A phone conversation between me and my sister, who doesn’t cook.
“I’m browning butter.”
“Did you burn it?”
“No, I’m browning it.”
“Did it go bad?”
“No. I’m browning it.”
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
Confession. The first time I came across a recipe that listed brown butter as an ingredient, I was pretty sure it was something fancy I could only find in a gourmet grocery store on the East Coast. Good thing I saved myself some embarrassment by looking it up on the Internet before going to the grocery story.
Why brown butter? Well, it’s an easy way to transform a recipe that relied on butter to something more flavorful. Cooking the butter a little past the melting pint results in the milk solids in the butter browning, creating a great nutty flavor. This is why the technique’s formal name is “beurre noisette,” or hazelnut butter – a reference to the light brown color of the cooked butter and the nutty flavor it acquires during the cooking process.
Browning butter is common in French dishes, but don’t let that scare you into thinking you need to whip up a French meal to use this technique. I view brown butter as one of those great ingredients that tends to enhance the flavor of anything while making you look amazing.
“These roasted vegetables are so good. What did you do?”
“Oh, it’s just fresh vegetables, a little salt and vegetable oil, and some butter.”
“Well, you are incredible.”
“Thank you fake-person-I-made-up-to-prove-a-point. Thank you.”
Heat a thick-bottomed skillet on medium heat. Add the sliced butter (sliced so that the butter melts more evenly) whisking frequently. Continue to cook the butter.
Once melted the butter will foam up a bit, then subside. Watch carefully as lightly browned specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan. Smell the butter; it should have a nutty aroma. Remove from heat and place on a cool surface to help stop the butter from cooking further and perhaps burning.
Use browned butter immediately or store covered in the refrigerator for future use.
Note: It’s very easy to overcook browned butter. If the butter starts to blacken, it’s too late. Start over. Also, don’t brown butter in a dark-coated skillet. It’s harder to spot the brown flecks at the bottom of the pan.
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