Over the course of my butter-eating life, I’ve had a couple of major revelations. The first was in elementary school, when a crafty teacher showed our class how to shake heavy cream so furiously in a mason jar that we could create a homemade version of butter right there with our hot little hands. (Magic!) The second was in my late teens when I was delighted to learn that people carve ornate sculptures out of butter at state fairs across the country. (Also, kind of magical!) But my final, and most important, revelation has been about the simple, yet game-changing, power of making compound butter.
First, no need to worry—compound butter doesn’t require some sort of butter churning contraption from days of yore or even my childhood “shake it up” method. Compound butter simply takes store-bought butter, combines it with spices, herbs and zests (or pretty much any seasoning combinations you can dream up), then allows the flavors to marry in the refrigerator until you need a melty punch of richness on your morning waffle or freshly roasted salmon and then—bam!—compound butter is there for you.
If it sounds like the effort-to-wow-factor ratio here is too good to be true, that’s because it kind of is—and restaurants have been in on the trick for decades. Steakhouses are constantly trotting out herbed butters with the bread course to great fanfare, brunch spots are whipping up cinnamon-sugar butters for the table and there’s even Mâitre d'Hôtel butter, a fanciful classic that’s spiked with lemon, parsley and mustard. But guess what? All of these are just compound butters, and the kind of thing you can easily and inexpensively make in your own kitchen while also binging your latest Netflix show.
The permutations and combinations of your compound butter dreams are truly infinite, but they all begin the same way: with the butter itself. I like to use half a cup for each of my creations and then get inventive from there—it makes a manageable amount. Allow the butter to reach room temperature in a small bowl (the softer it is, the easier it will be to work with) then get to work gussying it up. Minced parsley and garlic are a classic pairing or opt for ginger and honey on the sweeter side of things. Add in finely chopped basil and sun-dried tomatoes or give it a little bit of kick with chili and lime. Let your flavor-loving freak flag fly!
After your butter and seasonings are completely combined using a rubber spatula, spread the mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap, form it into a 1-inch log and tightly wrap. If you’re using the butter immediately, allow it to refrigerate for at least three hours so that the flavors marry before slicing off a hunk of your newly created taste treat. It’s truly that easy and (essentially) recipe-free.
Compound butters also freeze beautifully and can stay in the freezer for up to a month. But be careful—once you start playing mad kitchen scientist with different compound butters, you might end up running out of room!
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