Cooking with Butter Tips and Techniques

Get the most out of cooking with butter by using these tips.

Wait for butter to stop foaming before sautéing.

Why Do It: Sautéing is best done in hot fat. When foaming subsides, it’s an easy visual cue that the melted butter is hot enough for cooking. More specifically, it indicates that all the water in the butter (about 16 percent by weight) has evaporated, and the temperature can rise above water’s boiling point of 212 degrees. As foaming subsides, butter continues heating and finally smokes at 250 to 300 degrees. (To sauté in butter at higher temperatures, use clarified butter.)

Use cold—not softened—butter for pastry.

Why Do It: Good, light pastry and biscuits depend on distinct pieces of cold, solid butter distributed throughout the dough that melt during baking and leave behind pockets of air. To keep the butter cold during mixing, we use a food processor, but you can also grate frozen butter into the dry ingredients using the large holes of a box grater.

Add cold butter to pan sauces.

Why Do It: Swirling a tablespoon or two of cold butter into a pan sauce right before serving adds both richness and body. (Cold, firm butter resists separation, while the water in softened butter separates more easily and can lead to a broken emulsion.) Cut the butter into tablespoon-size chunks so that it melts quickly.

Slip butter under the skin of chicken breasts.

Why Do It: Notoriously dry and chalky, roast chicken breasts can be transformed with softened -butter. Two tablespoons of unsalted butter mixed with ½ teaspoon salt and spread underneath the skin of a whole breast before roasting will baste the white meat, keeping it juicy while adding flavor.

Add butter before dairy in mashed potatoes.

Why Do It: If the dairy is stirred into the hot cooked potatoes before the butter, the water in the dairy will combine with the potatoes’ starch, making them gummy. When melted butter is added first, the fat coats the starch molecules and prevents them from reacting with the water in the dairy. The result? Smoother, more velvety mashed potatoes.

Add butter bits to uncooked eggs for omelets.

Why Do It: Whisking a tablespoon of cold, diced butter into the eggs before cooking is the secret to a soft, creamy omelet. Without butter, the proteins in egg whites form tight, cross-linked bonds, yielding a dense, rubbery version of the French classic. But with our method, the eggs cook as the butter melts and disperses, coating the proteins and stopping them from linking.

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