Butter makes everything better, including these recipes – The Denver Post

In your mind’s eye, lay out a map of Europe, all the way from the British Isles east into the Black Sea, then north of Scandinavia, south to Africa.

Now let’s draw a long line: starting along the northern coast of Spain, entering east into France around the city of Bordeaux, skirting the southern edge of Switzerland, along the Alps and into eastern Europe, dipping a bit as we glide along the northern limit of Greece and enter the Black Sea at Istanbul.

North of this line — taking in all of the United Kingdom, the northern two-thirds of France, all of Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Eastern Europe as a whole — the cooking fat is butter. South of it — the Iberian Peninsula, Italy and Greece — the cooking fat, by and large, is olive oil.

Also of note: on the whole, south-of-the-line languages are rooted in Latin and a bit of Greek; north of it, in a polyglot of Indo-European, Saxon, Norse and anything but Latin. North of the line but just east to the Alps’ end, the principal post-medieval religions are Protestant; south and into Eastern Europe, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian. North of the line, alcoholic beverages made of grains; south of it, of grapes.

But it is the separation of butter and olive oil that interests cooks. See how English-speaking countries took their pantries’ butter with them when their populations — Irish, say, or English or Scots — emigrated to or colonized new lands. How Germans and Dutch did the same. Or the way Italians, Portuguese and Spaniards poured olive oil into their own colonies and conquests.

About butter, especially today, some thoughts — not the least to rescue at least the idea of it from what appear to be impending shortages of it in our own country and at a challenging time of year for such a deficiency.

What a wonder of a fat butter is! Incomparable in taste and texture, in any kitchen it anoints whatever it is spread upon, melted into or coats. (Indeed, the ancient Greeks prized it as an ointment, not a cooking fat.)

Butter is a churning of the cream of milk (primarily of the beef cow, but also of the goat, sheep and other female mammals) which cream is around 40 percent fat. Cream is an oil-in-water emulsion at the ratio of 0.7:1, fat-to-water. Churned cream — butter — rearranges the fat into a water-in-fat emulsion with a fat-to-water ratio of 5.7:1. A very arithmetic, even sterile, way to explain its luxuriousness, its final approximation of 80 percent fat.

This new ratio of fat to water makes butter, in the words of the food scientist Harold McGee, “a sauce waiting to be made.” A cook is able to take as little as 1 tablespoon of liquid (wine, vinegar, jus, juice, even plain water) and incorporate into it a nearly unlimited amount of butter — but let’s say a full stick (or 8 tablespoons) will do for close to maximum pleasure — and “monter,” as French cooks have it, the juices of a sauté pan into another order of deliciousness. Or make a beurre blanc to dress any sort of vegetable or fish.

Even overcooked into a “beurre noisette” (“nutty butter”), wherein butter’s milk solids and proteins are slightly scorched, such “brown butter,” as we call it, is a fine dressing for foods such as pasta or rice.

I prefer to make and always have at hand what Indian cooks call “ghee” (sometimes “ghi”) which is their word for what Western cooks call “clarified butter,” precipitating out, skimming off or boiling away these same proteins and casein, salts and butter’s roughly 18 percent water so that all that remains is the unctuous fat, here slightly made nutty by allowing the solids to color golden-brown.

Ghee allows us to cook in butter up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, a much higher smoke point than unclarified butter would permit (at about 250 degrees only). You get all of butter’s terrific tastes and savor without fear of burning it into bitterness or char.

Ghee also is great for adding a deep, nearly nutty, real butter taste to dishes such as risotto, some pasta preparations, the finishing to filets of fish, steamed or roasted vegetables or for deglazing a pan in order to sauce a chicken. And could there be anything butterier and more delicious than melted clarified butter on a tub of fresh popcorn? Plus, ghee keeps for six months, refrigerated; for a year, frozen.

Just don’t use it in baking, such as for brioche dough. Baking requires the usual, water-and-fat butter.

Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Use a skillet with low sides, rather than a small saucepan with high sides, so that the butter has a chance to evaporate its water and slowly brown. Makes a bit more than 1/4 cup; easily multiplied.


  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 20 leaves fresh sage; if large, torn (see note)
  • 1/2 pound dried plain pasta, any sort, already cooked, rewarmed


Over medium heat, melt the butter then add the sage leaves. Lower the heat to low and allow the butter both to brown itself and to crisp the sage leaves. Dress the pasta with the sauce.

Note: The best buy in the herb section of the grocery is what’s called “poultry blend,” several sprigs each of fresh thyme, sage, and rosemary. Unless you need a lot of any of those, the amount of each in a poultry blend is about perfect for any of several recipes; in this case, the sage for this recipe.

Ghee (Clarified Butter)


  • 1 pound unsalted butter


Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook to a slow boil, skimming off any white foam that rises to the top, being careful (as the butter’s water boils off and evaporates) of the popping oil.

Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking as the milk solids and proteins coalesce and drop to the bottom of the pot. Keep skimming any foam and watching for popping oil.

For nutty-flavored ghee, stop when the solids at the bottom of the pot are auburn-brown. Into a heatproof jar or container, decant or pour off the clarified butter from the solids, using a clean coffee filter or a couple of layers of cheesecloth if that helps.

Basic Brioche Dough

Makes 2 loaves. If you have a kitchen scale, use the metric measurements.


  • 2/3 cup warm whole milk (80-100 degrees)
  • 1 packet (7 grams) active dry yeast
  • 4 and 3/8 cups (550 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons (72 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (9 grams) kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter, softened


Put the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add (in this order) the yeast, flour, eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Mix on low until ingredients are incorporated, then turn up to medium speed and mix for 5 more minutes.

Return the mixer to low speed and add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, letting the dough take up the butter, then adding the next tablespoon, about 10 minutes total. Turn up the mixer to medium-high (even highest) speed and let mix for 10 minutes or more, until the dough becomes elastic and pulls away nearly cleanly from the mixer bowl’s sides.

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease the opposite side. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour. Press the dough down, stretch and fold it and recover it. Let the dough rest and rise in a refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

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