Dorie Greenspan loves butter and how it tastes in the food that we cook and bake with it. She shares her expertise on the topic in the new Short Stack Editions Vol. 30: Butter. She talked with contributor Shauna Sever about how different varieties of butter can be used to achieve specific flavors and textures. After discussing two of her favorite dishes in the interview, Greenspan shared her recipes for Miso-Butter Double-Salmon Rillettes and Pressed & Griddled Cheese Sandwich.
Shauna Sever: Tell us how your love affair with butter first began.
Dorie Greenspan: It was many years ago. James Beard used to talk about how, as a baby, he was a fat baby. I don't know that he was talking about his size; he was talking about his love of fat. I grew up with butter. I didn’t grow up in a house where anybody cooked or baked, but boy were they good at spreading butter on bread. I love butter. I love it for the way it produces texture in both sweet and savory things. I love it for its flavor.
SS: That's such an interesting point that you bring up, and you talk about this in the book, that butter serves so many functions in recipes. You showcase that in many thoughtful ways throughout the book.
DG: It was so much fun to think about butter and all the things that it does for us in the kitchen, and to find recipes that would showcase those qualities. I thought about when butter changes the texture of something, or adds to the texture. I thought about it in terms of when you taste butter; butter can be a background flavor in so many things. Butter changes the color of things. If you brown butter, you get the flavor of butter, and you get the taste of toasted hazelnuts as well. Working on this gave me the chance to think about how butter expresses itself in so many different ways in the kitchen.
SS: You talk about some of the recipes where butter serves as a glue of sorts that holds the dish together.
DG: It's so funny. I don't know why, the thought of butter as glue, I find it very amusing. But, in fact, that's exactly what it does. One of my favorite dishes is miso-butter double-salmon rillettes. Rillettes was traditionally, in French cooking, pork that had been cooked slow for many hours in its own fat, until it became spreadable. I now make different kinds of salmon rillettes. This one uses both smoked salmon and fresh salmon. The glue is butter and miso, or miso butter. It's such a lovely combination. You get salty umami flavor from the miso, with the lovely, silken, velvety texture of the butter, and that great flavor of the two types of salmon. This great dish is my party trick, because it takes about 10 or 15 minutes to put it together. It sounds better when you call it double salmon rillettes than when you call it salmon held together with butter glue.
SS: That's a recipe where butter is the star, but you had me thinking about butter in different ways. As in how a grilled cheese sandwich is as much about the butter as it is about the cheese.
DG: It really is, because a grilled cheese sandwich, there's nothing to it, right? It's butter, it's cheese, you can put tomato in there, you can put bacon in there if you want, but it's essentially two ingredients. And yet, when done right, you get great textural contrasts. And of course, you get great flavor, and you get goo – and we love goo. We love that gooey stretchiness that you get from the cheese. With a good grilled cheese sandwich, what you want is clarified butter; it's butter that you'll be able to cook at a higher temperature, and not have it brown or burn. You spread the outside of the sandwich with clarified butter. When you cook it, and you press it down, you get the best, crackliest crust on the bread. You get that crackle of the bread, then the softness of the bread with the gooiness of the cheese, and then it repeats itself. The butter really is the ingredient that makes the sandwich great.
Short Stacks Editions Vol. 30: Butter
by Dorie Greenspan
SS: You have me thinking about using different types of butter as a way to change up recipes, things that we make all the time with butter. Can you tell us about a few of the main types that are out there now, and how we can best use them?
DG: When I'm testing recipes for publication, I always use butter from the supermarket. I use Cabot's or I use Land O' Lakes, because I want to use butter that's at a level that all of my bakers will be able to find. But it's awfully fun to play around with some of the European butters. By law, European butter has a higher butterfat content than American butter. Our minimum butterfat content is 80 percent; in Europe, it's 82 percent. When we have salted butter, the butterfat content is lower. If you get a European butter, taste it against the regular butter that you've been using or that you might have. You'll taste more butter, but you'll also feel it. You can feel the difference in the butterfat. If you get a cultured butter, you'll feel the difference in the butterfat, and you'll taste a kind of tang. It’s got more acidity than regular butter because it's been cultured, it’s been fermented. I like to use a European butter or a cultured butter when I'm baking. It makes a difference. If you're making a compound butter, a flavored butter, or if you're baking something, it's wonderful to have that extra bit of butterfat for that extra flavor.
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Shauna Sever is the author of three cookbooks (Marshmallow Madness!, Pure Vanilla and Real Sweet). She is the voice behind the baking blog Piece of Cake. She's appeared on the Today show, Food Network, Home and Family, Serious Eats, Chow and Ulive.com. Her writing and recipes have been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking, Family Circle and USA Weekend.