There are many ways to bump up a dish’s flavour.
Be it through the use of different fats, salts, or the way the ingredients are cooked.
You can pretty much choose a dish and adapt it enough that while using the same ingredients, you get a different result every time.
My favourite cookbook, SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat contains all the information you’d ever need to understand how those four elements affect food. Why do I love this cookbook so much? Because it’s everything you need to understand ingredients and cooking in a way that will enable you to improve your skills not by practice but by understanding what really happens behind the scenes.
There’s obviously a Tried & Tested coming your way featuring Samin’s book. But for now, I want to bring your focus to a pretty special ingredient. Butter.
If we bring it back to earlier in the twentieth century, scientific studies led in the late 1940s showed a correlation between high-fat diets and high-cholesterol levels – which led to believe that following a low-fat diet could prevent heart disease. (1) This was a huge opportunity for the food industry, particularly the sugar industry, whose lobbyists are known to have funded research during the 1960s that linked heart disease to fat and cholesterol in order to shift the attention from the evidence that portrayed sugar as the real problem. (2)
There was obviously no clear evidence that a low-fat diet could prevent heart disease, it was nothing but mere speculation, but that didn’t stop companies from cashing in on people’s confusion and eagerness for weight loss.
As you will learn on Samin Nosrat’s book, fat is synonym with flavour. When you pan fry some vegetables or you drizzle a salad with olive oil, you are not just cooking a vegetable or dressing a salad but amping up the dish in a way that no other ingredients can. When you remove that fat, you are stripping away the dish of layers of flavour and reducing it to just a pile of vegetables or salad leaves (not that they are not tasty on their own, but you know what I mean).
And that’s what those companies did, they used this unsubstantiated “discovery” to their advantage by introducing new food products labelled with “low-fat”, “diet” and “light” with the promise of healthier choices. But if you are stripping fat off products, how do you make them palatable again? You add sugar, in fact, lots of it. So much sugar, that American consumers were not being diagnosed with heart-disease but getting fatter leading to what is known today as the obesity epidemic.
The point here is that you shouldn’t believe everything that is thrown at you. Sometimes, we are just all guinea pigs in a failed decades-long diet experiment, like VICE put it.
When it comes to types of fat, butter is perhaps the most used, most well known and amply regarded as a culinary wonder, because there’s nothing it can’t do. From pie crusts to simple pasta sauces, it really is a one-stop shop and a must-have in your fridge.
Butter can also be an incredibly interesting ingredient to cook with that presents different subtle flavour profiles depending on how it’s produced and where it comes from. There is high-fat content butter from France that is incredible to bake with, as well as cultured butter, grass-fed, clarified, salted kinds of butter and so many more!
One of my favourite ways of using butter is to create Beurre Noisette (hazelnut butter/brown butter). The flavour is unlike anything else, and it can literally take a dish to a whole new level with absolutely no effort whatsoever.
(left to right) - melted butter, noisette butter, burnt butter
When it comes to getting beurre noisette right, you want to aim at achieving a colour like the middle cup (image above). Anything darker is black butter, a lot more bitter and stronger in flavour.
To make a simple Beurre Noisette:
– Add butter to a small saucepan and place on a medium-low heat. The butter will begin melting.
– As the butter begins to cook, you will see it foam a little bit, swirl the pan a couple of times.
– When you see small speckles of brown dots on the base of the pan, that means that the milk solids from the butter have sunk to the bottom and began caramelizing. Keep a close eye on the butter as it can burn in a matter of minutes.
– Your beurre noisette will be ready when it presents a uniform hazelnut colour and the aroma evokes subtly toasted nuts.
To make whipped Beurre Noisette:
– Follow the previous steps to make hazelnut butter. Once it’s done, remove from the heat and let it sit on the pan for a minute to cool down slightly.
– Strain into a bowl and let it cool at room temperature before you place in the fridge. You may strain it again if not all the caramelised milk solids were removed in the first straining.
– Once the butter is chilled and solid, remove from the fridge and whip with a handheld mixer or with a spoon until light and fluffy. Feel free to add a tiny pinch of salt and mould into your preferred shape, a log, rectangle or any other shape of your choosing.
– Serve with scones, crumpets, warm bread and anything else you can think of!