Ah, Butter...pure, natural, rich and creamy...providing so much discussion, debate, food idioms, quotes, sayings, analogies...I love that this is one of the focuses for Allrecipes Allstars this
As a young, studious, science-minded teenager, I was enthralled over the fact that the pale yellow (usually rectangular) blocks that we kept either refrigerated or frozen, could be used as a spread,
in baking, sauce making and pan frying. To me, the science behind butter-use kept it distinct from most other cooking ingredients.
It had a definite melting point -- a point at which the butter fat would get warm enough and the emulsion would break, never to return.
If we left the butter out on the counter for too long, the excruciating Okinawa summer heat would turn the cool blocks into melted messes, completely gone.
We could rechill and refreeze all we wanted, but the butter was never the same again.
I also knew butter had a smoke point, when it would go past browning to burning.
I knew you could add air to butter through creaming it, where the whirring of the beaters would aerate the substance to the lightest texture.
It was amazing stuff, and perhaps more amazing to me because we didn't use it much, if at all, in the house I grew up in.
Neighbors would call to ask to borrow a cup of sugar and a stick of butter, and all I knew was that they would do something with it to turn it into super tasty chocolate chip cookies.
My Okinawan mother cooked in a traditional Okinawan and Japanese style.
We rarely used butter, although it was incorporated into our culinary customs that had become more westernized.
Butter, to us, was associated with American foods, to be used on dinner rolls, or toast.
Or, it was used in French cooking, which rarely happened in our household, but if we went to a French restaurant, everyone would nod at the deliciousness and say "bata".
I remember my grandmother taking a pat of butter out of a basket of rolls given to us once when we were dining out, and tasting it, thinking it would be cheese.
Her expression was priceless and seeing it in my mind still makes me laugh today.
Butter, or "bata" as pronounced in Japanese, can definitely be considered a symbol of western influence.
If used in Japanese cooking today, it will often be found compounded or mixed with very traditional flavors, like soy sauce, miso, garlic, sake, or even something citrusy.
As I went off to college in America, and learned to cook on my own, I began to discover the flavor that butter gives to meals and the value it serves in baking.
I learned that melted butter is great in sauces; that it is important in roux making; that unsalted butter should be used in baking because salt toughens the gluten in flour (another science fact).
I learned that a lot of men like to slather butter on steaks before grilling them.
But most importantly, I learned that the most common mistakes by cooks and bakers both is the care and handling of butter.
Butter is wonderful and best-tasting when kept fresh...cold to the touch but warm enough to spread.
I bought my first butter bell years ago where water acts as a seal in the crock to keep butter fresh, and we keep it on the counter in the winter, in the recesses of a dark cabinet during the summer.
Even becoming a more proficient (and competent?) cook, I could never get away from the science of butter.
When my kids were old enough, I showed them how to make butter at home.
We used their little baby food jars, filled them halfway with heavy cream, and they shook them with their toddler arms until the cream turned from a whipped consistency into a solid.
We talked about how the liquid left around the solid was buttermilk, and we pressed cheesecloth around the butter to remove the last of the buttermilk.
We spread their homemade butter onto blueberry muffins, hot from the oven, and enjoyed our afternoon treat.
It was fun!
My favorite ways to use butter? Penne in light butter, mixing honey into butter to top the beignets or crepes we make for our big Sunday breakfasts, using it when baking banana bread (or any baked good), buttercream frosting, butter lane cupcakes
(!!), butter pecan ice cream (does that count?), mashed potatoes (yummmm), French onion soup (or any soup for that matter)...the list could go on forever.
But, mostly, I have to say I go back to my roots...I love drizzling soy sauce into melted butter...and adding grilled mochi (pounded sticky rice) cakes on top of it, cooking it until it smells all caramely and fabulous. I serve it with
bits of nori, and voila...dessert! To me, butter does not get better than that. :)