Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Cheap Dinner Party Trick: Compound Butter

While you cook dinner, leave a stick of butter out on the counter to soften. When you have a minute, smash that butter into a bowl with a fork. Squeeze half a lemon over it, then grate in the zest, too. Finely chop a handful of parsley, with as few stems as possible. Stir together with a sort of plastering motion. Add a little good salt, even if you used salted butter.

You've now made a basic compound butter. Scoop it out neatly onto a saucer, or into an espresso cup, and it is all your dinner guests will talk about. The payoff for making compound butter is exponentially greater than the effort.  Your friends will start to think of you as a good cook. It's such a cheap trick. Smash stuff into butter and watch your guests lose their minds.

Of course you can use any herb you have. Dill, rosemary, mint, all of them? Great. Try basil with lime juice and zest. Skip the herbs, and grind in black pepper instead. Or work in a bunch of crushed red pepper. A teaspoon or so of brandy or bourbon works nicely in place of lemon. Use what you have. Just don't use everything you have, or the butter will taste too much like a microcosm of the meal.

Vegan? Any of the above work with Earth Balance. I still buy that sometimes, even while ignoring my food-moral compass. Try one part buttery spread to one part warmed cashew butter, then gild however you like.

People really appreciate this little touch. It makes everyone happy, and elevates a simple meal to pleasantly special. I made chili and cornbread a few weeks ago and the little bowl of maple butter –just maple syrup and butter– stole the brunch show.

You can certainly mix this in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle if you have tools like that on hand. If you're more organized than I am, make the butter a day or two ahead, scoop it onto wax paper, roll it into a log, refrigerate, then slice into rounds and put one on top of whatever you cook. If you're a whole different personality type than I am, make several wax-wrapped logs and freeze them, rendering yourself always prepared, and always heroic.

I urge you to try this. You'll feel like you pulled one over on your guests, and isn't that what hosting a party is all about?

42 Comments / Post A Comment


If you don't have time to wait for the butter to get to room temperature you can knead it in your hands to warm it up before you add the flavoring ingredients.


I clicked this while saying: "hey I wonder if I can use Earth Balan--" and lo and behold, you beat me there!

Bonnie Downing

I knew you'd want to know and you can and I have! Questions? Answers!


Compound Earth Balance with garlic and thyme is my secret weapon for grilled cheese sandwiches.

Yes, Earth Balance/grilled cheese. Whatever.

I said, whatever.


What a great idea! I'll use this for my next imaginary porn star dinner party, then feed real ladies the soggy leftovers!*

*I am so sorry.


I can't get hard with your soft butter.


This is such a good idea!

I got a food processor for Christmas and although at first I was kind of like ugh what's next, an iron? I started making soups and now I am crazily wondering "WHAT ELSE CAN I BLENDDDDD".



Bonnie Downing

I am too frightened to click. Is my fear justified?


Not at all! Fun site. Just found out what happens to an iPad in a blender.


PESTO! And if it's winter and fresh basil is too expensive, use half frozen spinach half basil and it will still be just as delicious.

Also, pie dough! Much easier in the food processor.

And really, ANYTHING ELSE. Food processors are the best. Put some cheese and a bit of spinach and some bread crumbs in there, process for like negative 3 seconds, and voila! Mushroom stuffing.


The thing about food processors is that although they can do a bunch of things other than blend, like chop or shred vegetables, I almost always find that it is more time-consuming to take it apart and wash it afterwards than it would have been to just chop it all myself.


Put soap and water into it; process. Rinse.

Mary Miller

This article has renewed my love of making compound butter, and by love I mean I've done it like twice and want to again? Question-what if I only have bad salt? Does that work too? JK kind of, Barefoot Contessa shout-out, but seriously-can it be any salt or just good, more coarse salt? In a pinch? (PINCH!!)

Bonnie Downing

Any salt!

Mary Miller

I am gonna try the hell out of this with some EARTH BALANCE!


You could also do a sweet butter: cinnamon, nutmeg, coarse sugar....


Take it one step further. Rub that compound butter all over your chicken before you roast it. Yes, UNDER THE SKIN. Get it in the cavity. Put the lemon rinds in there too. Yes, get smug about it. I just did. And don't take that cavity sentence out of context please.

Princess Slayer

Hell yes, this is my secret weapon when roasting poultry. Even better for turkey.


If you can't brine it (and brining is BEST for any and all poultry) this is really the best trick. In a brine-and-butter combination you find heeeeaaaaavennnn.

Amy Meckler

Butter, lime juice and zest, shallots and jalapeno peppers, and a sprinkle of kosher salt.


I can't believe you didn't suggest putting it in a mold! (What, no one else stockpiles them from garage sales?) Fancy flavored butter is good, but fancy flavored butter shaped like a goblet will blow your guests away.

Bonnie Downing

I read that as "goddess," and was going to type, "make me a little jello goddess, please!" But.
So, make me a little jello goblet, please?


I've never tried piping soft butter in a pastry bag, but I could probably sculpt a little goddess for you. Let's see what we can do.

Princess Slayer

Post pics, please. I want to see piped fertility goddess boobs.


What can I put in compound butter that's blue? Because I have a fine set of Smurf molds dying to shape butter.


Blueberry puree (but just a touch!) and some brown sugar. Then build a village out of stacked muffins for your butter Smurfs to melt on.


I had smurf molds when I was a kid! The ones for making clay figurines. I was JUST wishing aloud for those molds one day a few weeks ago, which caused a little bit of confusion. I said "I wish I still had my smurf molds" and my friend was like "But what do you make with them?" and I was like "SMURFS!!!" and he was like "But what do you use the molds for?" and I was like "TO MAKE SMURFS!" Eventually I explained the kit in more detail, but it took a few tries for him to figure out WTF I was talking about.


Know what compound butter is good on? A fucking steak
[leaves computer, hides under desk]


…from the fucking grocery on the fucking corner.

Bonnie Downing

I believe that piece specifically requested that we not speak of compound butter. Oops.


This is The Hairpin! I'm going to let my compound butter flag fly!

Bonnie Downing

We do things fancy here, like ladies do!


Screw Balk, I like fancy stuff on my steak, like butter. And Bearnaise. And Lea & Perrins.


A trick I got from Mark Bittman's "How To Cook Everything", while letting the steak sit for a few minutes before eating (THAT'S how you keep the juices in apparently), drizzle it with olive oil and lemon juice. Thats how they do it in Tuscany, and I like to tell myself that the olive oil and lemon juice make this a healthier way to eat steak ( I know this isn't how these things work, but it makes for a tasty steak).

Princess Slayer

JAM BUTTERS, also: http://sunday-suppers.com/?p=1293


holy shit I am making that right this second!


Stupid nitpicky comment but make sure you zest your lemon before you cut and squeeze it - I've grated my knuckles many a time trying to zest lemon quarters because I'm an idiot.

I LOVE Earth Balance. I would never admit this in real life, but I kind of prefer it to butter. Not kind of. Actually.

Bonnie Downing

I've zested my knuckles this way too, time and again. Now that you have spelled it out so cause and effect, I hope to remember not to do that next time.

Jillsy Sloper

Cheap brunch trick! Cook scrambled eggs in compound butter, and serve them on toast spread with more compound butter.

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