Have you ever heard of compound butter? It might sound fancy and maybe even complicated, but I promise that it’s neither. (If it was, I certainly wouldn’t be making it!) Compound butter, which is basically flavored butter, is not only simple to make, but it’s pretty magical stuff, adding unbelievable flavor wherever it goes. In fact, it’s among the easiest ways for home cooks to achieve restaurant taste, which is why we want you to know how to make it for yourself.
Related: How to roast garlic in 4 easy steps, and 5 delicious ways to use it.
What is compound butter?
As I already mentioned, compound butter is butter with flavorful stuff mixed into it. That’s it: I wasn’t over simplifying or pulling you in only to reveal unexpected details. Add some chopped herbs, spices, maybe zest or a little citrus juice, or even some minced garlic—whatever you like, really—and you’ve got compound butter.
The most well-known version is beurre maître d’hôtel, a classic French recipe flavored with parsley and lemon. Beurre maître d’hôtel is a great place to start and incredibly versatile, but the beauty of compound butter is all the different flavor combinations that you can create. So while we’ll make the basic version together here, I want you to promise to experiment. Make this version once or twice, then go crazy. Have fun!
Why should I make compound butter?
Though it may sound great, I know that you’re wondering why you should bother making the stuff. After all, do we busy home cooks—who are cooking partly (mostly?) for children—really need beurre maître d’hôtel (said in my worse French accent)? Yes, we do.
Not only does compound butter add way more to your cooking than the time it takes to put together, it can also be made ahead of time and provides a great shortcut for many recipes. Slather it on bread to dress a loaf up as the main (no cook!) carb for a quick meal. Melt it onto quickly steamed veggies (that perhaps you zapped one-two-three in the microwave; corn, brussels sprouts, and asparagus are my favorite). Throw a pat on top of quickly broiled, grilled, or sautéed steak, fish, or chicken. So much faster than making a sauce.
And that’s just for everyday use. Compound butter is also great to have on hand for special meals. It makes for a great secret ingredient in recipes like biscuits and mashed potatoes, and makes a divine roast chicken or turkey tucked under the skin before cooking.
Related: How to preserve herbs: 5 quick and easy methods to avoid food waste and save money.
How to make compound butter. It’s easy!
Again, we’re going to walk through the steps for making beurre maître d’hôtel, but feel free to switch things up as you wish. For this classic version, we’ll need cold butter, fresh parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Place the butter in a bowl and add chopped parsley, a bit of lemon juice, a few pinches of salt, and pepper. I prefer using unsalted butter so that I can completely control the level of salt, but if you’re using salted butter, omit the added pinch at this point. You can taste later and decide if you’d like to add more.
Use a fork to break the butter into large chunks, and then smash it to evenly mix together all of the ingredients.
Once all the butter and ingredients are well combined, form the mixture into a log. Yes, your hands will get messy. Yes, it is worth it.
Place the log of compound butter onto a piece of parchment paper. Fold the parchment over the butter and roll it back and forth to smooth it out. Then, roll the paper up, twist the edges like a candy wrapper, and toss the whole glorious package into the fridge to give the butter time to harden again.
Once it has, remove it from the refrigerator, slice, and cook or serve. Store leftovers—if there are any—in the fridge for up to three weeks.
Makes about 8 tablespoons (1 stick) flavored butter
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter (you can substitute salted butter)
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice
Extra flavor: For liquids like lemon or lime juice, use 1 teaspoon. If using garlic, use 1-2 fresh cloves, finely minced
A few pinches of freshly ground black pepper
A few pinches of salt (skip if using salted butter)
1. Place the cold butter in a bowl. Break up into large chunks with a fork.
2. Add all the other ingredients. Using the fork, mix and mash everything together well.
3. Once the butter and other ingredients are well combined, use your hands to form the mixture into a log .
4. Place the log of compound butter onto a piece of parchment paper. Fold the paper over the log and roll it between the paper to even it out. Roll the butter up completely in the parchment paper, twisting the ends like a candy wrapper. Refrigerate immediately; store in the fridge until ready to use.
Two other compound butter variations:
- Cilantro-Lime Compound Butter: For 8 tablespoons butter, add the zest of one small lime, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, a few pinches of salt and pepper.
- Garlic-Herb Compound Butter: For 8 tablespoons butter, add 1 finely minced clove of fresh garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons of your favorite herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme, sage, chives; either alone or in any combination you like), a few pinches of salt and pepper.