When you’re trying to put together a weeknight dinner, seasoning can seem like too much of a hassle. You have to mince garlic or herbs, measure out spices and figure out what flavor combinations work well together. When serving plainly cooked fish, chicken or vegetables, it often seems easier just to let a dash of butter or a squirt of lemon juice serve.
Compound butters can take a dish from blah to fabulous in just one easy step. They are easy to make ahead and freeze well, but on the table they look very elegant. Making a compound butter is also an easy way to use up those little bits of herbs and other seasonings that you don’t know what to do with. I like to keep a flavor or two in my freezer for dressing up fish, chicken, steak, rice, vegetables, bread — anything that would normally be enlivened with a little pat of butter. When you’re rushing around trying to get dinner on the table, there’s no need to think about it — just set the butter out and let everyone season their own.
When I make a compound butter, I prefer to add just one or two extra flavorings, but pick something that has plenty of impact. Generally, I start with ½ stick of butter. This provides enough for 8 servings. Let the butter come to room temperature. Then cream the extra flavor in with a fork until well combined. Using wax paper, roll the butter into a log and serve, or wrap in plastic and freeze for up to one month.
When it comes to putting in flavor, your creativity rules, but any of the following options, alone or paired, would taste terrific (per ½ stick butter):
- the juice of ½ lemon or lime plus 1 tsp. zest
- 1 clove raw garlic or 2 cloves roasted garlic
- 2 tbsp. fresh herbs, minced
- 1 tsp. any seasoning mix, spice or wasabi powder
- ½ tbsp. gnger, shallot or scallion
- 1 sm. roasted red pepper or jalapeno, 1 chipotle chile or other chiles
- 2 tbsp. honey
- ½ tbsp. horseradish, mustard, Worcestershire sauce or anchovy paste
- ½ tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp. blue cheese
Let your palate be your guide, and season to taste.
Do you need recipes? Here are some interesting compound butters from 101 Cookbooks that include one made with tea leaves and one made with dehydrated strawberries. Or here’s a whole host of more conventional butters from Recipezaar.