My earliest experience with browned butter (beurre noisette in french culinary terms) was as a kid when we would visit The Old Spaghetti Factory. My absolute favorite item on their menu was (and still is to this day) their spaghetti with browned butter and Mizithra cheese. The saltiness of the dry Greek Mizithra cheese was perfectly paired with the nutty rich flavor of the browned butter. Years later in college when I got a job with the Spaghetti Factory as a prep cook I indulged in that very dish on nearly every shift!
If you’ve ever tried frying an egg in butter and got the butter too hot you’ve no doubt noticed that it it will very quickly burn. That’s because butter is only about 80% butterfat and the remaining 20% consists of water and milk solids. As you probably know, fat and water don’t mix too well so that’s why butter will splatter when heated too high – the water and fat are fighting one another. The burning of butter is from the burning of then milk solids.
Now that you have a basic understanding of butter and what happens when it’s melted you can harness the knowledge for your own tasty creations by using browned butter as a sauce or ingredient.
To Brown Butter:
1. Place butter in a small saucepan (or other appropriate sized pan depending on how much you’re preparing) and place over medium-low heat. Heat the butter until it melts. As the butter continues to heat it will have steam rising from it (the water cooking away).
2. As the steam begins to subside the foam will start to have a few dark specks in it. Stir periodically to check on the milk solids in the bottom. As the milk solids begin to brown you should start to notice a distinctive “nutty” butterscotch aroma developing. The darker the color the more flavor will develop but be careful not to burn it. When butter is a medium to deep brown color, remove from heat and cool slightly or use immediately. (For photo purposes, some of the foam was removed to better see the butter color and browned milk solids in bottom of pan)
Using Browned Butter:
Browned butter can be used on pasta just as it is with a hard cheese (hmm…Mizithra comes to mind!).
Browned butter is delicious with butternut squash or wild mushroom ravioli, especially when infused with fresh sage leaves during the browning process. To keep it from having too rich of a flavor, add a splash of red wine vinegar to add a slight balance of acidity.
Browned butter can replace regular melted butter in any recipe that calls for melting the butter first such as blondies, muffins, etc.
Browned butter can be used in recipes where the butter will be creamed with sugar (such as cakes) but it will have to be chilled until firm after the browning process. Creaming requires a more firm texture for proper aeration.