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How to make butter cool

With butter boards trending, chefs share tips to work with butter and create fun variations

A simple butter board with honey and microgreens. 
A simple butter board with honey and microgreens. 

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Last month, butter boards, bedecked with microgreens, edible flowers and fruit slices, began to trend on social media. Scores of food content creators pulled out chopping boards, spread a thick layer of unsalted butter, sprinkled with seasoning, garnished with flair, and served with bread. A friend shared a reel with a Indian-themed butter board containing chilli oil and topped with freshly chopped onions, peanuts and dhania.

While variations of butter boards continue to pop up on Instagram feeds, British chef Thomas Straker’s reels of flavoured butters became a viral sensation. Lounge featured Straker’s All Things Butter series, curated on @thomas_straker, Instagram. He whips up a whole range of sweet and savoury butters with ingredients like bone marrow, crispy chicken skin and freshly ground coffee. These are spread over bread, steak, waffles, pancakes, roasted veggies and much more. For a brief moment—each reel is less than 30 seconds—one forgets about calories and is seduced by the endless possibilities with butter.

It seems every year, during the festive season, there will be a social media food trend that encompasses fun, ease and variety. Last year, parties were all about grazing boards, and this year it could be butter boards, or flavoured butter.

To know how to work with butter and get the basics right, turn to the inimitable writer and chef Samin Nosrat. In her seminal book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, she writes, “Without the flavours and textures that fat makes possible, food would be immeasurably less pleasurable to eat. In other words, fat is essential for achieving the full spectrum of flavours and textures of good cooking.” Butter is fat, and it allows other ingredients to shine.

Chef Straker adopted this wisdom to create 50 reels of different flavoured butters. The thousands of butter boards on social media have the same philosophy too.

“Butter is a blank canvas. It’s milk solids with no flavour,” says Dane Fernandes, executive chef, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar. It acts as a base that allows for other flavours to emerge, particularly spices and acids. It’s similar to bland cheeses, like burrata or mascarpone. “People are crazy about burrata, but by itself it’s so sad. If you add sea salt, freshly ground pepper and an acidic element like balsamic vinegar, it transforms into something incredibly delicious.” It is no different with plain unsalted butter.

While working with it, Fernandes adheres to the three Ts—temperature, taste and texture. The butter shouldn’t be served straight out of the fridge, or melted over high heat which affect its spreadability. The consistency should be like thick cream and the optimum temperature is between 20-24° Celsius. It can be used to create different tastes or flavours from sweet, spicy to umami and the most basic is salted butter. It can be elevated with textures by adding fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and even meats. By paying attention to the three Ts, one can create a whole range of butter boards and flavoured butters with little margin for error.

Also read | Why saturated fats are not bad

“Chefs have been doing flavoured butters for years. It’s called compound butter in technical terms,” explains Hanoze Shroff, Executive Chef at Pass Code Hospitality that runs restaurants SAZ, Ping’s and Jamun. Butter mixed with black garlic, salt, parsley and even other fats, like Parmesan cheese, is integral to professional kitchens. Shroff adds a bit of olive oil to make butter more stable at room temperature. This could be a trick to avoid butter boards from melting.

In Mumbai, Salt Water Cafe serves a light-as-air butter with their bread basket. It's cloud-like consistency is similar to daulat ki chaat. “To make it, we take loads of butter (about two kilos) and whip it. The weight matters, because the quantum makes it better. The process incorporates air and gives the butter a foamy feel,” explains Gresham Fernandes, culinary director of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality, the parent company of Salt Water Cafe. He mixes orange marmalade with butter to top up French Toasts. It's indulgent and easy in equal parts. 

Flavoured butter has seeped into a Diwali hamper created by chef and restaurateur Vanika Choudhary. She runs Sequel and Noon in Mumbai and is known for experimenting with seasonal, indigenous ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. Choudhary added a twist to the beloved garlic butter with fresh green garlic widely available in Maharashtra now. It’s hand-pounded green garlic and fermented chillies blended with hand-churned butter and served with chakli. It is part of Sequel’s Diwali hamper containing contemporary mithais, savoury treats and fermented condiments.

Chakli with green garlic butter from Noon's Diwali hamper,
Chakli with green garlic butter from Noon's Diwali hamper,

How to have fun with butter

Create a Rajasthani butter board
Take 100 gms unsalted butter and thickly spread it on a board or a fancy plate. Sprinkle coarse salt, add half tsp roughly crushed coriander seeds, decorate with tiny dots of pickled ker sangri, and sprinkle some chilli flakes. Serve with kulcha or naan.

Create a bacon butter board
Spread about 100 gms unsalted butter on a cheese board or porcelain plate. Season with a bit of coarse salt and pepper. Top up with tiny pieces of bacon, streak with honey, garnish with parsley and serve with sourdough.

With inputs from Hanoze Shroff and Dane Fernandes

Also read | Learn the science of flours and fats for crispy Diwali snacks

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