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“With enough butter, anything is good.” – Julia Childs
What is Browned Butter?
Browned Butter is: delicious.
I realize that the phrase “brown butter” sounds kind of, well, gross… You might find yourself asking, “why is the butter brown?” It’s not because anything has spoiled or turned a wrong corner; browning is the result of heating butter slowly over low heat until the water has been cooked out and the milk solids are caramelized. That delicious toasty-ness on the outside of your grilled cheese sandwich that you just can’t get enough of? That is the work of butter that has done you the favor of browning!
Why Should I Try Brown Butter?
I’m restraining myself from hiking my eyebrows at anyone who asks this question. I realize, you aren’t trying to hurt me, you just don’t know. Yet. But, oh boy, are you about to find out! If you need a really good reason, I can tell you that browning butter not only gives butter a lovely toasty, nutty flavor but by cooking out the water and caramelizing the milk solids you can extend the life of the butter! How’s that for two fabulous reasons?
What Can I Do With Browned Butter?
The question should be, “What CAN’T I do with browned butter?” And the answer would be, “Wax your car.” I wouldn’t recommend that, it would be an absolute mess.
However, here is a list of ways you CAN use browned butter:
- Toss steamed or roasted veggies (broccoli, potatoes, brussel sprouts, etc) in brown butter
- Pour over fish or roasted chicken to finish the dish
- Whip up and spread on cornbread, waffles, or pancakes
- Use in place of regular butter in cookie recipes
- Toss pasta or gnochi in browned butter and sage
- Drizzle over popcorn
- Stay tuned for more recipes that use brown butter, I have more than a few!
How Do I Make Brown Butter?
You might be intimidated with me throwing out words like: “slowly”, “low heat”, and “caramelized”, but trust me, browning butter is quite simple — all it requires is a little bit of attention and a smidgen of patience. The basic process: melt butter slowly over low heat until it foams and the yellowy-white milk solids turn toasty brown.
Here are the four steps broken down:
1. Melt the butter: Place butter in a saucepan. Some recipes/instructions would have you slice the butter first, to make sure it melts more evenly… but, I typically don’t have the time, patience, or counter space for that! I just plunk the whole stick right into my pan and that seems to work just fine for me. Let the butter melt, swirling occasionally to aid in the distribution of heat.
2. Keep an eye on it: the butter will bubble, pop, and foam as the water cooks out. The milk solids will start to sink to the bottom. Continue with the occasional swirl to keep the milk solids from sticking to the bottom.
3. The home stretch: the butter will start to foam up and the bubbles will get smaller and finer. The foam might even swell and climb the sides of the pan. Just give the pan a few swirls and stir/scrape the bottom of the pan with a rubber or wooden spatula. When you start to see toasty brown bits floating up thru the middle of the foam give it a few last swirls and turn the heat off.
4. The transfer: pour the butter out of the pan into a heat-proof bowl – glass or metal. The residual heat will continue to cook the butter solids and, if left in the hot pan, it is really easy to go from toasty (yay!) to burnt (boo!) in a matter of seconds.
“Chef’s” note: Opinion on how to make brown butter might vary in the specifics. Some information might tell you to use a saucepan and some may recommend a shallow pan, such as, a saute pan… I prefer the saucepan because it’s higher sides prevent the butter from bubbling over as it cooks. The high sides also allow me to swirl the butter around without slopping it everywhere. I much prefer the occasion swirl as opposed to constantly stirring, the way some recipes would have you do it. Also, there is the question of light pan or dark pan? I use whatever is clean! But, for first timers, I would recommend using a lighter color pan as it makes it easier to see when the butter starts to darken in color.
Using/storing the butter: This all depends on your application – if you are using it in a recipe take your cues from there – does it need to be in liquid or solid form? But if you are just planning to use it in place of regular butter – i.e. spread on toast – let it cool, stir it up, and store in a sealable container or jar.