Demystifying the Delicious: Brown ButterMay 21 2014
What exactly is the sweet amber nectar that is brown butter? Turns out it is one of those things that is exactly what it sounds like. You take butter, cook it down until it melts at which point it will begin to foam and before you know it, it begins to take on a brown color and smell better than you thought butter could (and let’s be honest, it already smells pretty darn good). And then voila! You are the proud owner of brown butter which you may proceed to use as a way to kick everything you cook with butter up a notch or two due to its rich, warm flavor. In more technical terms, butter itself is an emulsion of water and fat that has milk protein solids suspended inside. When you cook down butter the water evaporates leaving the milk solids, which are what take on the brown color (and the delicious flavor).
The only problem with butter is that some people have become afraid of it. Anything that is overtly buttery is avoided like the plague with comments of “that looks good, but too fattening,” as if inhaling too deeply will give them a heart attack. Recently publications such as the Times and New York Times have published articles with titles such as “Butter is Back” and “Ending the War on Fat” highlighting the facts that butter is not as bad for us as we thought. It all comes down to moderation and common sense. The fat-phobia of the past started a boom of “fat-free” products, but “fat-free” does not equal healthy. In fact the fat in products was being replaced with lots of refined carbs and sugars. Eating a bag of fat-free potato chips may not be better than eating a delectable pasta in brown butter sauce. Also, similarly to the meat we consume, the diet of the animal affects the end product when it comes to butter as well. Grass fed cows produce a butter that is slightly more yellow in color because of the carotene it contains as well as Vitamin A and Vitamin K2. Vitamin K works by modifying proteins, giving them the ability to bind calcium ions and it comes in a couple forms. What is referred to as K1 is found in plants such as leafy greens (seriously, what don’t leafy greens have) and K2 is derived from animal foods such as grass fed butter and egg yolks.
Does this all mean butter is a health food? Not exactly… but it does mean things like Alter Eco’s Dark Salted Brown Butter Bar is nothing to be afraid of. Embrace the silkiness that the browned butter contributes to the rich cacao. In fact, do not hesitate to embrace brown butter in other parts of your life. It is amazing how simply cooking down butter can create a richness and depth to any dish where you would normally just use plain ol’ butter. An easy starting point is brown butter rice crispy treats. I was inspired by the Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treat recipe from the always wonderful Deb at Smitten Kitchen. But instead of salting the rice crispies as she does, I melted a Salted Brown Butter Bar and dipped them in it for a ridiculously delightful treat, but you can’t go wrong with her original recipe either. Moral of the story, embrace butter (and brown it too)!
For tips on how to perfect your brown butter you can check out thekitchn.com