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?

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