Butter turns up everywhere. It’s in sauces, in cakes and on your morning toast. It’s often said that fat is flavor. But, technically, fat is just a really good vehicle for flavorful ingredients. Some fats aren’t even that flavorful on their own. But butter? Butter is the home of dairy flavor at its most intense. And that is exactly why butter is used so much in the kitchen. One of the best things you can do with butter is to combine one or two flavors with it, either in its melted state or its firm one, and then use the result as a condiment. Most of the time when you do this, it’s called a compound butter. I like to have lots of different compound butters ready-made for all kinds of applications, both savory and sweet. By the way, many compound butters can be frozen.
Warm compound butters (beurre blanc, for instance) are pretty difficult for the inexperienced cook to make. So let’s not talk about them just now. Let’s talk about cold compound butters all of which pretty much always follow the same basic plan:
Put butter into a bowl. Whether you use salted or unsalted butter depends upon the ingredients you intend to add to the compound. Use unsalted butter unless you’re adding savory ingredients that aren’t already salty in which case you can use salted butter.
Let the butter get about halfway to room temperature. You want it soft but not too soft - about the texture of cookie dough.
Now you can cream almost anything you like into it. What you add depends largely upon what you want to use the compound butter for. You then form the mixture into a useful or attractive shape. Most frequently cold compound butters are either rolled into logs or pressed into molds. Sometimes these shapes are also crusted in herbs, spices or other ingredients. Either way, they are then chilled for later use.
Here’s an easy example:
To one stick (4 ounces) of softened, unsalted butter add about 1 tablespoon of Amore Garlic Paste and about 4 ounces of either fresh-cooked or canned, drained cannellini beans. I like Strianese brand beans. Cream the ingredients together until well-combined.
Roll the mixture into a rough 2” diameter log. Wrap the log in a piece of waxed paper and then lightly roll the wrapped butter on your counter to smooth the surface of your butter log. Chill thoroughly in the waxed paper.
Once chilled you can cut the compound into slices which you might arrange prettily on a plate to serve at table with good crunchy bread. It’s perfect for your spaghetti dinner.
And that’s really all there is to it. You can tart it up however you like. One of my favorite compound butters is actually two compound butters. But it’s easier than it sounds – and much easier than it looks. The photo of this is at the top of the article.
First I make a compound butter with Amore Sun-dried Tomato Paste (about 2 tablespoons of paste to one four ounce stick of unsalted butter). I roll this into a nice tight log and chill it. Then I make a compound butter with Dolce Gorgonzola cheese – about four ounces of cheese to four ounces of unsalted butter. This mixture I flatten into a square sheet between two layers of waxed paper and chill. The square should be about as wide as the log of tomato butter is long.
When both compound butters are chilled, I roll the log of tomato butter into the sheet of cheese butter creating a two-layer log of compound butters. I love to serve slices of this on freshly grilled steak. Man, this is tasty!
Another favorite butter for steaks is also shown in that photo: I grind a quarter ounce of dried porcini mushrooms (available at PFI, of course) into a fine powder. I like doing this in the electric coffee grinder I reserve for spices. I pass the powder through a fine sieve and then cream it into four ounces of salted butter. Roll and chill. This earthy compound complements red meats magnificently.
Now you have the basic idea for making compound butters. Here are a few ideas for fast and easy compounds using ingredients readily found at PFI every day:
truffle salt, Amore Hot Pepper Paste, smoked paprika, Allepo pepper powder, zataar, fried pancetta, mortadella, mustard, capers, anchovies, curry powder, pesto, peppercorns (pink ones are particularly pretty and surprising), cheese, smoked sprats, almond paste, cocoa powder, honey, fruit syrups (imagine blueberry or black current compound butter on French toast!) - what about very small amounts of Knorr base?
Big John's PFI 1001 6th Avenue South Seattle, WA, 98118, USA
Monday: 9 AM - 5 PMTuesday - Friday: 9 AM - 6 PMSaturday: 10 AM - 4 PMClosed on Sundays