The Global Chef: Invite butter back | News







Nancy Krcek Allen


It has been more than 60 years since butter was cast as an adversary in the kitchen. Indeed, after 1961 many health-minded individuals began frantically casting the demon butter (saturated fat) out to replace it with margarine and vegetable oil (mono- and poly-unsaturated fat).

It all began with a University of Minnesota physiologist named Ancel Keys. He appeared on the cover of “Time” suggesting that diets high in fat, particularly saturated fat, caused obesity and heart disease.

The American public listened. (My European mother did not so butter was never banished from our kitchen.) Americans turned to a diet low in fat, but high in carbohydrates. Our bodies refined carbohydrates, starch and sugar very quickly, which causes an insulin spike. Insulin commands the body to store fat. Our blood sugar drops precipitously and we feel hungry. Constant, daily sugar spikes and lows trigger overeating, weight gain, fatigue and the risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, notes that an updated 2005 Nurses’ Health Study by Frank Hu and other researchers showed that neither overall fat, saturated fat, nor monounsaturated fat intake was linked to heart disease. Polyunsaturated fat intake (walnuts, flaxseed, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and cod liver oil), however, was clearly heart-protective. They additionally found that those who eat the highest levels of saturated fat have the same risk of heart disease as those who eat the lowest: saturated fat is neutral from a heart health perspective. Researchers advised the public not to completely eliminate saturated and other fats, but rather to improve the quality of our food and diets.

We butter-loving cooks thank science researchers for putting butter back in the kitchen. Sauté, bake, drizzle and simmer, a little butter added to a dish transforms it into delicious. All butter contains pasteurized cream and its main ingredient, but you may not be aware of the differences in butters.

American, European, Cultured and Amish butters vary in butterfat content and flavor. American sweet cream butter (salted or unsalted) contains about 80% butterfat (the rest is water and milk solids). Europeans churn butter to at least 82% butterfat content; the lower water content yields flakier crusts and richer baked goods. Cultured butter (often European) has cultures added to the sweet cream and allowed to ferment to a slight tartness. Some cultured butters made in the United States also have a higher butterfat content than non-cultured. Amish butter is made from cream churned to about 84% butterfat, yielding an extra-creamy, rich butter that excels in pie pastry and cookies. Grass-fed butter is made from the cream of cows that graze on grass not grain. Grass-fed butter has a richer yellow color and flavor with higher nutrients and omega 3 fatty acid. Butter may be unsalted or salted. Salt helps to preserve the butter, but does not allow you to control saltiness in baked goods.

Clarified butter is melted butter with the milk solids and water skimmed away leaving just the butter oil. Ghee is butter that simmers over low heat until the water evaporates, the milk solids caramelized to toasty brown and the remaining nutty butter oil is strained into a clean container. Both clarified butter and ghee, with milk solids removed, have higher smoke points and are excellent for sautéing.

If you’ve been off butter and would like to start again look for pasture-raised, grass-fed or organic unsalted or lightly salted butter. Land O’ Lakes Unsalted Butter has a clean, delicate flavor, but still uses cream from cows treated with rBST growth hormones. Organic Valley and Horizon Organic Pasture Raised butters are available locally.

If we focus on balanced, healthful dietary patterns of whole, minimally processed, nutritious food as close to its natural form as possible (vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish and lean poultry), rather than glorifying or demonizing certain foods or specific nutrients, we can invite the delicious, beloved butter back into its rightful place in the kitchen.

Roasted Clarified Butter (Usli Ghee)

Some Indian cooks use a vegetable shortening called vanaspati ghee for cooking. It is specially processed to look and taste like ghee, but it is a hydrogenated fat made from coconut, cotton-seed, rapeseed and palm oils. There’s nothing like the real thing. This is my favorite way to consume butter.

Yields about 12 fluid ounces

1 lb. unsalted butter, preferably grass-fed or organic

Dice butter into small cubes and place in a heavy 2- to 3-quart saucepan over lowest heat possible. Place a flame tamer under the pan to slow the cooking.

Set up strainer over stainless bowl and line it with dry cheesecloth.

The simmering butter will separate into oil and milk solids and form a crust on top and bottom. Cook butter gently until the bottom is golden brown, 45 minutes or longer depending on the heat. Watch the butter closely as it can easily go from golden to tar black in seconds.

Remove saucepan from heat and strain ghee through dry cheesecloth. Store ghee in a glass container, not plastic, and cool. Skim top for the brown, crusty residue and discard it or spread on a chapati. Cover ghee and refrigerate; it will last for several months. The better the ghee is strained the longer it will keep.

Tempering with Ghee

To season cooked vegetables, grain or legumes, Indian cooks use a quick method called “tempering.” They might cook a pot of lentils. To season them, a cook might heat ghee in a small skillet and over low to moderate heat, infuse whole or dry spices, dry or fresh chillies, ginger, shallots or onion. Tomatoes, lemon or lime juice might be added at the end to stop the cooking. The cook scrapes the tempering into the pot of lentils and may season it with citrus juice and salt.

Compound Butters

Softened butters mashed with herbs, spices, ginger, shallots, garlic or fruit and a small amount of citrus (for malleability) are a popular French seasoning technique. Mashed, and flavored with herbs, spices, citrus, fruit, or vegetables, compound butters can top grilled, sautéed, or roasted food in place of a sauce. Fruit butters pair with scones, pancakes and biscuits or meat and fish (mango compound butter on snapper). Herb butters go well on meat (rosemary or mint with lamb). Spiced butters (dry-toasted curry powder) pair well with noodles, rice and vegetables.

Herb Compound Butter

4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature

1 T. finely chopped herbs like parsley, tarragon, dill or cilantro

1 to 2 t. fresh lemon juice

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, cream butter with a wooden spoon or large spoon. Fold in herbs, lemon juice and salt. Fold and mash ingredients until well incorporated. Add pepper to taste.

Cut a piece or parchment or waxed paper and form butter in a log. Roll it into a cylinder and twist the ends. Refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to serve. Slice into a coin. Use to top grilled food, stir into a sauce or sauté with it. Freeze compound butters up to 1 month and refrigerate up to 1 week.

Try other combos: wasabi, horseradish, strawberries or fresh currants and butter.

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