Friday, March 19, 2010

Brown Butter + Veggies = Love

I love vegetables. I will gladly eat them raw or steamed with barely even a dash of salt (or maybe a smashed clove of garlic in the steaming water) to enhance them. But there is something so very moreish about dousing them with nutty, unctuous brown butter. You know how the smell of sautéing onions makes everyone perk up and say "what smells so good?" Brown butter is that times ten. You will think you've died and gone to gourmet heaven. Plus, it's beyond easy to make. It's simply a matter of plonking a bit of butter into a saucepan, turning the heat onto medium-low, and watching magic happen.

Most of the recipes I've read say this alchemy occurs within 3-5 minutes. I use a little one-quart saucepan, rather than the wide skillet I've seen elsewhere, and this takes closer to 8 or 9 minutes for me. The first thing that will happen is the butter will start to foam. Then the clear liquid at the bottom will take on an amber hue. Most of the how-tos I've seen on the web come with scary-sounding warnings. Goes from perfect to burnt in seconds! Will become beurre noir if you blink! I was lucky enough to discover brown butter through the decidedly unhysterical Fields of Greens cookbook, and I make it, mostly unattended, with the merest glance now and then to see how things are developing. I strain the solids through a paper towel, squeezing the towel to get every drop of deliciousness out, but you can easily skim the solids with a spoon, or indeed, use it as is.

The nutty sweetness of brown butter really enhances vegetables that have a hint of bitterness. Brussels sprouts and cavalo nero are two of my favorites. Add the brown butter near the end of the cooking process, so it doesn't cook further.

Brown Butter
The butter really does all of the work here, but I swear you will feel like a genius the first time you make this. Though shortly afterwards, you may rue the knowledge that you are only ever ten effortless minutes away from a batch of brown butter. 

A smidge more than 1 tablespoon of butter (salted or unsalted)

1. In a small saucepan, preferably one that does not have a dark bottom (like mine does), heat the butter over medium-low heat. A white foam will appear after a couple of minutes.
2. Keep cooking until the liquid turns a golden amber and the butter begins to smell nutty. Remove from heat.

3. Strain through a paper towel into a bowl and discard the solids.

Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter and Capers (inspired by a dish at Luna Park)
1 pound brussels sprouts (preferably on the smaller side)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons of capers
1½ tablespoons brown butter (see instructions above, but use a smidge more than 1½ tablespoons of butter to start)
Salt to taste

1. Wash, trim, and halve brussels sprouts.

2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan (I use my wok) and swirl around so the cooking surface is well-lubricated. Add the brussels to the pan. Cook over high heat for a minute or two, until the brussels take on a bit of brown char, then lower the heat to medium and cook for about 5 or 6 minutes.

3. Drain the capers and pat them dry. Add to the pan. Cook for another 5-6 minutes. The brussels should be just tender, and the capers slightly crisp. Add brown butter to the pan. Mix well so that all the brussels are covered in brown butter goodness. If you used unsalted butter, you may need to add a pinch of salt at this point.

Cavolo Nero with Brown Butter and Currants (adapted from Fields of Greens)
Either curly or red Russian kale would also work here, as would swiss chard or spinach. Chard cooks in about half the time and spinach takes mere moments, so adjust cooking time accordingly.

1 bunch of cavalo nero (also called dino or lacinato kale)
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon dried currants
1 tablespoon brown butter (see instructions above)
Salt and fresh ground pepper

1. Stem the kale, either with your hands or a sharp knife. Discard the stems.

2. Soak the currants in a splash of boiling water. I've also made this dish with chopped dried sour cherries. Dried cranberries would also be tasty, and raisins might even work. Just use whatever you've got on hand.

3. In a large skillet (I use my wok), heat up the oil and add the garlic to the pan, stirring for about 15 seconds. Then add the kale. I usually just cook this in the water left on the kale leaves after washing it, but you can add a splash of water to the pan if necessary.

4. Toss for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, until kale is tender. Then swirl in the brown butter, drain and add the currants, and add a pinch of salt if necessary. Grind some fresh pepper over the top and serve.


  1. make brown butter seem so easy! I've always wanted to make brown butter madelines, maybe now I will!

  2. steph, having seen some of the food you cook on your site, I'm pretty sure you could make brown butter in your sleep. ;)

  3. Thank you for the delicious brussels sprouts recipe! I was just searching online for a new recipe and happened on yours. And I'm so glad I did. It was really good. This one's a keeper!

  4. So glad it worked well! I'm pretty sure it's the magic of brown butter more than anything my recipe had to offer. ;)

  5. They both sound wonderful! I tried to brown butter once and I think it worked and I managed not to burn it. I might have burnt it slightly, to be honest, but I have no basis for comparison and the warnings all over the internet about how terribly it can turn out if you try to make it without the supervision of a trained chef made me question whether I did it right. But I think it was right. And now I want to cover brussel sprouts in it.

  6. I say, anything that tastes good counts as "right" in my book. :)


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