January 14, 2014

By: Kathryn Dwyer, Culinary Arts Student

One of the easiest, most impressive ways to up your flavor-game is to incorporate seasoned butters into your cooking repertoire.  Seriously one of the simplest, quickest, most impressive things I learned at culinary school, compound butters add a level of sophistication and skill to many dishes. From melting over a grilled rib-eye steak to smearing on a slice of hot baked bread, enhanced butters are deceptively simple compared to the amount of flavor and flair they add to a dish.

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I remember reviewing the recipe for the classic “Maître d’Hôtel Butter” before class during the foundations portion of the culinary program and thinking to myself, “is this even a recipe?”. Mixing a little parsley and lemon into softened butter seemed too easy to be worth covering in culinary school, but in our lecture that day my chef instructor opened my eyes to the innumerable variations and ideas on how we might use compound butter to elevate our cooking.  From that lecture on, it was expected that any butter on the table during meals at school were to be flavored to enhance the day’s menu. It was challenging at times, some were more popular than others (the anchovy/caper butter was…interesting) but we quickly came to appreciate all the ways you can add flavor and richness with compound butters.

Spreading the Love of Compound Butter

Super simple to make and even easier to store and serve, compound butter is an easy, fast and impressive technique to elevate your cooking.  After mixing your ingredients into softened butter, just shape into a log, wrap well and store in the freezer. Anytime you want to add that something extra to a dish, just slice off an inch or two and you have an instant boost of flavor. Furthermore, for an incredibly quick appetizer, an array of compound butters and hot bread make an interesting and delicious snack.

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The three variations of compound butter that I’ve included are just the tip of the tasty iceberg of things you can mix into butter. The most classic compound butter is the Maître d’Hôtel Butter, it is simply softened butter mixed with a bit of lemon juice, chopped parsley, salt and fresh ground black pepper. It is excellent on top of a grilled piece of meat, from steak to salmon and it also wonderful for melting over steamed vegetables. Merlot and shallot butter is a perfect match for lamb or beef as well as sautéed mushrooms. Lastly, the smoked paprika and cilantro butter would be excellent on sweet corn on the cob, grilled fish or cornbread.

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There is no end to the variations on compound butter; in class we added everything from black olives and toasted walnuts for a savory spread to cinnamon and vanilla for smothering fresh brioche. Compound butters were a way to experiment with flavor combinations, different herbs and spices and to expand our palates and knowledge of ingredients. At home, you can experiment the same way, probably with many of the ingredients you already have. For each of the recipes shown, just combine herbs, spices and flavorings with softened butter, shape into a log on parchment or plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until use.

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Maître d’Hôtel Butter or Parsley and Lemon Compound Butter

½ lb softened butter
3 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 ½ Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp kosher salt
fresh black pepper to taste

Merlot and Shallot Butter
½ lb softened butter
1 cup merlot wine reduced over low heat to 2 tablespoons
1 small shallot – minced fine
1 Tbs fresh rosemary – minced fine
2 tsp kosher salt
fresh black pepper to taste

Smoked Paprika and Cilantro Butter
½ lb softened butter
1 Tbs smoked paprika
2 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro
few dashes of hot sauce
2 tsp kosher salt
fresh black pepper to taste