How many times per week do you think it’s acceptable to include brown butter in a meal? Three seems reasonable… right?
I made brown butter for the first time last week. A friend brought me some wild mushroom and garlic ravioli and I needed a quick sauce to go with it. Now, for those of you already in on how magical brown butter is, you can nod your head knowingly and smile a distant smile, remembering your first time. For the rest of us, this is a butter that grew up, got an expensive haircut and started annunciating its vowels more clearly. It’s sophisticated and elegantly simple.
Heating butter over a medium heat for a few minutes transforms it from its usual sunny, marigold hue to a golden, molten nutty brown. The colour change comes from the milk solids that separate from the milk fat and turn to brown on the bottom of the pan. The result gives off the most heavenly hazelnut aroma and has a deep, rich flavour that enhances just about anything. You can add herbs or nuts in at the last minute to bump up the flavour also.
My mushroom pasta was elevated from a quick weeknight meal to a dish that left us savouring the last ravioli, swooshing it around the bowl to collect every last drop of buttery goodness. On the back of this success, I eyed off the butternut squash on the kitchen bench, imagining it roasted and coated in a warm hug of brown butter. This happened the next day, and sat atop a bowl of creamy polenta, to ensure that every last drop of butter was soaked up to provide maximum flavour and butter ingestion.
Now I’m strategising my next brown butter meal. An apple pie with brown butter sounds like autumnal bliss. Or perhaps I’ll keep it basic, and experience fried eggs or sliced tomatoes in a new, golden, nutty brown light. What have you used brown butter for?
Polenta with Roasted Pumpkin and Brown Butter
Serves 4 as a side, or 2 as a meal
Get your pumpkin roasting while you make your polenta. When they are both ready, keep them warm and make your brown butter.
- 1 medium butternut pumpkin
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Pre-heat oven to 220C /430F. Peel and chop your pumpkin into cubes. Place on a lined baking tray and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook in the oven for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of your cubes, and how charred you like your pumpkin. I like mine a bit caramelised).
Creamy Polenta (using Marcella Hazan’s no-sitr method)
- 1 cup polenta
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or water if you don’t have stock handy)
Bring stock (or water) to the boil and add salt. Using a balloon whisk to keep the liquid moving, pour polenta into the saucepan in a steady stream, whisking as you go (dumping it all in at once will cause lumps).
Turn the heat to low and continue whisking till the polenta has thickened enough so it doesn’t settle on the bottom of the pan. Cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring vigorously every 10 minutes or so to stop it sticking.
To check that it’s done, spoon a little polenta onto a plate. Set aside to cool slightly. Rub between your fingers – if the grains feel soft, the polenta is ready.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 a stick, or 56g)
- 10 sage leaves
Put the butter in a light-coloured pan (so you can see the colour change clearly) over medium heat. Either use a rubber spatula or just swirl the pan to ensure the butter is melting and cooking evenly.
The butter will melt and begin to foam, this is the water content of the butter cooking off. The colour of the butter will change from sunny yellow through golden amber to nutty brown. *Warning* Butter will turn black quickly. You want to keep it at nutty brown. When you start to see the colour transition to brown, throw in the sage leaves. The butter will hiss and pop a bit.
When you smell the hazelnutty aroma (this happens quickly), remove from the heat and transfer to another container (a jar or a small bowl) to stop the cooking process. Use within 15 minutes.
Arrange pumpkin on the polenta, drizzle the lot with brown butter and finish off with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.