Everything’s Better with Butter

Did you ever play that Desert Island game — you know, the one where someone asks you what 10 albums you would choose if you were marooned on a desert island? I like to play this game with food. Which 10 ingredients would I want if I was stranded on a desert island? And high upon my list would be that glistening, glorious gold of the dairy case: butter. I could make a palm frond taste good so long as I had butter.

I’d been meaning to put my infatuation for beurre to words for some time now. Sitting here eating my leftover grilled chicken from a few posts back — basted on the barbie with melted butter — I got thinking about just how important this simple, elemental ingredient is. Indeed, the fortunes of famous chefs through the ages have risen or fallen based on their disposition to butter. Witness: the fall from favor of Escoffier and butter-based haute cuisine in French cooking at the hands of the lighter garde nouvelle. The humble chef Nobu Matsuhisa created a culinary revolution — and a restaurant empire — by adding butter to Japanese cooking. It’s that important.

People often misunderstand butter. Yoga girls watching their weight equate it with lard and mayonnaise in the Triumvirate of Most Evil Edibles. It’s often the first thing to go for those on a diet. And yet, it’s a natural food, better by far than many of the substitutes out there. (Yes, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” I’m talking about you!) And you need such a small amount to make such a big difference in your cooking.

All butter is not created equal. I choose mine carefully. Typically you’ll find several different kinds in my fridge. My favorite for applications where butter is a star — spreading on bread, eating with cheese, tossing with spaghetti — is Parma butter. This is butter from the cows of Italy’s Parma region, where parmesan cheese is made, and its nutty, sweet and complex much like the cheese. Delitia is a brand that is widely available in fine food stores and online. For my everyday go-to butter, I use Land O’ Lakes unsalted sweet cream butter. This is as close to the fresh taste of the farm as you’ll get in a commercial butter. From time to time I purchase the fresh unpasteurized butter from the raw milk guys at the farmer’s market, which is also worthy of marquee billing in a dish. I never buy salted butter — sometimes you don’t want your butter salted, as on bread with jam. And when you do, a sprinkle of Maldon salt is a match made in heaven.

Below is a demonstration of how to finish — or “velvet” — a sauce with butter. This may be the most important thing I ever teach you. If you’re terrified of butter, hit the stop button now and go do some yoga. (And please excuse the screaming toddler. Like I say in the video, this is real life. Not TV.)

*   *   *

Broiled sea bass with wasabi potatoes & yuzu butter sauce
serves 4

1 lb. Chilean or other sea bass fillet, cut into 4 pieces
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
2 tbsp. butter, plus 1 tsp.
1 tsp. wasabi paste
flaky sea salt
1/2 cup pea sprouts
soy sauce
olive oil

Yuzu butter sauce:
1 cup duck or chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1 tbsp. yuzu juice (or lemon juice)
1 tsp. yuzukoshou paste (optional), available in Japanese markets or online
2 tbsp. very cold butter

Begin your sauce about an hour before dinner: Place the stock and wine in a sauce pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 40 minutes, until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Add yuzu juice and paste, if using, and remove from heat.

Boil water in a covered saucepan. Add potato chunks and cook for 15-20 minutes, until chunks are soft. Drain and place in a large bowl. Mash together with wasabi paste and butter. Add salt to taste, and cover the bowl with foil.

Brush your fish pieces lightly with soy sauce, then olive oil. Place them on a piece of foil and broil on high heat for about 8-10 minutes, until golden and browning at the edges. Remove from oven.

Melt 1 tsp. butter over medium heat in a small skillet. When butter is melted, remove from heat and toss pea sprouts in pan to wilt.

Reheat your sauce on high heat until it begins to boil. Remove from heat. Skewer your cold butter on a fork, and swirl it into your sauce until the sauce becomes velvety and thick.

Scoop 1/4 of your potatoes onto each of four plates. Top potato with a piece of the broiled fish. Arrange some pea sprouts on top of the fish, and then spoon some of your yuzu butter sauce around and over each serving.

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pal-O
    Jul 27, 2012 @ 00:41:31

    I’ve dropped 29 lbs since Mardi Gras & butter was & is still in my food plan. Even Marlon Brando’s turn in that Tango movie couldn’t vere me from butter love!


  2. Michelle
    Jul 27, 2012 @ 01:28:21

    Does wine count in the 10? If not, butter definitely comes first!


  3. rachelocal
    Jul 27, 2012 @ 16:32:21

    I get the most delicious Amish butter from the farmer’s market.

    Oh, and you’re a natural in front of the camera. 😉


  4. g
    Jul 29, 2012 @ 03:05:49

    Immie is upstaging you like an old stage pro!!!


  5. Benjamin Thompson
    Sep 06, 2012 @ 21:26:24

    Desert Island scenario: Butter or wine?


  6. jewel
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 19:02:40

    Delitia butter! Sooo good I have to keep a spare in the freezer so I’m never without! Not easy to find in my neck of the woods.


  7. jewel
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 19:53:54

    Rural Oklahoma. Twenty-five miles from the nearest town (pop. 1,000). And they don’t have Delitia. Unless it’s truck day you may not get ANY butter… 🙂 That being said, I still love living here!


    • scolgin
      Nov 12, 2013 @ 19:58:22

      WOW! That actually sounds kind of beautiful and romantic. Well, nice to meet you! 🙂 And greetings from big city Los Angeles! (Well actually, we’re in a rural national recreation area outside of Los Angeles…)


    • scolgin
      Nov 12, 2013 @ 20:29:16

      And wait… if you have trouble getting butter, how on earth are you going to find sea urchin to make ricci de mare!?? Is there an Oklahoma ocean I didn’t know about nearby? 😉


  8. jewel
    Nov 13, 2013 @ 00:16:50

    So wonderful to meet you! Love your blog, you’re an engaging writer and obviously talented chef! Nope, no Okie oceans, rolled the dice on Catalina for the uni. In fact, my search for a recipe for uni pasta is how I discovered your treasure trove. Will let you know how it turns out! 🙂


    • scolgin
      Nov 13, 2013 @ 00:24:11

      You’re very kind, thank you! 😀 Ahh, the glories of global commerce. You can get pretty good stuff anywhere you are these days. Well, enjoy, and YES — let me know how it turns out!


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