Weeknight Cooking

Make This Transformative Ingredient, Add It to Everything

by:
January  2, 2018

The dish that introduced me to the wonder of brown butter years ago was Suzanne Goin’s Sweet Potatoes with Bacon and Spinach from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Those sweet potatoes, tossed in brown butter, brown sugar, and herbs and then roasted, are otherworldly in their deliciousness. Every time I make them, or this variation for friends and family, everyone swoons, and someone always asks: “what’s in these, how are they this good?”

That’s the power of brown butter: it has a wizard-like ability to transform familiar ingredients into magical versions of themselves. Brown butter and I have become very good friends thanks to those sweet potatoes, and I’ve never met anything that wasn’t better because of it.

And lucky for all of us, the magic-making is simple: Melt some butter in a saucepan or skillet, and keep going until it sizzles, sputters, foams, and browns. In a few minutes, you’ll have created brown butter, which is rich, nutty, complex, and aromatic. It’s one of the most versatile sauces to know about in the home kitchen.

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Now is the perfect time to embrace brown butter in all of its glory, for dishes that are simple to prepare yet extraordinary in taste. Below, I’ve included ideas for using brown butter in savory cooking—plus a new recipe that’s perfect for the busy days ahead.


A FINISHING ACT

Use brown butter just as it is—a sauce. Spoon it over meat, fish, shellfish, baked cheese, pasta, gnocchi, and more as a final, flavorful flourish. Glaze Brussels sprouts in brown butter, or fluff it into still-hot wild rice, quinoa, or couscous. Drizzle it over smooth, silky soups for a welcome pop of flavor and texture. Or toss spaghetti with nothing more than brown butter, parmesan, and lots of black pepper for one of the best late-night meals ever. When tossing pasta with browned butter, I plan on about 8 tablespoons of brown butter per pound of pasta, so there’s enough to generously coat.

Brown butter can also be incorporated into sauces and dressings, such as this brown butter mayonnaise, brown butter vinaigrette, and brown butter hollandaise. Or mix brown butter with fresh herbs, chill it, and make compound butter, which is a very good thing to have on hand. A knob of herby brown butter stirred into still-warm polenta, risotto, or mashed potatoes? Yes, please!


SAVORY BAKING

Use brown butter in your savory baked goods to add an extra dimension of nutty, toasty flavors. Start with cornbread, dinner rolls, granola, and clafoutis. But don’t stop there: you can slip browned butter into virtually any recipe that calls for melted butter. So stock up on butter and start browning!


ROASTING AND SAUTéING

Give that bottle of extra-virgin olive oil a break this fall: reach for brown butter instead when roasting and sauteing. Rub it on a chicken or turkey before roasting, or saute pork chops, spaetzle, scallops, and crab cakes in it. Use brown butter for breakfast too: slow cook scrambled eggs or fried eggs in brown butter as a rich, indulgent way to start the day.

Cooking ingredients in brown butter is my favorite use because it’s where the most transformation happens: like those sweet potatoes, whatever ingredients are roasted or sauteed in brown brown take on its nuttiness and depth of flavor. I turn to brown butter over and over again when roasting vegetables, and because of the richness and savoriness it imparts, I don’t miss the meat at all. Here are some of my favorite things to roast or saute in brown butter in the fall and winter months:

  • Fennel, mushrooms, shallots
  • Root vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sunchokes, turnips
  • Winter squash: butternut, acorn, delicata, kabocha
  • Brassicas: cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi
  • Chicories: endive, radicchio, escarole

JAZZ IT UP

Get creative by combining brown butter with any of the ingredients below (individually or in combination) before saucing, baking, roasting or sauteing with it. Suddenly, the possibilities for using browned butter in your savory cooking are virtually limitless. When jazzing up brown butter, I like to let it cool for about a minute, then stir in any add-ins. The aroma that fills the kitchen when herbs sizzle and release their oils and spices start to gently toast in the still-hot butter is intoxicating.

  • Sturdy herbs: sage, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, parsley, oregano (more delicate herbs like basil and tarragon will wilt and brown)
  • Other aromatics: ginger, turmeric, horseradish, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, curry leaves, garlic, shallots, onions
  • Spices: curry powder, cumin, fennel, coriander, mustard seed, star anise, etc.
  • Citrus: orange, lemon, lime, tangerine, etc. (juice + zest!)
  • Other fruit: pomegranate (juice and arils), cranberries, apple, figs, dates, etc.
  • Condiments: hot sauce, tahini, mustard, miso sauce, soy sauce
  • Sweet things: maple syrup, honey, brown sugar
  • Vinegar: balsamic, sherry, red wine, apple cider
  • Briny or umami-packed: olives, capers, anchovy, fish sauce

GET COOKING!

