When you think about compound butter, you might think it’s a little fussy, best saved for special occasions. But in fact, it’s actually a low-lift way to add extra flavor into your meals, without using many additional ingredients.
Plain butter, salted or unsalted, can do a lot of heavy lifting in an otherwise simple dish. Compound butter takes it a step further . . . more flavor, any flavor, used in all the ways you would use plain butter.
What's more? The best compound butter mix-ins may be in your kitchen already.
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What Is Compound Butter?
Compound butter is a mixture of softened butter with added ingredients. These can include but aren’t limited to herbs, spices, fruit, or even other sauces. Use compound butter at the end of cooking to gently melt over a finished dish or as an emulsifier for a flavor-boosted pan sauce.
Sure, you can purchase commercial compound butters, but the best are made at home because they allow for ultimate customization.
Tips for Making Compound Butter
Making compound butter is pretty simple: Just mix everything together. But there are a few small ways to make the process even easier.
- Mince, don’t chop the mix-ins. For everything to incorporate evenly, make sure to mince each component—you want the flavors to disperse evenly throughout the butter, and nothing kills a good bite like an unexpected oversize chunk of garlic.
- Unsalted butter is best. To have final control over the seasoning level of your compound butter, stick with unsalted butter for a blank slate—you can always add salt if you think it needs it. You might even want to skip the extra seasoning altogether if you’re working with saltier ingredients (such as miso).
- Make sure the butter is room temperature. A straight-from-the-refrigerator stick of butter typically takes about 2 hours on the counter to reach room temperature. It should give slightly when pressed. Because the butter will warm up as you mix it with stir-ins, make sure you don’t go much beyond that.
Five-Ingredient DinnersFind delicious and wholesome meals that let you leave the laundry list of ingredients behind.
Compound Butter Flavor Suggestions
Your compound butter mix-ins are limited only by your creativity. Here are 12 flavor combinations from our cookbook Five-Ingredient Dinners to get you started. The amount will depend on the ingredient—use less for potent spices such as cayenne but more for milder add-ins such as fresh herbs.
- Thai red curry paste + cilantro. If you’re a Thai curry fan, you may have some leftover paste languishing in your refrigerator. Spice up that butter and use it on rolls or skewers.
- Anchovies + shallots. Sweet shallots and ultrasavory anchovies make for an indulgent buttery dip for any meat and certainly for tomatoes.
- Capers + dill. Capers are a welcome salty pop to seafood and vegetables. In fact, with the addition of butter and dill, you have a luxurious sauce ideal for salmon.
- White miso + scallions. Miso is a great way to infuse umami flavors into a vegetarian dish. Scallions brighten up the richness of the butter for a delicious mixture you can stir into soup.
- Feta + mint. Get these salty yet fresh Mediterranean flavors with Feta and Mint Compound Butter for an instant sauce to top your next batch of grilled pork chops.
- Garlic + parsley. A quick-cooking weeknight meal of steak and vegetables is instantly improved with a generous pat of Garlic-Parsley Butter at the end.
- Lemon zest + chives. Tilapia’s flavor is mild, at best. With a little Chive-Lemon Miso Butter, however, you’ll keep going back for more.
- Blue cheese + thyme. Do those steamed vegetables taste a little bland? Add Blue Cheese Butter.
- Whole-grain mustard + honey. Use up that leftover Whole-Grain Mustard in your fridge with a little honey for a sweet and tangy topper to braised halibut with leeks.
- Lime zest + ginger. This common tropical duo is popular for a reason. Make the best lime-ginger chicken or even top a batch of broiled asparagus.
- Hoisin sauce + serrano chile. The salty/sweet wonder of hoisin goes with almost anything. Kick it up with the spicy, mildly grassy notes of a serrano pepper for something like a barbecue butter.
- Orange zest + tarragon. You should zest your citrus. If you’re freezing orange zest leftovers, take some out and add fresh tarragon to impart floral, licorice-like flavor to grilled chicken breasts or even big and fluffy biscuits.