How to Make Herbed Butter
Before we get into the “how,” let’s talk about “why” you should make herbed butter. Herbs grow, a lot. It seems a shame not to enjoy their zingy, full flavors while they’re at their prime these hot months, and not to utilize all those fresh leaves. Yes, you can dry them out and use them all year, but this usually weakens or alters their flavor. Chopping it up and storing it in fat — butter — instead preserves the flavor, and stretches it, as it’ll permeate the whole glob. Sure, you can make tub after tub of pesto with your herbs, but maybe your freezer is full of those already. You could make a tincture, or try your hand at homemade perfume. But if you like to make bread, or serve it at dinner, then it’s fun to have a host of flavored butters on hand.
To start off, you should also be growing your own herbs now, so that you’ll be stuck with this predicament of having too much. Fresh herbs snipped right off the stem before using are much better-tasting, and it’s more cost-efficient than buying packs of pre-cut herbs that will go bad in your fridge within days, if it isn’t already. You don’t even need to have a backyard, or a planter. Poke holes in the bottom of a plum tomato can, or an empty mayonnaise jar. Set it on a windowsill that gets good sun.
Now for the “how” part, which is actually stupidly easy. Pick much any herb you really like, or the most prolific ones you’ve got. I chose to make two butters: with English thyme and lavender. You can always mix and match and come up with blends. Spend an agonizing few minutes getting all the tiny leaves off the stems of your thyme (and by the way, if you’re cooking with me, never ask me to separate the thyme — been there too many times). Relax and enjoy separating bigger leaves and spindles like those of the lovely lavender plant off the stem. Finely chop your herbs next, and try placing both hands on the top of your knife and guiding it up and down with the hand that’s on the handle like a seesaw. A fan-like pattern should appear on your cutting board. (Lifting the knife off the cutting board and hacking straight down seems to make these denser herbs fly across the counter.) Go back and forth until you’ve got nicely chopped, very fine bits. Do we say “minced” for herbs? I would use the word only it seems like “mince” usually involves moisture. I’m not sure.
While you’re doing this, let your butter sit out. Actually, let it sit at room temperature for a good fifteen minutes, if you’re using a one-pound block of butter. Use the best butter in your estimation; this could be organic, or from your favorite dairy farm. Here, I’ve used a block of Plugra European-style butter, because it’s so creamy (I don’t have any connection with Plugra, just saying). Also, I liked not having to unwrap four individual sticks. Be sure not to skip the sitting-out step and do something crazy like put the butter in the microwave, because any melting will break the emulsion and change the butter’s texture forever. Just wait it out, and don’t wait too too long, especially if you’re doing this in a hottter-than-room-temperature kitchen, which you probably are. The butter should be somewhat firm when you start to blend in the herbs, and definitely still opaque.
For roughly one quarter of a pound of butter, the size of one stick, I used roughly two tablespoons of finely chopped herbs. But you can adjust the amount of herbs as to your own liking. Plop the butter in a bowl and sprinkle the chopped herbs right on. Now start cutting up the butter and letting the herbs fall into the crevices. I like to use an (appropriately named) butter knife for this because it doesn’t encourage as much smearing as a spatula, and hence possible melting. I also don’t prefer a fork or pastry cutter because it really doesn’t need to be cut up that finely, and they’re a pain to clean. It should take all of a minute to somewhat “evenly” distribute the herbs around the entire quarter-pound. It doesn’t have to be that even, and of course, it never will be perfectly so.
Store it in an airtight container and enjoy as long as you want. You can be reminded of your garden in full summer bloom all year ’round now. And, you’ve also found a much better vessel for your butter — in a tightly sealed, airtight container in the fridge! Each time you open it, it should smell like newly clipped herbs. Not like all the other stuff that’s hanging out in the refrigerator. Who knows why butter is always wrapped in paper, which lets it absorb the smells and flavors of your leftover lasagna, or half-empty can of clam juice? I suppose that’s another way of “flavoring” butter altogether.
Posted: July 8th, 2010 under Recipes.
Tags: english thyme, european-style butter, herbed butter, how to make herbed butter, lavender, lavender butter, making herbed butter, plugra, preserving herbs, thyme, thyme butter