Butter Basics

Salted & Unsalted Butter
Butter comes either salted or unsalted (also called sweet). Although all salted butter contains some amount of salt (salt used to be added as a preservative, but today it’s added primarily for flavor), some salted butters are noticeably salty. The problem is the word some. Since the amount of slat can vary from butter to butter, it’s best to use unsalted butter in kitchen and add as much salt as you’d like to each dish. If you prefer salted butter, use it – just remember to adjust the salt in each dish.

Cultured Butter
With this kind of butter, the cream is treated with cultures (like yogurt), allowed to ferment and then churned. The result is a fuller flavor with noticeable acidity. It’s easier to find cultured American butters these days, but as with salted butter, not all cultured butters are the same. A favorite, made by Vermont Creamery, has tang and produces a different sensation on one’s tongue due to its very high butterfat content. Cultured butter is very good to use in baking.

European Butter
The standards for the minimum amount of butterfat in butter are different in Europe and America. Abroad, the minimum is 82 percent; in America it’s 80 percent; everywhere it’s lower for salted butter. When you use European butter you’re likely to have a much richer dish. When I use European butter I don’t make any adjustments to my recipes to make allowances for the difference in butterfat.

Room Temperature Butter
Proper room temperature butter is still slightly cool; it’s really more about texture than temperature. The butter should be soft, but not squishy. The stick should hold it’s shape (a little pressure should leave an indentation), and it should be pliable – if you smash it with a spatula, you shouldn’t have to fight it.

Storing Butter
Keep butter in the refrigerator, well wrapped and away from foods with strong odors. It can be kept in the freezer for almost forever, but let’s call it a year. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator. Butter can keep out at cold room temperature for a day in a butter bell or crock. However, store butter in the refrigerator and then pull it out about 20 minutes before using it.

Clarified Butter
Clarified butter is a magical thing. It’s butter without water (you simmer it away) that won’t burn when used over a high heat. To clarify butter, place the butter in a saucepan, bring it to a simmer, let it bubble gently until it’s covered with foam. Keep simmering the butter until the foam sinks to the bottom and the bubbling just about stops. Line a fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, pour the butter through it into a container, cool and cover. The butter will keep in the fridge for at least 2 months.

“Work With What You Got!”

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