Hello, dinner (and tomorrow's lunch). Photo by Rocky Luten

I’ve included one of my favorite brown butter dishes at the moment: brown butter mushrooms with greens and soba noodles. In this recipe, I’ve combined brown butter and fish sauce—an unexpected but entirely delicious, umami bomb of a pair. Mushrooms and greens are sautéed in the sauce, and soba noodles get tossed in at the end. It takes all of 15 minutes to get to a big, warm bowl of brown-buttery noodles. It’s a very good dish to know for weeknights and stress-free entertaining alike.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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18 Comments

Daniel H. January 5, 2018
Oh great! Like I need another reason to eat more butter? <br />Oh no, popcorn with herbed browned butter! Umm!<br />
 
Daniel H. January 5, 2018
Would you add your herbs while you’re cooking or after? Maybe pouring the hot butter on the herbs and blend?
 
Author Comment
EmilyC January 5, 2018
haha, sorry not sorry!! : ) I always mix in herbs after I’ve browned the butter. Let me know about that popcorn...sounds delicious!
 
Janet January 4, 2018
In the video, it looks like the melted butter separates when she pours it into the glass bowl, with the browned solids sinking to the bottom. Do you just stir to temporarily mix it before using as a sauce? How do you keep it mixed if chilling for compound butter?
 
Author Comment
EmilyC January 4, 2018
Yes, exactly, I mix it before using it as a sauce or when roasting! You can also strain out the browned milk solids that sink to the bottom--some recipes will instruct you to do so, for a more uniform butter that's less likely to burn. I usually don't bother, but if you're worried about separation for something like compound butter, this would be a good extra step!
 
Tom S. January 4, 2018
Emily: Read someplace to use olive oil instead of butter in just about all applications as it is better for you health wise. But I still like and use butter. What is your take on this? And hopefully this is not an unfair question to ask as it is made in earnest. Thanks. Tom
 
Author Comment
EmilyC January 4, 2018
This is a great question! You're right, there are a lot of health benefits to using olive oil, and to be honest, I use it more in my everyday cooking than butter (browned or not). But my take is that brown butter is unrivaled in its flavor. It lends a richness and complexity that you just can't get with olive oil or vegetable oil, in my opinion. When I'm eating most vegetables, I don't hesitate turning to butter, especially if it means I don't need meat to be satisfied. Hopefully I've answered your question! : )
 
Author Comment
EmilyC January 4, 2018
that should be *mostly vegetables*
 
Tom S. January 4, 2018
Emily: Yes, you have answered my question and thank you. Now I have to try making and using browned butter. Take care. Tom
 
Author Comment
EmilyC January 4, 2018
Oh good!! Hopefully you'll be as crazy about it as I am! : )
 
Nancy M. January 3, 2018
Is it worth browning butter ahead of time and keeping it in the fridge? Would that work?
 
Author Comment
EmilyC January 3, 2018
Hi Nancy: Yes, it would work! If you're using it as a sauce, you'd need to melt it again (since it'll congeal in the fridge), but this could be done in the microwave. I like the idea of keeping brown butter in the fridge to spread on toast or to top a bowl of hot oatmeal! : )
 
Ttrockwood January 2, 2018
For other dairy free readers you can make brown butter using vegan butter!! I have had great success using the classic original earth balance, and even better was Miyoko's butter. <br />I actually just made a (vegan) potato leek soup last week starting with browning the butter (miyoko's) while sautéing the mirepoix then proceeding to deglaze with white wine and add other ingredients. I used a veg stock and soaked raw cashews to make the creamy rich texture and then a table of six omnis proceeded to scrape the bowls clean!
 
Author Comment
EmilyC January 2, 2018
Good to know — thanks for your note!
 
kale January 2, 2018
Is there a difference between brown butter and clarified butter?
 
Author Comment
EmilyC January 2, 2018
Yes, clarified butter is made when you melt butter and remove the milk solids, leaving behind a clear, golden butter. In contrast, brown butter is made when you continue cooking and let those milk solids brown! Here's a good article about clarified butter (and ghee)! https://food52.com/blog/5871-how-to-make-clarified-butter-and-ghee
 
Angie J. January 2, 2018
Thank you for this info! I have printed out all your suggestions, a lot of recipes and excited to get this going! Thanks again for sharing! Love the video
 
Author Comment
EmilyC January 2, 2018
You’re very welcome! Please report back on what you try! : )