BY BILL ST JOHN
I don’t believe compound butters are the wide ties of the culinary world, but it sure would be nice if they made a comeback. They’re simple but always delicious. They were the best part of my steak, back in the day.
A compound butter is simple, but its flavor combinations are endless. You make it with softened (generally unsalted) butter to which you add savory ingredients or, sometimes, sweet thangs. Whip them up; stiffen the compound butter (most often in the freezer); then add a small knob — I adore that Old World kitchen word — to bunches of foods.
Sweet compound butters are terrific on baked goods such as muffins or scones, or on pancakes, waffles or Dutch babies. The uses of savory compound butters are legion: on fish, fowl, meats of many stripes, and various preparations of vegetables.
What follows are ten turns on compound butters, both sweet and savory. The process is simple: take a stick of unsalted butter, bring it to room temperature, and, in a freestanding or processor bowl, and whip in the flavorings given. I suggest possible foods onto which a knob of compound butter might be dolloped.
The common way to firm up compound butters is to re-form the stick of butter, now flavored, into a log, rolling up a sheet of waxed or plastic paper. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, in his always-resourceful book, “The Food Lab,” makes an even better suggestion: place the finished butter in a small freezer-strength zippered plastic bag, exit the air and flatten it. After the compound butter firms up in the freezer, all you need to do is break or slice off what you need before returning the packet back to the freezer for next time. Such a packet also stores more easily and allows for less freezer burn than a rolled-up log.
All the following use 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature. Unless specified, mashing with a fork in a bowl on the counter will do.
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped; 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped; compound in bowl of food processor. For grilled red meats; roast turkey thighs
1 tablespoon fresh green herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, or combination); 2 teaspoons lemon juice; 1 small shallot or large garlic clove, micro-planed or pressed; salt and pepper. For grilled or roasted red meats or vegetables or grilled corn.
1/4 cup honey; 2 teaspoons finely grated orange or lemon zest (or combination). For breakfast or teatime baked goods such as scones or pancakes; grilled corn as dessert.
4 tablespoons Gorgonzola Dolce or other mild blue-veined cheese, softened; 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves. For grilled red meat or grilled pork; folded into boiled long-form pasta such as linguine or spaghetti.
3 tablespoons honey or brown sugar; 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder. For baked or mashed sweet potato.
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped; 1 teaspoon smoked paprika. For grilled chicken thighs, grilled pork tenderloin, or grilled corn.
Boil until softened 2 packets of dashi (Japanese fish and kelp stock) in 2 cups of water; strain the solids. Process into the soft butter along with 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon fine zest of lemon. For grilled or baked fish; grilled or prepared vegetables.
(Adapted from Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse Cooking,” Random House 1988.) In boiling water, simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender 8 peeled garlic cloves; drain and mash in a bowl with 1 stick unsalted butter, 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder and salt and pepper. For pan-seared beef, along with pan juices, as its sauce.
3 tablespoons goat cheese softened; 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme and rosemary; 1 teaspoon fine zest of lemon; salt and pepper. For grilled corn or grilled red meats.
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon; 2 teaspoons lemon juice; 1 shallot very finely chopped; salt and pepper. For roast or grilled chicken; grilled fish.