Flavor Enhancers – Why we love Butter

Butter makes almost everything taste better. All good cooks know that fat means flavor and there is hardly a more versatile fat than butter. Indispensible in the bakery, butter reigns in the savory kitchen. Chef Anthony Bourdain, writer and host of the Travel Channel’s No Reservations, says “In a professional kitchen, it is almost always the first and last thing in a pan”. Butter can rescue a dish from the edge of disaster and bring majesty to the most humble of sauces. Simply said, there is really no substitute for butter.

Butter is mostly fat (about 80%), 15% water and a very small amount of milk solids. Water is what makes the froth when you heat butter in a pan. As water evaporates, the milk solids begin to brown, resulting in a flavorful, nutty sauce that makes an excellent base for other things. Take care – cooking butter too long can burn the milk solids and make the sauce bitter.

Pure butter fat without water and milk solids is called Ghee, or clarified butter. This form of butter can be heated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than most olive oils can handle without creating trans fats. Ghee can be stored for extended periods without refrigeration providing it is sealed tight and kept free of moisture. The origin of ghee is South Asia with a rich heritage of use in foods and religious ceremonies.

Make a Simple Pan Sauce

If careful when melting butter to not let the water and solids separate from the fat you will have a ‘product completely different from butter in any other form’ says chef Michael Ruhlman. The technique uses a few chunks of butter and a tablespoon or two of hot water which are continually whisked over medium low heat (the amounts of each are not critical). The resulting sauce, known as an emulsion, keeps the butter opaque, creamy and homogenous.

The name for this elegant simple sauce is Buerre Monte and it is wonderful with shrimp and fish, or drizzled over pan roasted meats and cooked vegetables.  Imagine all the flavorings you can add to the ‘base’ of butter and hot water just described, such as: a teaspoon of Dijon mustard for a French Sauce, with some parsley and minced shallot (great on roasted chicken). Try a teaspoon each of white wine and rinsed capers. For a spicy sauce, use minced chipotle chilies, fresh cilantro, shallots and lime juice. Another great combination is dried tarragon, lemon juice, and dry mustard, just a little of each to your tastes.

You can make a little or a lot of Buerre Monte, in just a few minutes. Serve it quickly as this finishing sauce will eventually separate. There is so much more to be said for butter. Please share your quick pan sauce ideas!

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Deb G on May 21, 2012 at 7:42 am

    Okay Paula Deen 🙂 but I do agree – everything is better with butter!! I do exactly as you said and finish most of my pan sauces with a pat of butter for that silky glossy texture and flavor. And boy do I LOVE browned butter with sage over pumpkin ravioli….I do have to be careful as DH has high cholesterol but we occasionally indulge in a bit of butter in our pan sauces. And of course it is the best part of some of the most decadent baked goods – brownies from scratch. chocolate chip cookies and of the supreme butter recipe – cream cheese frosting!!


    • Good for you, Deb! It is almost like magic how the texture turns out so beautifully. Thank you for the suggestion of sage and brown butter – it sounds perfect with pumpkin ravioli! I use butter as an occasional treat as well. Some dishes just gotta have it!


  2. Posted by Lois Szydlowski on May 21, 2012 at 9:04 am

    You know, I don’t use many pan sauces, although I enjoy them when served at restaurants. I think because I always think they just add more calories and I can do without…and then we grill so much, don’t use them there. The one Brown Butter Sauce I love and have made it for a couple different recipes –like Deb’s ravioli and another dessert…I always think I did something wrong because the brown bits displayed inside the clear liquid in the pan looks wrong…but I guess it isn’t. I think learning all the different basic sauces is a good idea so that you have them in your head and can serve one up quickly when needed….I will have to put that training on my bucket list!


  3. Hi Lois, I’ve known people who strain out the browned solids and the remaining fat will pick up some of that luscious flavor. However, I prefer to leave it in the sauce because the solids will stick to the ingredients and that just enhances the flavor of the dish in my opinion.


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