One of the ways we add heft, flavor, and satisfaction to our food is with fat. Yes, fat. Don’t run away! We know fat has a bad reputation with some, since it’s calorie dense and should, naturally, be enjoyed in moderation. But chefs know that any meal will be more enjoyable and satisfying with a reasonable amount of oil or butter or gooey cheese, and we want to show you how to use fat in your cooking with a deft hand. We already posted about the best oils to use in cooking, and now we’re moving onto butter, arguably the king of fat.
Butter contains more saturated fat than oil, which is why it stays solid at room temperature. This obviously makes it prime for spreading on bread, but the applications for butter go far beyond your morning toast. The milk sugars naturally present in butter also lend any dish made with the stuff a subtle, delicious sweetness. Read on to see what butter can do for your dinner.
**Your Guide to Cooking with Butter**
The simplest way to use butter? Simply melt it in a pan and go on with whatever it is you’re making, from crispy sage leaves to purple potatoes. If you’re cooking a dinner where sweetness or richness are assets, feel free to substitute butter for oil when you’re sautéing onions or garlic at the start of your meal. You might be surprised to find that one of the most beloved Italian tomato sauces of all time actually starts with butter instead of the quintessential olive oil. However, beware that butter can burn, because of those sugary milk solids, so don’t heat it too high or use it for stir-frying.
Until you’ve enjoyed brown butter, you haven’t really lived. Caramel-scented and nutty tasting, it’s easy and impressive to make brown butter at home. To do so, melt butter in a pan, then keep cooking it, swirling as you go, to caramelize the milk solids. The butter goes from golden to amber brown and becomes an irresistibly nutty and fragrant sauce for vegetables or pasta, like the fresh ravioli above. Adding lemon juice stops the butter from continuing to brown and balances the creaminess with acidity.
A compound butter is a butter mixed with other ingredients and served as a pat or dollop to finish a dish. Some of the best ingredients to add in are herbs, zest, and minced garlic or shallot. In the tilapia above, we use both tarragon and shallot to create an incredibly tasty topping for simple seared fish, and we love how lime and butter come together in the zesty compound butter that crowns our porgy.
A beurre blanc is an emulsified butter sauce made by reducing an acid, like wine, lemon juice, or vinegar, and then whisking in butter until the two combine in an extravagant sauce perfect for adding flavor and heft to a pice of fish, as we do in our sweet miso cod recipe.