Flavored butters provide good taste

Topping: A pat or two of these make a fine finishing touch for grilled foods.

April 19, 2000|By John Ash | John Ash,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

One of the simplest but, I think, most delicious ways to complete a nicely grilled or broiled piece of fish, meat or vegetable is to use a flavored butter. These butters can be made entirely ahead of time and can be kept in the freezer for months, although once you know that they are there and start using them, they won't last that long.

It's actually quite an old technique that the French have used for a long time. You'll find them referred to in recipes as compound butters, and they are used liberally in the dishes of those great butter-producing regions of Normandy and Brittany.

Like all recipes, the result is dependent on the quality of the ingredients used. For many years American butter has not been as good as that found in France. Like most agricultural products, the best butter comes from the milk of cows that are range-fed in a single specific location. You can almost taste the grasses, water and soil in good butters.

Being a lover of wine, I find there is a direct analogy here. The French use the term terroir (roughly translated territory or place) to describe the climate, soil and other growing conditions in which the grapes are grown. The basic idea is that the site ultimately determines the taste. I think terroir has a lot of validity for all crops, including the milk that is used to make butter.

The best butters that I've tasted in America come from milk produced in a few specific sites such as California's north coast, northern Wisconsin and Michigan, and New York's Hudson Valley. There are a few courageous producers out there who are making butters in these regions, and it's worth seeking them out.

Here are a few of my favorite flavored butters to get you started. I'm sure you'll come up with your own delicious variations once you see how easy they are to make.

If you are using them directly from the freezer, you may want to soften them just a bit before placing them on top of your grilled foods so that they can begin to melt as you bring them to the table.

All of the following flavored butters use 1 pound of unsalted butter. Soften the butter by beating for a minute or two with an electric mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon. Stir in the flavoring ingredients (be sure they are cool if any of them are cooked). Cover and refrigerate for up to three days or roll into logs, wrap tightly in aluminum foil and freeze for later use.

Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Butter

Makes 2 1/2 cups

1 cup finely diced red onion

1 pound unsalted butter

1/2 cup hearty red wine

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and finely chopped

2/3 cup kalamata or Nicoise olives, rinsed, pitted and finely chopped

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

salt, freshly ground pepper

Saute onion in 2 tablespoons butter over moderate heat until just beginning to soften, but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add wine and continue to cook until most liquid has evaporated, 5 minutes to 8 minutes. Cool.

Soften remaining butter with electric mixer or by hand.

Stir in onion mixture, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Store per directions above.

Basil-Currant Butter

Makes about 3 cups

2/3 cup currants or coarsely chopped golden raisins

3/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup minced shallots or green onions

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 pound unsalted butter

3/4 cup lightly packed chopped fresh basil leaves or 2 tablespoons dried

salt, freshly ground black pepper

In small saucepan, heat currants and wine until steaming. Remove from heat and allow currants to soften and plump, about 30 minutes. Drain currants, reserving liquid.

In separate skillet, saute shallots and garlic in 2 tablespoons butter until soft, but not brown. Add reserved liquid from currants and cook over moderate heat until most liquid is evaporated, 3 minutes to 5 minutes. Cool.

With mixer or by hand, beat remaining butter until softened. Quickly stir in currants, shallot mixture and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store per directions above.

Fresh Herb, Shallot and Lemon Butter

Makes about 2 cups

1 1/2 cups finely chopped shallots or green onions

1 pound unsalted butter

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh leafy herbs, such as chives, tarragon, dill, parsley and basil

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

salt, freshly ground pepper

Saute shallots in 3 tablespoons butter until soft, but not brown. Add wine and continue to cook until all liquid is evaporated, about 5 minutes to 8 minutes. Cool.

Soften remaining butter with electric mixer or by hand and stir in shallot mixture, herbs, lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store per directions above.

Note: If available, a nice addition here is to stir in some coarsely chopped edible flower petals such as calendula, bachelor's buttons, marigolds or roses. Be sure that they are truly edible and grown organically without any insecticides, fungicides or other chemicals.

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