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Make This Transformative Ingredient, Add It to Everything

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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.

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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.

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.

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Baked Ricotta with Mushroom Confit and Balsamic Brown Butter

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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!

Sherried Mushroom Clafoutis

Sherried Mushroom Clafoutis by drbabs

Brown Butter Granola with Honey and Sumac

Brown Butter Granola with Honey and Sumac by EmilyC

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.

Renee Erickson's Roast Chicken with Brown Butter and Lemons

Renee Erickson's Roast Chicken with Brown Butter and Lemons by Kristy Mucci

Apple and Sage Brown Butter Pork Chops

Apple and Sage Brown Butter Pork Chops by Donna

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).
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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Brown Butter Mushrooms, Greens, and Soba Noodles

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Serves 4
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (I like the Red Boat brand)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce, or to taste (virtually any type of chile sauce will work here)
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced (cremini, shiitake, or a combination)
  • Finely grated zest of one large lime (juice reserved)
  • 2 to 3 cups roughly torn kale, chard, or spinach leaves (about half a small bunch)
  • 6 ounces soba noodles
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Go to Recipe

Tags: Gluten-Free, Tips & Techniques, Vegetarian