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Compound Butter Is the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

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Butter plus anything equals compound butter. It’s that easy. Only, the possibilities for the anything part are so endless—like an ocean that seems to halt on the horizon but actually goes on, and on, and on—where do you even begin? Let’s start small with an old-school example:

Maître d’Hôtel Butter, or beurre maître d’. This French recipe features flat-leaf parsley, lemon juice, and salt. Often black pepper. Sometimes Dijon or shallot sneak in, too, but that’s drawing outside the lines. Basically, you mash everything together, form into a log, and chill or freeze until firm. Slice into thick coins as needed, maybe for a hot, charred steak, where the butter will gleefully glide around, like a little kid on a frozen pond.

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Beyond Unsalted: Our Butter Field Guide
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Beyond Unsalted: Our Butter Field Guide

Beurre maître d’ hits multiple compound butter go-tos: fresh, acidic, salty. What these all have in common is, well, they’re not buttery. Because butter is rich and creamy, any additional ingredients should balance, even offset, that foundation. Just take a cue from Gabrielle Hamilton:

In her cookbook Prune, there are lots (and lots) of compound butters. They’re all relatively simple, and high in contrast. There are salty butters, like preserved lemon and black olive. Spiced butters, like smoked paprika and caraway. Spicy butters, like cayenne, wasabi, and horseradish. Allium-spiked butters, like parsley-shallot and onion. Fishy butters, like anchovy and sable. Even boozy butters, like Pernod.

If you’re working with a ground spice, it’s as quick as stirring the two together (just make sure you’re starting with soft butter!). If you’re working with something more solid, like herbs, you can either chop them and mix in by hand, for a marbled look, or blend in a food processor, for more cohesive color. This is as much about look as it is about texture—do you want something chunky or smooth?—and all up to personal preference. And you don’t need to create a log either. A jar works, too.

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5 Ways to Flavor Your Butter with Fresh Herbs
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5 Ways to Flavor Your Butter with Fresh Herbs

Below are compound butter goals (the new couple goals! Maybe? Maybe not?) and the ingredients that will get you there. Add up to five or so, mixing and matching as you see fit. There are some crossovers (say, anchovies are both salty and umami-rich). And, at the bottom: some starter kits we’re giddy about, plus how to use them.

Salty

Kosher or flaky salt. Mashed anchovies. Soy sauce. Miso paste. Minced olives, like oil-cured black, kalamata, or pimiento-stuffed green. Ground Parmesan or pecorino.

Sweet

Maple syrup. Sorghum syrup. Honey, especially raw, grainy, flavorful varieties like buckwheat. Molasses. Brown sugar. Thick jam.

Umami-rich

Mashed anchovies. Minced sun-dried tomatoes. Crushed seaweed. Miso paste. Ground Parmesan. Tomato paste.

First, get all your ducks in a row.
First, get all your ducks in a row. Photo by Julia Gartland

Spiced

  • Crushed seeds: fennel, caraway, cumin, sesame, poppy, coriander
  • Ground: cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, paprika, mustard
  • Blends: za’atar, chile powder, furikake, togarashi, berbere, blackening, five-spice
  • Caffeine: ground coffee or espresso beans, matcha powder

Spicy

  • Ground peppercorns and friends: black, white, Sichuan, pink, gochugaru
  • Condiments: hot sauce, Dijon, horseradish, harissa, gochujang, wasabi

Acidic

  • Booze: red wine, white wine, vermouth, beer, bourbon
  • Vinegar: sherry, red wine, white wine, balsamic, rice, apple cider, black
  • Citrus, juice or zest: lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit
  • Dairy: goat cheese, ground Parmesan, pecorino
Let's get this party started.
Let's get this party started. Photo by Julia Gartland

Fresh

  • Herbs, minced or chopped: flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, basil, dill, mint
  • Alliums, minced or chopped: white or red onion, shallot, chive, garlic

Starter kits!

  • Anchovies + lemon zest = buttered noodles with lots of kale
  • Miso paste + togarashi = roasted-veggie-topped rice bowl
  • Maple syrup + chives = buttermilk biscuit with thick-cut ham
  • Molasses + mustard = grilled pork chop with corn bread
  • Black olives + orange zest = prosciutto crostini with radishes and mint
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Black Olive Butter

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Makes 3/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, soft
  • 1/2 cup (85g) pitted oil-cured black olives
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (from about 1 small orange)
  • 1 pinch kosher salt, if necessary
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Have you made compound butter before? What did you mix in? Share your best combos in the comments!

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Butter