I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking/working on my upcoming corn cookbook. It still feels weird to be on contract with a publisher (or, as I call it.. “Minnesota Historical Society Press owns my ass til December”), but I’m having fun with it. My corn freak husband is, as well – any excuse to move more corn through our kitchen is GREAT, by him!
In preparing foods to photograph for this cookbook, I had to make a bunch of compound butters. Oh, I love compound butters – they’re a great thing to have on hand, and SO versatile. Truth be told, I went a bit crazy with it… so here’s a blog entry to share!
Compound butter is an extremely simple thing – you take a soft stick of butter, and mix STUFF into it. Spices, fresh herbs, zest, finely chopped vegetables… whatever.
Literally – WHATEVER… if you can think of some sort of flavorful aromatic, odds are you can make a compound butter with it. This post isn’t so much a recipe, as it is a springboard for your own ideas and recipes.
The casual nature of that description doesn’t really do justice to compound butter’s place in cuisine – it’s a very basic part of fine French cooking. Compound butters were made ahead of time to add flavor to almost any dish. Melted compound butter would serve as a substitute for a sauce, while room temperature butters would be served alongside steak, vegetables, seafood. Anchovy butter was (is?) quite popular, along with flavors such as truffle, tarragon, garlic… even wine.
Beyond historical use, compound butters are great in any modern kitchen. Given that compound butters can be made either sweet or savory, the possibilities are endless.
– Melt some as a sauce. I recently crated a rice/bean based gluten free flatbread type… thing. (I know, the name REALLY sells it…). Fresh off the griddle, ripped up and dipped into a melted, curry flavored compound butter? Amazing.
– Use compound butter on hot ears of fresh corn.
– Spread on bread, alone or as part of a sandwich.
– Melt over popcorn! Seriously… probably our favorite use for it. You’ll never want to use powdered popcorn seasonings ever again!
How do you make it? Simple!
Take a stick or two of butter, allow it to come to room temperature – you’ll want it nice and soft. Stir in whatever flavoring agents you like (see below), mixing and matching as desired. I like to go 2-3 Tbsp of solids (fresh herbs, zest, whatever) or around ~1- 1.5 Tbsp of powders per stick of butter, as a rough guide… but there’s a lot of room to play. Make sure to pack a lot of flavor into it (1/2 tsp of, say, curry powder will NOT cut it!). Also, I try to vary colors to make it look pretty – for instance, mint and cilantro in with the curry powder!
Whip it until everything is well distributed. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes, or just long enough for it to firm up slightly – but still be workable. Dump it out onto a section of plastic wrap and roll it into a log. (Alternatively, mush it into an appropriately sized ramekin or other vessel.) Chill until firmly set.
Try to use the butter within one week, if stored in the fridge. If you’d like to hang on to it for longer than that, it can be stored in the freezer for about a month.
Now, as far as what to put in it…
For a sweet compound butter (Awesome on French toast, hot cinnamon buns, grilled fruit, etc…), I like to use berries, along with either honey or maple syrup. You can mix cinnamon and brown sugar.. maple and brown sugar.. pureed fruit (mangoes!), citrus zest, etc. Try finely chopping dried fruits, soaking them for a day or so in some booze, and using that. (Whiskey raisins, amaretto and dried apricots, grand marnier and dried cranberries, etc). Yum!
For savory, you can really run wild. Basically, any fresh or dried herb or spice is fair game, as well as other items: crumbled bacon, dried mushrooms, anchovies, mustard, pesto, crushed peppercorns, etc.
Some other ideas:
– Dijon mustard compound butter is particularly amazing on roasted corn on the cob.
– Caramelized onion.. with or without dried mushrooms.
– Finely chopped canned chipotle peppers, along with some of the adobo sauce they came in.
– Curry powder with mint and cilantro is amazing.
Oh, and be sure to consider sharing the love – logs or little ceramic pots of compound butter make great hostess gifts!
Logs: Peel the plastic wrap off your well chilled – FIRM – log of compound butter. Wrap tightly with a clean pieces of plastic wrap, before rolling it up in a piece of something more decorative – parchment paper, cellophane, craft paper, etc. Tie off either end with some twine or ribbon, and label it with a flavor if you want. Done!
Pots: press your still-soft compound butter into a ceramic ramekin, right after mixing it up. Use the back side of a spoon to create a pretty swirl on top of the butter, chill till firm. Place chilled ramekin in the middle of a large piece of cellophane, draw all of the sides and corners up, and secure on top of the ramekin with a bow – ribbon or twine.
If you’re already a fan of compound butter, what are your favorite flavors? If you’re new to this, what do you think you’d like to try out?
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