Compound butter. Sounds fancy doesn’t it? To some it is. But it’s really something very simple.
It’s butter mixed with some flavorings. For all the complications the name implies, it’s really a basic seasoning method.
These days we’re pretty familiar with the concept of layers of flavor. It’s what chefs tell us we should do with most dishes. Find a way to add flavors along the way rather than dump them all in at the end. Makes sense to me. It’s one I try to do as often as I can.
This concept is nothing new. The old French recipes did a similar thing. They added something then reduced it. They did it again. Maybe another time. It’s a tried and true approach to developing flavor. The result is deeply flavored sauces.
This can be a time-consuming process. All that reduction. It’s often a hot activity. Certainly not one designed for summer. Sure, it produces something good. But can we do something similar with far less time and effort?
The answer is yes. Compound butters.
A blank slate
Compound butters are a blank slate. Pretty much anything you can imagine can be incorporated into this magical condiment.
They keep in the fridge for a long time. We can bury them in the freezer for who knows how long. Nice thing is they are ready to use at moment’s notice.
Before we go too far, let’s take a look at what a compound butter is. It’s really pretty easy.
Compound butter is butter that’s had something added to it. The additive freely mixes with the butter where it becomes almost a new substance. It’s easy to spread, melts in a moment and brings lusciousness to the game. Sounds pretty good to me.
Hold on. Why butter at all?
Here’s a quick insight. Popular chef Jacques Pepin reminds us of what Julia Child always said, “When in doubt, add more butter.” That’s sort of what my cooking classes say. “Why do we use butter? Because we can.” Sounds like a compound butter is exactly what we need.
Food geek Alton Brown tells us how to make a compound butter. He starts with olive oil — a tasty one. He puts that in his food processor and drops in some assorted fresh herbs. He takes out his mixer and puts on the whip attachment. In goes the butter and he spins it for a bit. This adds some air to the game and allows the butter to accept the oil and herb mixture.
When the butter is ready, chef Brown adds in his herbs and olive oil. The olive oil brings some flavor to the game. Mix them all together and you have a compound herbal butter.
Sounds fancy and complicated. As you can see, it’s quite simple.
Remember that blank slate? This is when you can let your imagination wander. Almost anything can go into a compound butter. It’s butter. How bad can it be?
One of my favorite compound butters is quite simple. Chives are a good addition. Then some garlic goes in. Olive oil and butter plus a little salt. I like to add a spoon of sour cream as well. That’s it. Mix them together and you’ve got a winner.
Roll into a log shape and wrap with waxed paper or food film. Refrigerate before use or freeze for long-term storage. That is to say — ready to use when you want it.
Add compound butters to your arsenal of flavors. Make several to have on hand. These bring more to a dish than something from a shaker in your cabinet. Sorry, Tony.
You see that sizzling steak or chop coming from the grill. Add a compound butter and watch it melt into all the crevices. Sound good? You bet it does.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Find him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.