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Brown Butter- The transformative ingredient to add to everything
January 14, 2018, 1:05 pm
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Brown butter is one of those shortcut ingredients to great cooking. It takes any kind of cake to a whole new level of complex, nutty deliciousness, and adds toasted flavors to cornbread, or even savory dishes like pasta and risotto. Every self-respecting home baker should know how to brown butter, especially considering there's nothing to it. If you have butter, a pan, and a rubber spatula, you're good to go.

Step one: heat butter in a light-colored pot

Butter consists of clear yellowish butterfat, water, and milk proteins. When browning butter, those proteins are what is actually browning.  Start by plopping the desired amount of butter in a heavy-bottomed and preferably light-colored saucepan. The heavy bottom ensures the butter heats evenly while the light color allows you to monitor the butter's color as it browns. Heat the butter gently over low heat till it has melted completely. Stir the butter with a rubber spatula all through the browning process, which also helps it melt evenly.

Step Two: cook off water

Butter contains a good 13 to 17% water, which has to go before the fat's temperature can rise enough to brown the milk proteins. Once the butter reaches a temperature of 100°C, the water in the butter starts to evaporate much more quickly. As a result, the butter will start to bubble and splatter.

Step three: brown the butter

After about five minutes the butter will start to foam. This is when you want to watch the butter like a hawk, stirring it around with your spatula to prevent the milk solids from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

You can tell the butter is browning because dark golden flecks (browned milk solids) will appear in the melted butter, which will start to smell nutty and toasty.

Once you're happy with the level of browning, pour the butter—browned milk solids and all—into a heatproof bowl and stir it for one or two minutes to cool it down. If you were to leave the butter in the pan, the residual heat would continue to cook it, and the butter might scorch from a perfect brown to a burnt-tasting black.

Also, keep in mind that only the milk solids turn a dark golden brown, not the butter itself. The fat will be darker as well, but not as dramatically as the milk solids.

Now is the time to embrace brown butter in all of its glory, for dishes that are simple to prepare yet extraordinary in taste. Here are some ideas for using brown butter in savory cooking.

A finishing act

Use brown butter just as it is—a sauce. Spoon it over meat, fish, shellfish, baked cheese, pasta, gnocchi, and more as a final, flavorful flourish. Glaze Brussels sprouts in brown butter, or fluff it into still-hot wild rice, quinoa, or couscous. Drizzle it over smooth, silky soups for a welcome pop of flavor and texture. Or toss spaghetti with nothing more than brown butter, parmesan, and lots of black pepper for one of the best late-night meals ever.

Brown butter can also be incorporated into sauces and dressings, such as a brown butter mayonnaise, brown butter vinaigrette, and brown butter hollandaise. Or mix brown butter with fresh herbs, chill it, and make compound butter, which is a very good thing to have on hand. A knob of herby brown butter stirred into still-warm polenta, risotto, or mashed potatoes? Yes, please.

Savory baking

Use brown butter in your savory baked goods to add an extra dimension of nutty, toasty flavors. Start with cornbread, dinner rolls, granola, and clafoutis. But don’t stop there: you can slip browned butter into virtually any recipe that calls for melted butter.

Roasting and sautéing

Give that bottle of extra-virgin olive oil a break this fall: reach for brown butter instead when roasting and sautéing. Rub it on a chicken or turkey before roasting, or sauté scallops, and crab cakes in it. Use brown butter for breakfast too: slow cook scrambled eggs or fried eggs in brown butter as a rich, indulgent way to start the day.

Cooking ingredients in brown butter is the best because it’s where the most transformation happens: whatever ingredients are roasted or sautéed in brown butter take on its nuttiness and depth of flavor.

Jazz it up

Get creative by combining brown butter with other ingredients before saucing, baking, roasting or sautéing with it. Suddenly, the possibilities for using browned butter in your savory cooking are virtually limitless. When jazzing up brown butter, let it cool for about a minute, then stir in any add-ins such as herbs, other aromatics, spices, citrus and more.

To help you get started, here is a recipe for the best brown butter dish:

Brown Butter Mushrooms, Greens, and Soba Noodles

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon fish sauce

½  teaspoon chile-garlic sauce, or to taste

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced  (cremini, shiitake, or a combination)

Finely grated zest of one large lime (juice reserved)

2 to 3 cups roughly torn kale, chard, or spinach leaves (about half a small bunch)

6 ounces soba noodles

Kosher salt, to taste

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

 

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and cook until it turns brown and smells nutty, about 4 to 6 minutes. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom so they don't burn.

 Add the fish sauce, chile-garlic sauce, and lime zest to the brown butter, stirring to integrate. The fish sauce will smell strong at this point, but it’ll mellow as the dish comes together. Add mushrooms and sauté until tender, about 4 to 6 minutes, over medium heat, then add the greens and sauté a few minutes longer.  If using young, tender greens, skip this step and add them at the end with the soba noodles.

 Meanwhile, cook the soba noodles according to package directions. When the soba noodles are done, drain and immediately add them to the skillet. Add 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of lime juice, and toss together until the noodles are evenly coated with the brown butter sauce. Taste for seasoning and balance, adding kosher salt, more lime juice, or sesame oil if needed. 

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