It’s hard to imagine butter tasting any better, especially without adding other ingredients, but there is a way to amp up its butteriness and add an addictively nutty flavor and incredible aroma, just by turning up the heat. Welcome to brown butter.
Brown butter — regular butter that’s been cooked until its milk solids turn a golden brown — is nothing new. Chefs have been using this technique to give a flavor boost to any number of dishes, sweet and savory, for ages. Lately, though, it’s become a trendy flavor profile, especially in baking. Brown-butter chocolate chip cookies, brown-butter pie crusts and brown-butter brownies are internet darlings.
While I love a good brown-butter blondie as much as anyone, using it in savory dishes, such as this Brown Butter Risotto With Roasted Butternut Squash and Sage, should not be overlooked.
In this recipe, the nutty flavor of the browned butter highlights the natural nuttiness of the rice and plays beautifully against the sweet roasted butternut squash.
It’s not surprising to find brown butter in this Italian dish. Italians have been using it forever as a pasta sauce, often paired with winter squash and sage. For the French, it’s a kitchen staple, often used as a sauce for fish, as in the famous sole Meunière. Even a simple French omelet is made sublime with a slathering of brown butter.
You don’t have to be a French chef, though, to discover the wonders of brown butter. It’s easy to make in your own kitchen.
Simply place the butter in a heavy, light-colored saucepan. The color of the saucepan is important, because the butter can easily turn from brown to black if you overcook it, which can happen quickly. It’s difficult to accurately judge the color of your butter against a dark background.
The butter is then cooked past the melting point, until the water is evaporated. Wait, there’s water in butter? Yes, all butter has water. Your average stick has about 16 to 17 percent water (less in higher-fat European butters), and until that water is evaporated, your butter won’t brown.
As the butter continues to cook, a layer of foam will form on the top, and this is where you need to watch it like a hawk. Once the foam appears, the milk solids on the bottom of the pan will begin to turn a golden brown. Hence the name, brown butter. If you let it cook beyond this point, the butter will turn dark brown and take on a different flavor, so remove it from the heat immediately and pour it into another container, unless you’re using it right away.
You can brown multiple sticks of butter at one time and keep it refrigerated. You can even pour it into ice cube trays and chill until they become firm, then transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag and keep frozen until you’re ready to make whatever you’re cooking or baking even better.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.