I always have a little stash of brown butter, also called beurre noisette, in my fridge. It has a wonderfully nutty flavor and is a simple and delicious way to dress gluten free pasta, roasted vegetables, fish, even my nightly bowl of popcorn. It is also a great way to boost the flavor in any of your baked goods that call for melted butter.
So what is brown butter?
Butter is a natural emulsion of fat, water and milk solids. When you melt butter, you break this emulsion. You have probably noticed the foaming that initially happens; this is the water cooking out. Then there are the little particles that fall to the bottom and separate from the clear, golden fat. Brown butter is simply butter that has been cooked long enough to remove the water, toast those milk solids and change the color and flavor of the fat.
Are brown butter and clarified butter the same thing?
No. Although the processes may be similar, the end result and cooking applications are quite different. Clarified butter is butter that has all of the water and milk solids removed, not toasted. For clarified butter, butter is melted and cooked just long enough to skim away the milk solids leaving the pristine, golden fat behind. This results in a fat that has a higher cooking temperature but no change the flavor.
How do I make brown butter?
Simply start by melting unsalted butter over medium heat. I always make a pound at a time - it stores beautifully in the fridge. Be sure to use a pot with a light-colored bottom so you can easily track of the color. As the butter melts, it will begin to foam at first. Then the milk solids will settle on the bottom of the pan like the dregs in a bottle of wine. Swirl the pan or stir occasionally to ensure the butter is cooking evenly. These solids will be the bits that toast and change the color of the fat from golden yellow to tan to a rich honey color. There is no perfect end point. You get to choose how dark the butter becomes. Sometimes you may go all the way to black butter, or beurre noir. Once you smell a nutty aroma and achieve the desired color, take the pan off the heat and transfer the browned butter to a heat proof bowl to cool. At this point you can decide to keep all those toasty bits, my personal preference, or strain the brown butter through a fine meshed strainer or cheese cloth to remove all the particles.
Can I flavor brown butter?
Of course! But since I like to make a big batch to keep on hand for multiple dishes, even desserts, I wait to flavor the brown butter in each application. Some great additions are fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon or vanilla.