Two of the most common cooking questions I am asked are “what can I do with leftover fresh herbs?” and “how can I quickly dress up/add some pizazz to my everyday cooking?” Enter compound butter. It’s a great solution to both of those problems, and while there are plenty of other ways to prolong or use up various fresh herbs (variations on chimmichurri, anyone?) and to change things up when your meals feel mundane, compound butter is one of my favorites. It’s endlessly customizable and insanely easy to make: simply chop up your herbs or other add-ins and stir into softened butter. That’s it. Use wax paper to help roll it into a log, the same way you would with slice-and-bake cookie dough, label it, and keep it in the fridge or freezer. Any time you want to use some, simply unwrap it and slice off a coin, then wrap it back up and put it away. Don’t limit yourself to just herbs; spices, aromatics like shallots and green onions, fruits, citrus zest, and sweeteners are all great contenders to mix into your butter, and you can use them through any part of a meal, including breakfast and dessert.
The most common use for an herb compound butter is to finish a steak, a piece of chicken, or fish filet with it: once the meat is done and still piping hot, top with a coin of compound butter, then let it melt to create an instant sauce. Don’t stop there, though. Try cooking an egg over easy in compound butter (my current favorite for this is chive and summer savory compound butter). Use it to butter stale slices of crusty bread, then run it under the broiler to make large croutons for floating atop pureed vegetable soups. You can also use it to enrich or finish soups and sauces, or use it by itself to top a simple dish of pasta or grains. Try baking savory pastry and biscuits with it, or take things from savory to sweet and use a citrus zest compound butter or a chai spice compound butter to bake shortbread. Sweetened fruit compound butters are fantastic slathered on biscuits, muffins, and your morning toast. Not convinced yet? Try these:
Honey+cayenne+ salt to taste
Chives + summer savory+salt to taste
Garlic+basil+salt to taste
Lime zest+ancho chile powder+salt to taste
Thyme+parsley+pinch of salt
Garam masala+garlic+salt to taste
Lime zest+garlic+ginger+minced chiles+salt to taste
Mango+toasted coconut+lime zest+sugar
Strawberries+freshly cracked black peppercorns+sugar+very judicious amount of salt, to taste
Maple syrup+salt (enough salt for a good sweet/salty balance)
One last tip: Compound butter makes for a fantastic hostess gift, and it is especially suited for last-minute gift ideas. Even for Christmas, a few rolls of this stuff, packaged in something pretty with a nice label affixed to it, makes for a thoughtful yet inexpensive gift that most people will love.