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Our last cooking class covered glazes and how they are an easy and fun way to add a lot of flavor to a variety of dishes. I can just imagine all the chickens, pork chops and vegetables you glazed! Today I’m going to teach you about Maître d’ or compound butters.
Maître d’ or compound butter is a butter that has been mixed with either savory or sweet elements. Think about herb butter slowly melting on a seared steak. Or Parmesan butter melting into a bowl of hot pasta? Sounds good, right?
Compound butters can be used at the beginning of a cooking process, like using it placed under the skin of a chicken or turkey, before roasting or after the dish is cooked to add extra flavor and a wonderful buttery element. Use the butter after you cook a dish as a finishing touch. The herbs in the butter will enhance the dish and the butter itself adds a nice richness. Use compound butters as a spread for bread, on any type of protein or vegetable right out of the oven as an element to boost flavor and mouth feel when making a dish.
When you use a compound butter at the beginning of the cooking process, the result is more subtle then when you use it to finish a dish. So, if I’m using a compound butter at the beginning of a dish, I will normally use a more strongly flavored butter than I would use if I were finishing a dish with the butter.
Compound butters can be made from a variety of elements. Remember, as with glazes, you want to create a balance of flavors. Imagine a compound butter with too much garlic or tons of rosemary. Butter like that would overpower the dish, not enhance it. So a compound butter that I would make for chicken would be different from the compound butter I would make for steak. For example, if I’m making a compound butter for chicken, I’m going to use flavors like lemon, thyme and orange, because these are flavors that enhance the natural chicken goodness without overpowering it. A steak brings a heartier flavor to the table, so I can use things like blue cheese, garlic and rosemary if I’m making a butter for it.
One very important thing to keep in mind with compound butters is that you MUST use unsalted butter. Why? Because as a chef, one of the most important keys to how a dish will taste is the seasoning; it is something that you want to control through every step of preparing a dish. If you use salted butter, you have just given over a large majority of the seasoning of the dish to the salt in the butter. Ever wonder why a dish in a restaurant tastes so different when you eat it there than when you make it at home? The biggest difference is in how the chef seasons the dish. Yes, it makes that much of a difference!
The technique of making a compound butter is not difficult. You will need softened butter, your favorite flavors and your imagination.
To get you started thinking about what use in your butter.... On the savory side: garlic, herbs, citrus, chilies, onions, mushrooms, blue cheese etc. On the sweet side: berries, citrus, chocolate, cinnamon etc.
Now, we are ready to make a compound butter. Aside from using unsalted butter, another key to success is starting with room temperature butter. The butter needs to be soft so you can add in all those delicious elements.
Start with a pound of softened (not melted) unsalted butter. Put all the butter in a stand mixer or in a bowl ready for a hand mixer. We use a mixer because we want the flavors we are adding to the butter to be evenly and completely distributed through it. What follows are ingredients for one of my favorite compound butters, but remember, this is about the technique; I want you to make your own favorite!
To the softened butter add two tablespoons garlic puree. Garlic puree is simply raw cloves of garlic put into a blender and then blended with Canola oil in a 1:1 ratio. I find it mellows out the bite of raw garlic. I also like using this when making compound butter because it assures that you won’t get a big piece of raw garlic. Now add one teaspoon lemon zest, one tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano, one tablespoon finely chopped fresh chervil, (If you can’t find chervil, substitute Italian parsley) salt and pepper to taste. I like to use sea salt or Kosher salt. It is lower in sodium and because the flakes are larger, there is more flavor That’s it. Now mix until all ingredients are evenly distributed through the butter.
Once combined, use a spatula to put the mixture on a large piece of plastic wrap. Using the plastic, form into a long roll and wrap tightly. You want the compound butter to be firm before use, so let sit in fridge for at least a few hours. Once firm, slice off golden medallions of flavor and use freely. The compound butter will stay good in your fridge for one week or in the freezer for three months.
Now you have the technique to make compound butters. Remember to use the butter to enhance, not overpower your dishes. As with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what creates delicious.
Chef Ivan Flowers brings 25 years of fine cuisine experience to Top of The Market, San Diego. Prior to becoming Executive Chef at Top of The Market, Chef Flowers owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale's Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's and Different Pointe of View.