I am a huge fan of any “booster” recipe, a sort of a mini-recipe that is both easy and packs a flavorful punch, designed to enhance other recipes. Whether it’s a crunchy topping, a glaze, or a sauce, these sorts of recipes can take a dish from simple to special, usually with minimal effort. Often, they can be made ahead and stashed in the fridge or freezer for future use.
My single favorite booster for just about anything is really good butter. (I always thought my drag king name would be Monty O’Beurre.) Nothing makes a sauce sing like a quick finish with butter. A little pat melting on top can make even sad, frozen broccoli out of the microwave dinner-party worthy. And if you think that just plain old butter is a hero, wait till you start making compound butters.
Compound butters are butters with extra yumminess mixed in. They can be sweet or savory or spicy. You can use them on baked goods, or on meat, birds, fish, and plants. They could not be easier to make or store, and I am obsessed with them. My favorite butter to use in compound butters is Plugrá, a European-style butter. Plugrá once held a compound butter recipe contest. I entered 87 times. (And after all that, not even an honorable mention!) I’m kind of a butter savant.
But you can be too! Compound butters are insanely easy to make. You just mix something with a lot of flavor into softened unsalted butter. You are likely already aware of the most famous compound butter, honey butter. It’s just honey and butter blended together. If you have ever been to a fancy steakhouse you have probably encountered maître d’ butter sliced and melting on top of your ribeye; it’s nothing more than butter blended with shallot and herbs. There are ready-to-use compound butters available commercially, like Kerrygold Garlic & Herb, which makes killer garlic bread and is also terrific in mashed potatoes or on vegetables. While I can’t afford truffles, I can afford D’Artagnan Black Truffle Butter, which packs a wallop of truffle punch at button mushroom pricing.
For all the good blended butters you can buy, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you try making your own. If you love cinnamon toast, mixing cinnamon sugar into butter means you are just a schmear away. Any jam or jelly, from basic strawberry to kicky hot pepper to fancy balsamic onion preserves can be blended with butter, and while, yes, your toast and biscuits and scones will be that much better for the topping, so will your pork chops. Once you start experimenting, you’ll find there’s no shortage of interesting flavors and combos to play with.
Some ingredients to consider mixing into your butter: sweet things like date syrup, pomegranate molasses, or fig jam. Savory things like mustards, grated cheeses, finely chopped prosciutto, or minced sun-dried tomatoes. Spice blends like masala curry or a BBQ spice rub work really well, as do leftover pesto, salsa verde, or chimichurri. Play with exotic ingredients like black garlic or kimchi. Mince and blend seasonal items like squash blossoms into butter and then freeze them; in a few months, use them as a topping for fish or veggies or pasta for a mouthful of summer in the dead of winter.
Start with a stick of butter, or eight tablespoons, and let it soften completely for ease of mixing. Add a teaspoon of intensely flavored items like spices, dried herbs, or hot sauces, or a tablespoon of fresher or more subtle flavors like jam, fresh herbs, or cheeses. Then taste and adjust flavors upwards as needed and season to taste with salt and pepper where appropriate.
To store, I either roll it into a log in plastic wrap or put it into a container and label it. It stores in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to three months.