Brown Butter In The Kitchen

Brown Butter

Brown Butter

My March 7 In The Kitchen column, about brown butter, did not go on the Packet website for some reason, so I reproduce it below.

Brown Butter for Savory and Sweet

There are culinary currents that run through many cultures, and it’s interesting to note how a certain kind of food or technique will reappear across the globe. This is true of brown butter, which is butter that has been heated until the butterfat separates from the milk solids, which sink to the bottom and turn brown.

If you save just the butterfat part, and before the solids brown, you have clarified butter, which has a higher smoke point making it a good choice for sautéing. If the solids brown, then the slightly deeper tasting butterfat is saved as ghee in Indian cuisine, niter kibbeh in Ethiopia, or samna in the Middle East.

My favorite use for brown butter – with both fat and solids – is drizzled on top of Armenian herisah, our classic comfort food of poultry or lamb stewed all day with hulled wheat. (Recipe on my blog at It is also lovely on butternut squash ravioli with sage leaves, and on sautéed scallops, those nice fat ones from New Jersey’s Viking Village.

In France, brown butter is called beurre noisette (hazelnut), because of the nut-like flavor that develops with this technique. In savory dishes, it is used to finish fish, eggs, winter vegetables, and the like. And if you splash a little acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, into your beurre noisette before you use it, you have what is called beurre noir, or black butter, a classic with sautéed skate.

Brown butter is also used in baking, as pastry chefs know, although until recently this was not so popular at home. But lately I see more and more recipes for brown butter cookies, and even brownies, so below I include an apple cake recipe that has a lot of brown butter in it.

When I brown butter, I make sure to use a shiny stainless steel sauté pan, so I can easily see the progress at the bottom of the pan. I prefer medium-high heat to high, to help prevent splatters and burning. You have to be eagle-eyed: no walking away or getting distracted. Keep stirring so you can see the milk solids turning brown beneath the foam. And just as you think it’s brown enough, pull the pan off the heat, because it will continue to brown for a couple more seconds. Remember, brown is good but burnt is irretrievable.

Swordfish With Balsamic Brown Butter Sauce

Adapted from “Bon Appetit fast easy fresh,” Barbara Fairchild, John Wiley & Sons (2008)

6 servings

The classic preparation with skate wings gets an updated treatment below. Use good quality balsamic and serve with crusty bread for sauce. F.B.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

6 six-ounce swordfish steaks, about 3/4 inch thick

Olive oil

2 tablespoons drained capers

Simmer butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat until deep golden brown, swirling occasionally, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in vinegar, honey, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper.

Brush fish with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 fish steaks and cook just until opaque in center, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to plates, tent loosely with foil, and cook remaining 3 steaks. Whisk sauce over low heat to rewarm if necessary and spoon over fish. Sprinkle with capers.

Cauliflower With Brown Butter & Crispy Crumbs

Adapted from “Food Network Kitchens,” Meredith Press (2003)

4 Servings

1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into small florets

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs (from about 1 slice of bread, not dried)

3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

Freshly ground black pepper

Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put cauliflower on baking sheet and scatter garlic on top. Melt butter in medium skillet and toss 2 tablespoons with the cauliflower and garlic; set rest aside in skillet. Toss cauliflower with 1 teaspoon salt. Roast until cauliflower is tender and starting to brown on edges, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl.

Reheat remaining butter over medium-high heat until brown. Add bread crumbs and stir until they are just toasted, about 1 minute. Pull from heat and toss with parsley and remaining salt. Spoon over cauliflower and season with pepper. Serve warm or room temperature with lemon wedges.

Brown-Butter Apple Cake

Adapted from “A Real American Breakfast,” Alters and Jamison, William Morrow (2002)

Makes a 10-inch cake, about 8 servings

I’ve omitted an optional caramel sauce. F.B.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 cup slivered almonds, toasted in a dry skillet

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

Zest of 1 medium orange, minced

3 cups peeled and chopped apples

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan.

Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg into a small bowl. Grind almonds in food processor until fine texture.

Brown butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until toasty brown and smelling like popcorn or nuts, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to warm room temperature, thick but still liquid.

With an electric mixer on high, cream butter with sugar. It will be a bit mealy in texture. Reduce mixer to medium and beat in eggs one at a time, followed by orange zest.  Mix in flour one third at a time, scraping bowl after each addition. Beat in almonds, then apples. Batter will be quite thick. Spoon into prepared pan and bake about 1 1/4 hours until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10-15 minutes, run knife around edge, and unmold to serve, dusting with confectioners’ sugar.


One thought on “Brown Butter In The Kitchen

  1. A delight, Faith, to read about brown butter. I didn’t know about the relationship of this subtle, splendid sauce to ghee. The first time I had anything like it was with skate, called “raie”, in Normandie. The French insisted it was with buerre noir – or black butter — which was anything but irretrievable. BUT, this is one of those don’t-try-this-at-home moments for me. Your recipes “desk-test” (New York test-kitchen buzz-phrase in the 50’s) superbly!

    Smiles, Carolyn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s