Some people keep chocolate-chip cookies on hand in the freezer for emergency entertaining. Flavored butters are my secret weapon. No matter the occasion or the meal, they add a touch of elegance, dressing up simple roasts and sautés or jazzing up steamed vegetables or plain pastas.
The magic of flavored butters (also known as compound butters) is that their essence remains safely locked up in a state of hibernation until the instant they’re melted onto whatever you’re cooking. Then, the flavors come pouring out. All it takes is a little pat of flavored butter and the most mundane of meals — a grilled steak, a sautéed pork chop, a roasted piece of fish — becomes special.
Better yet, making flavored butters is ridiculously easy. First, look no further than the pantry or refrigerator for flavor inspiration. Citrus juice and zest, fresh herbs, spices, and full-flavored ingredients like shallots, scallions, ginger, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives complement butter’s richness and give it a good punch.
Next, mix and mash these bright ingredients with a stick of softened butter until they’re well combined. You can do this by hand, or you can use a food processor. The food processor works especially well for emulsifying liquids like citrus juice into the butter, and it’s also handy when you don’t have time to let the butter soften completely.
Finally, roll up the butter in plastic wrap, parchment, or waxed paper and refrigerate for up to two weeks. For longer storage, you can slice the butter into pats and freeze in zip-top bags, where they’ll be ready to go whenever you need a quick hit of flavor.
To get you started, here are recipes for Lemon-Herb Butter and Chipotle-Cilantro Butter (two of my favorites), plus ideas for several more. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to whip up flavored butters of your own invention in no time at all.
Flavored butter inspiration
- Add a pat of curry-ginger butter to steamed basmati rice or skewered grilled shrimp.
- Melt chile-lime butter on sautéed chicken breasts or on sliced grilled flank steak.
- Toss steamed green beans with almond-lemon butter or melt on roasted fish.
- Spread orange-cinnamon butter on French toast, pancakes, or waffles.
- Serve black olive-rosemary butter with crusty bread as an hors d’oeuvres or fold into mashed potatoes.