic, and butter. So, make a clam stock with tons of garlic, and deglaze with wine. Then strain the liquid, reduce it, and whisk in butter. Refrigerate it, and when it cools, you’ll have a delicious garlic-and-clam compound butter. Wow! Mind-blowing, right?
The same theory, I find, works in a more interesting way in sweet applications. If the clam-and-garlic butter idea seems a bit too involved for your first butter experiments, try this: a maple-molasses butter. Softened butter is whipped with molasses, maple syrup, and smoked sea salt to create a delicious, complex butter perfect for countless preparations. Creativity is the name of the game here. You may have heard of honey butter in the past, but this recipe for smokey molasses butter takes it to a whole new level.
Smokey Molasses Butter
- 1 stick softened unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon smoked sea salt
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, the two syrups, and beat for 30 to 45 seconds. Be sure that the syrups are completely incorporated. The whipped butter will have a creamy, airy consistency. Add smoked salt, and beat again for 5 seconds or so just to get it incorporated.
- This butter will keep in the fridge indefinitely, as long as it’s covered in an airtight container.
This butter is amazing on anything: smeared on a toasted croissant, spread over waffles with fresh blueberries, or slathered on a fried egg sandwich with thick-cut bacon. Wow. Sweet-and-salty butter like this offers a whole new perspective on what would otherwise be considered a boring “kitchen staple.” I hope this recipe inspires you to makes some changes in your own home kitchen. The effort is minimal, and the payoff is huge. That’s my kind of cooking.
As the queen of butter would say, “You know it’s a good recipe if it starts with a stick of butter.” Right on, Paula Deen.
Dairy Goodness. (n.a.). The history of butter. Retrieved from http://www.dairygoodness.ca/butter/the-history-of-butter