My Money’s On The Butter
Butter. Sweet cream. Not salted. Not yet anyway. Rich, with put-a-little-shine-in-your-coat emollience.
I taste food in color, the way artists use paints. The sunlight hue of slow churned cream is a fine flavor warmth that glows from the inside out. Smitten and unashamed, my money’s on the butter.
In my kitchen, we make Compound Butter almost every week. Sometimes just for ourselves, and the “family meal.” More often, for catered events. The formula is basic: butter + embellishments = sauce. A sauce so simple, it’s a marvel. Not frou-frou, and infinitely versatile in flavor possibilities. We make Compound Butter to finish cooked meats and fish, the season’s vegetables, and tossed into hot, al dente pasta still wet from its starchy water bath. We love it slathered on warm toasted bread, or sweet with sugar and baking spice on yummy things like cream biscuits, crepes, or crispy baked cookies made from scraps of pie dough.
As revolutionary French master chef Georges Auguste Escoffier put it, “Surtout, Faites Simple.” Above all, make it simple. “Oui Chef.” It began for me, with Beurre Composé. I learned to make this sauce as a culinary student in France and thereafter, working as a commis in the kitchen brigade at the Hotel Ritz, Paris. Here in the states, we know Beurre Composé as Compound Butter.
Sometimes Aidee makes the Compound Butter. For our lunch today, I made the batch, first by leaving a pound of butter on the prep table to soften at room temperature. I turned my attention to the stove, and began a pan of risotto, cooking it slowly, one ladleful of stock at a time. To finish the creamy rice, I added minced flatleaf parsley and squeezes of fresh lemon juice before setting it aside, later to become crispy, hot arancini filled with molten mozzarella cheese.
Returning to the butter, now soft and easy to mix, I stirred spoonfuls of pesto into the creamy yellow until I liked the shade of green it became. A handful of toasted pine nuts, a few knife tips of hand mashed garlic paste, and the amount of salt I like. Yes, I am queen of my own sovereign kitchen. Today, I choose pesto. On another day, I’ll favor pink peppercorn, sesame, and fresh ginger. I like this with asparagus. On another day, lime zest, tajine spice, and cilantro – an exceptional sauce for grilled steak.
For Compound Butter, in the final application, shape matters. I began by placing a square-ish piece of plastic wrap on the prep table and plopped the pesto butter along the edge nearest me. The idea is to roll and mold the butter, still soft and malleable like artist’s clay, into the shape of a log. Using the plastic as a molding tool, I rolled and tucked, working the butter with my fingertips, back and forth, smoothing the surface through the plastic. With the log completely wrapped, I gave a tight twist to both ends, squeezing the butter compactly into shape. Aidee took it to the walk-in to cool and firm in the chill, while we planned the rest of our lunch.
Aidee is my right and left hand. She is my executive chef. With her perfect palate, Aidee was born to cook. In the walk-in, we had the right match to our pesto butter – a gorgeous head of cauliflower, left over from a vegetarian wine pairing dinner we catered in San Francisco last night. It needed a blanch. Aidee plunged the fleur entier into a big pot of boiling salted water. I like to leave the light green stems on, reaching out and up as they do, around the curve of the vegetable, still naturally pretty in its floral state. After a few boiling minutes, Aidee plucked the cauliflower from its cooking blanch, patted the surface dry, and brushed it with extra virgin olive oil. Tucked into the hot oven to finish, our vegetable beauty cooked in a quiet, measured roast until perfectly soft and fork tender.
Today, my core team is here. Some of us in the kitchen and the others, at work in the office. We’ll take our lunch together, the family meal. It’s a luxury for us, sitting together around the table. Busy chefs in a busy kitchen. Controlled, fast, with razor sharp discipline, respectful of prep deadlines, ready to pitch and pivot. For a chef, the kitchen is a place of worship. The work, the craft, demands reverence, delivered in devout commitment. Each day is gauged in success or failure. We are hard on ourselves. Even more so, when working off-site in the temporary kitchens we create for catered events. Pop-up kitchens in fields, garages, on lawns, clustered in tiny home kitchens, sprawled across parking lots. We don’t stop. We rarely take breaks. We don’t sit to eat. The chefs reading this – they know. We grab a roll, slice off a hunk of roasted beef tenderloin or whatever we’re cooking, and stuff it inside the bread. Dinner in two or three big bites while standing up, working. Not a second more to spend as we stir, chop, skin, filet, sauté, and garnish our way to the next five-yard kitchen dash.
I sliced the cauliflower, still hot, into thick steaks. Aidee took the pesto butter, now firm, and cut it into coins about a half-inch thick. She dropped a green round onto each cauliflower slice, and we watched the butter slowly melt from the heat as it should (compound butter can’t be a sauce without heat). Jenny, Anna, then Kate and Adrienne, and finally Taylor, just back from a Party Puff delivery, head to the big table in the dining room. Today, it’s my brigade, all women, and it’s time to eat. To sit down together and dine.
Let’s do this again, and soon. Bring it all to the table.
COMPOUND BUTTER – PESTO, PINE NUT AND GARLIC
Yield: About 2 ½ cups
1 lb. unsalted butter
1/3 cup pesto – store purchased or homemade*
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Transfer butter to a bowl and allow it to come to room temperature. The butter should be soft and malleable.
- Using a large, sturdy spoon or rubber spatula, add the pesto and pine nuts to the butter, mixing it thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper, to your taste.
- Place a large square of plastic wrap, approximately 12-inch by 12-inch, on your work surface. Transfer the butter from the bowl and place it along the edge of the plastic nearest to you. Using your fingertips, start to roll the butter into a log shape, using the plastic wrap to help roll the butter and keep it’s desired log shape. Keep rolling, tucking and smoothing the butter to keep the log shape. Reaching the end of the plastic, twist and squeeze the plastic on each end, to close it up and to evenly distribute the butter, keeping the log shape.
- Place the plastic wrapped butter in the refrigerator to cool and solidify. If in a hurry, you can place it in the freezer.
- To use the butter, cut the log into half-inch slices and remove the plastic. Place a few slices on foods while they are still hot. For example, roasted or grilled meat, seafood, vegetables, and pasta. The heat melts the flavored butter, and creates the delicious sauce, Compound Butter.
1 bunch of basil, leaves only (about one cup of leaves)
½ cup of Italian parsley, leaves only
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- In a blender bowl, add the basil, parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Process the mixture to a fine paste. Store in an airtight container, in the refrigerator.
Copyright Pamela Keith Inc. 2023
Let’s Keep In Touch! Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates on our services . . . Catered Events, Parties To-Go, Virtual Cooking Experiences, Hands-On Team Building, Gourmet Ingredient Kits, and Packaged Speciality Foods.