Technique: How to brown butter
If I could write a single culinary aria and sing it all the rest of my days, that love song would be to brown butter. It’s a bold statement, given the many contenders that are deserving of such devotion.
It’s also ironic, given that brown butter’s name includes one of the less desirable words in the English language: brown. There’s just no way to dress that word up. UPS tried to make brown cool by hiring beefcake delivery men. Great, but they all just looked like they needed someone to help them pick out better looking clothes. You can add “chocolate” to brown to liven it up, or “butter” on the other end to redeem it, but still.
Even in Arabic the word can’t seem to be avoided. Aunt Louise tells a story of asking her mother how to say “brown” in Arabic. Her response was, bdrown.
The French, who likely invented the brown buttery unction of our dreams, call it “beurre noisette,” referring to brown butter’s resemblance to the hazelnut and its nuttiness, its toastiness, its superior flavor.
Here’s the deal: brown butter is even better than butter butter. Like nuts, which are always better toasted, so too with butter. One mustn’t burn the butter, as I did when I made butternut squash ravioli with beurre noisette and sage sauce for my culinary school final exam, but deeply browning it is the absolute bomb. The cat’s meow. The best of the best. It’s what makes these chocolate chip cookies so perfect.
Here’s how to get there:
Use a heavy skillet or small heavy saucepan that is NOT non-stick. The bottom of the pan must be visible to determine the color of the butter as its solids toast and brown up.
Melt salted or unsalted butter of any sort (your standard Land ‘O Lakes or a “more fat” Plugra) over medium heat. The butter will foam and you’ll get the heady aroma. You will start to think about making popcorn.
Stir the butter and once it melts the foam will subside a bit, and as it continues to heat it may splatter a little. Soon you’ll see the butter’s bright yellow start to turn a nuttier shade. Let it go, stirring so you can monitor the color of the butter, until the butter’s liquid and solids are deep golden brown.
Close your eyes and click your heels. Ask for a moment of silence in the house. There’s no place like home when it’s filled with the scent of brown butter.
Pour the butter and its solids into a heat-proof bowl or container. Some recipes may require the butter to be strained of its solids at this stage. Many include those for their wonderful flavor.
Depending on what you’re making, the butter may need to be solidified, as it does for cake (it’s coming, tomorrow). Freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for a good hour, or longer until ready to use.
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