Compound butter is one of those things that seem fancy. They sound like something chefs would make and that us normal people would find too fussy to use. And of course, they are made from butter, which we have long been told is the enemy. But now as awareness is growing that butter isn’t a bad thing, people are starting to turn their eye to compound butters and wonder how they can jazz up food.
Compound butter basics
The most commonly encountered type of compound butter is garlic butter. We see it in many store-bought garlic breads and in potato dishes such as parmentier potatoes. It showcases just how simple compound butters can be – it is basically garlic and maybe a few herbs mixed with butter to create a flavour filled, buttery substance.
The thing is about compound butters, using garlic butter as the prime example, is you can get them just as you like them. If you are a garlic fan, like me, then you can stick as much garlic into that mix as you want. Or if it is a taste you like rather than love, then mix with a delicate portion for a bit of flavour that doesn’t hit too hard.
Making garlic butter
Likewise, making garlic butter can be as simple or as complex as you want. For me, when I just want some simple butter to put on my parmentier potatoes (it’s as near as speciality as I have!) then I will just use some garlic puree, dried parsley and mix it with salted butter. It does a great job and transforms the potatoes into a buttery, garlic heaven.
If you are of a fancier mindset, like my husband Robert the chef, then you can roast some fresh garlic and put it through a garlic crusher, use some fresh herbs diced up small and even add a little basil puree into the mix as he did recently for our meal.
Another thing about these style of butter is that they can be made up, wrapped in grease proof paper and frozen. Then when you need some, simply chop off a lump, leave it on the bench to defrost and you are ready to go. A particularly good idea if you take the chef’s route to making it – all that effort for one meal becomes effort for a series of meals over a period of time.
More than just garlic
But what if you don’t like garlic? Fear not, there are as many ideas for compound butters and what to do with them as you can image. And once you have selected your ingredients and made up your butter, there are further endless ideas for combining them in different dishes.
Mushrooms are a good partner for butter to use in a variety of dishes, with Porcini mushrooms being a popular choice. All it takes to make the butter is to put some mushrooms in a bowl of boiling water for around 10 minutes. Drain the water, slice up the mushrooms and then pop them in a blender. Once you have your powered mushrooms, you can add to the butter in whatever ratio hits your taste buds. You can also add some very finely sliced pieces of the mushroom for an added benefit. This butter works perfectly drizzled over steak of all varieties.
Other ideas for combinations include chive and herbs, spicy mustard and garlic, cherry tomato and basil and cilantro (or coriander to us in the UK) and lime butter. All of these can work in a range of different dishes.
One of the surprises I had when reading up on the bigger world of compound butters is that people also make sweet butters. Ideals such as a citrus tarragon butter that would work perfectly with fish were among the ideas.
Another one that would make a brilliant touch of something sweet is a strawberry vanilla butter. Mix up strawberries with vanilla seeds, maple syrup and a touch of salt if required. The end result can be stored in the freezer just as with any other butters and makes a fantastic sweet accompaniment with different breads.
So next time you are looking for a way to make a chicken breast taste a little different or to stop a steak going a bit dry, then why not try a compound butter? I’d love to hear the versions you create and what meals you make with them!