So I’ve decided to institute a new segment here at Cooksmarts – Monday Morning Soap Box. Don’t worry. This isn’t about politics. It’s still about food.
Students in our classes ask about butter all of the time. You, you little smarty you, might know all of this stuff, but let’s talk about butter for a bit.
Unsalted vs. Salted
Always, always, unsalted. I remember the last time I found salted in Todd’s fridge. I couldn’t see my face, but I’m pretty sure I was wearing a what-the-*#$*-is-this glare since he hastened to explain, “The only place open was CVS. I needed butter!” Since he lives a spitting distance from Jewel, I find this hard to believe. But midnight-butter-needs, I can respect, so, yeah. Moving on. Purchasing unsalted butter means YOU get to control how much salt is going in your food. Who knows how much salt is in that other stuff? “But, Jaime,” you say, “salted butter tastes better on my bread.” I understand. So… sprinkle a teensy bit of salt over your butter on your bread glad that’s fixed you are welcome sir or madam.
Why is there butter and oil in my recipe?
The answer is smoke point. Butter has a low smoke point. If you add an oil with a high smoke point to butter, you get a higher overall smoke point and can cook at a higher temp. Not that long ago, a reader left a comment that my pancake recipe cooked better on a higher temp with cooking spray. What she meant was faster – it cooked faster. Butter does force you to go low and slow, but for some things, like pancakes, I want the butter flavor enough to wait. For the record, I am not against pan spray. But I use it for what it was intended – spraying pans to prevent things from sticking. I do not cook in pan spray. It is just oil. Yep, you heard me. It’s vegetable oil in a pressurized can. If you don’t have cooking spray, you can just put some oil on a pan and spread it around with a paper towel.
Butter vs. Margarine
Um, Butter. No contest. Margarine is almost always hydrogenated fat. This means that all the little unattached molecules that are quite naturally loners, hanging out happily off to the side by themselves, scientists rush over to and are like, “Here’s my cousin Erwin Oxygen. He enjoys insects and low, low light. I think you two will get along.” As I think you could surmise, nothing good is going to come of this. It does make the oil solid at room temperature. It also makes said oil more artery clogging and in fact, worse for your arteries than butter. The technical term for this, with which we have all become accustomed, is transfats. Two of the four most popular brands on Peapod contain transfats. Those that don’t have a whole bunch of stabilizers and chemicals to make them taste like butter. Know how much fat you’re saving for all that? 2 grams per tablespoon. That’s it.
Once upon a time, a customer said to me, “I use margarine because butter isn’t spreadable.” “It is at room temperature.” I said. “But you can’t keep it at room temperature.” “What?” I said, “Who told you that? Get a butter dish. I keep a stick at room temp at all times.” Yes, butter will go rancid. I never have mine long enough for that to be a problem. I keep it in the butter dish away from the stove. If you don’t use butter that often, put only a half stick in at a time. If it tastes off, don’t eat it. And everyone lived buttery ever after. The end.
Butter vs. Vegetable Shortening
See butter vs. margarine. It’s basically the same thing. My baking instructor told me the only time vegetable shortening is an advantage is when you’re making a wedding cake for an outdoor summer wedding that’s going to be left outside all day. I don’t do this. Do you? Anytime a recipe calls for vegetable shortening, I use lard (or butter if I have to stay vegetarian). I know what you’re saying, “Lard? Isn’t that super fattening?” “Yes, about as fattening as vegetable shortening, but without the transfats.” Further, anytime a recipe calls for vegetable shortening, butter, or lard, it is most likely not a diet food. Embrace the calories, friends.
European vs. American
European = more fat and less milk solids = richer flavor. That said, European butter is understandably more expensive, so I personally stick with American. Because I am poor. If I was not, I would buy nothing but Plugra.
Can I make my own European Butter?
Sort of. You can make Ghee. Or Clarified butter. This is where you heat a fair amount of butter slowly, having it come to a boil. The milk solids will separate out, and you can pour off the pure fat. Ghee has a higher smoke point, and so it is desirable for recipes that need the butter flavor but a higher cooking temp. You could probably spread this on bread, it is more or less solid at room temperature.
Stages of butter or browning butter –
This is best done on low or medium low heat. First, your butter will bubble. That’s the water evaporating off. Then the sugars in the milk solids will begin to brown. Your butter will give off a nutty scent. This is beurre noisette or brown butter. Yep. It’s like naming your turtle Mr. Turtle. I’m looking at you, Jason. However, Brown butter is good on pasta, on fish, on chicken, in baked goods (best to cool it), licked off your fingers, what have you. You could probably also make a spread out of this. I’ve never tried. If you go past brown butter, you get Beurre Noir. This is where you cook the milk solids until they are almost black. Hence the noir. No one seems to like this except extremely aged Frenchman. It is most often served on skate or ray. I have never tasted it because even my very, very French chef instructor was like, “I don’t unzerstan zees. Eet ees deezgusteeng.” How adorable are the French? Mwah.
Garlic Butter. Lemon Parsley Butter. Rosemary Butter. Orange Butter. Anything your little heart desires. Soften your butter to room temp. Mix zest, herb, spices, what have you, into the butter (make sure they are very finely chopped.) Roll the butter into a little log in plastic wrap. Chill. Serve with scones, on fish, on steak, on chicken, on bread. Let your imagination go wild.
Doesn’t butter make me fat?
No. Eating too much makes you fat. Moderation in most things makes the excesses sweeter. That’s my motto.