Day 6: Butter
Ruhlman’s praises for butter have echoes of the love he lavished on the egg, but perhaps less romantic. Nevertheless, the message is loud and clear:
As chefs know, and preach, fat is flavor, and few fats are as flavorful or as useful as this dairy fat. Slowly and surely, America is learning that fat is not bad, it might even be good, that fat doesn’t make us fat. (p. 130)
I have been pretty much unafraid of butter as a cooking fat for years now, so much what he presents in this section are all things I would have said if I was writing a book like this. It is ubiquitous, as he says, so just like some of the “twenty” that are ingredients rather than strictly techniques, it is easily overlooked in the kitchen.
He covers the fact that butter is important not just in savory cooking, but as a tool in the “sweet kitchen”. Because I’m not a baker by any stretch of the imagination, it was parts of the discussion about baking that I found interesting. Notably, he answers one of the most common questions that I hear when someone discusses butter (which isn’t all that often, I admit), whether it matters if you use salted or unsalted butter. (Short answer: it kind of doesn’t matter too much. He goes into a bit more detail about why.)
The essay is broken into pieces in the discussion, covering even the most basic of questions, as he even answers “What Exactly is Butter?“, followed by discussions on how to use it as a cooking medium, how it behaves as a shortening, browning butter, and so on. I found the piece on how butter is used as a preserver to be especially fascinating, as I had no idea that butter was used in that way.
Recipe: Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
This…was…awesome. Rich and nutty, the brown butter gives your run-of-the-mill mashed potatoes a rich but delicate flavor to them. It’s a fairly simple preparation, so it can totally be incorporated into anyone’s regular “rotation” of side dishes they may serve during the week. It’s a lot of butter, so you’d probably have to watch just how often you make them. My favorite line in the book so far came at the end of the bit that I quoted above:
…fat doesn’t make us fat. (What does? Eating too much! Surprise!) (p.130)
Indeed, Michael. Indeed. Though when presented with a recipe that produces mashed potatoes that taste like a little slice of heaven, it is mighty difficult to not eat too much. Just saying.
My husband is very much a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, so I took the opportunity to make steak to go with this. I’m actually not all that great with making steak, as I have a tendency to over cook it. I think that I felt like I needed to challenge myself a bit since I was working with a recipe from this section that I felt extremely comfortable attempting. The picture doesn’t really show the steak very well, but it came out perfectly medium rare…for once.
The mashed potato recipe did call for the potatoes to be peeled, I left them on because it’s just a preference that I have. I did manage to over-steam the brussels sprouts, but they were still good. I think this has been one of my husband’s favorites so far, as he loved the potatoes with the steak. It was pretty rich, but sometimes you just need to live a little.