Let there be butter

butter sizzling

Over on my GenevaLunch blog, I've written about the wonderful taste and smell of Swiss butter. If you have a chance to come here please make an effort to try some, and if you can, melt some in a hot pan.

Butter is almost subversive these days. It's okay to soak your bread in olive oil or declare an eccentric fondness for exotic fats like goose fat and bear fat, but butter just tends to be The Worst Fat For You and that's that. Maybe only bacon fat has a lower status. But you know...butter, really good butter, has a life transforming aroma and taste. When I was sick as a child, I would develop a peculiar craving for my mother's butter rice - just leftover rice that was sautéed in butter until it turned slightly crispy, and seasoned with salt and pepper. The smell of sizzling butter can still make me feel better now.

Good butter has a fresh, milky and very slightly acidic smell and is a pale cream in color. If it is overly yellow, it probably has some coloring added to it. I prefer unsalted butter, which can turn rancid much faster than salted, forcing you to use it before its time has passed.

I remember my parents periodically enjoying something called raisin butter in the '70s and early '80s, before butter became evil. This was a log of chilled butter mixed with raisins, sliced into rounds, and enjoyed on a cracker. The kids were only allowed one or two of these butter-laden crackers. Ah, the innocent days.

Gone are the days when I would mindlessly slather soft butter over a slice of hot toast, watching it sink into the crispy brown surface; or when I could put pats and pats of butter on top of a stack of steaming pancakes until the melting goodness would run down the sides. With an eye firmly on my midsection and all those health warning about 'bad fats' in mind, my butter consumption has dropped drastically in the last few years. It's healthier olive oil and such that I turn to for everyday cooking, trendy foodie that I am.

Still, there is something so seductive about butter. The creamy texture when it's still solid. The, well, buttery taste. The nutty aroma when it's sizzling and turning a bit brown in the pan. Even though even the most local-organic-pure-special butter is not that expensive, in a lot of ways butter has become a real luxury item, something we can only afford to enjoy sparingly. When I do choose to indulge, it's worth every calorie and saturated-fat point or whatever.

Oh, and I absolutely refuse to use margarine in recipes that call for butter. Don't even get me started about the inferiority of margerine in so many ways, starting with that awful taste. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, my ass. Only if your taste buds are dead.

Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy butter. How about yours?

  • On hot toast or a piece of freshly baked bread
  • For cooking a proper omelette
  • In proper puff pastry
  • On hot pasta, with some freshly grated Parmesan and lavish amounts of black pepper
  • Spread on a delicate tea sandwich, such as a cucumber sandwich
  • For cooking a rösti (Swiss crispy potato pancake)
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hello maki! i have to say i get more excited by seeing different varieties of butter than cheese in the markets. they still sell a commercial version of that japanese raisin butter in guam, but i've never tried it. i love little cold chunks of a good quality butter on a cracker or piece of bread. since i've been in los angeles, i've been at the local gourmet shop and trying out different butters; currently i've got a very nice goat's milk butter and an italian parmesan-reggiano butter (that particular one tastes like a super-thick, mild cheese). i think my current favourite is a double devon cream butter from the uk. sooo smooth.

Butter slathered on fresh, hot corn on the cob. I think that's my absolute favorite.

One of my earliest cooking memories is my mom sauteeing mushrooms in butter for a holiday dinner. I think I was about 8. She gave me a spoonful to taste and pretended not to notice when I sneaked more out of the pan.

butter melting all over a huge stack of pancakes! i love your site, maki.

I am a butter aficionado myself and I very much enjoyed reading your wonderful post. I love butter melted on a hot potato or mashed potatoes, bread with garlic butter shortly roasted in the oven, on top of pasta with tomato sauce, white asparagus with melted butter, butter makes nearly any kind of dish a feast.

All the butter suggestions are making me drool! Gabriele I forgot that mashed potatoes with butter is one of my favorites too! Especially if you add tiny slivers of cold butter to it just before eating.. Santos, I haven't seen much gourmet butters but I'll have to look closer I guess!

I love Breton butter, the salty kind. Spread thickly over grilled pain de campagne, drizzled with mountain honey for breakfast.

I love it in most of the ways you mentioned, especially on toast or fresh bread. I have no shame over my butter consumption. I don't eat a ton of it and I only eat the best unsalted kind. And what would piecrust or cookies be without it. I loved reading this.

My favorite food in the whole world is buttered bread... yes, quite pop and stupid but, hey, it reminds me of my grandma and all the delicious things coming out of her kitchen =)
But yes, there has been a non-stop campain telling us butter is gonna kill you faster than smoking and cancer combined and its depressing, really.... because I love it so much I feel dirty inside just to be telling you this.... *sigh*

Not sure if you've ever perused this site, but it's got a lot of information about how saturated fats are actually very healthy, and have gotten a bad rap: www.westonaprice.org. Good research on a variety of past cultures. Julia Child would agree that butter and cream are not to be feared in the slightest.