By Cathy Erway
Before we get into the how, let’s talk about why you should make herbed butter. Herbs grow, a lot. It seems a shame not to enjoy their zingy, full flavors while they’re at their prime these hot months. Yes, you can dry out the leaves and use them all year, but this usually weakens or at least alters their flavor.
And I’m not saying don’t make tub after tub of pesto, but maybe your freezer is full of those already. You could even make a tincture, or try your hand at homemade perfume. But if you like to make bread, or serve it at dinner, then it’s fun to have a host of flavored butters on hand. And chopping up herbs, storing them in fat — butter — preserves their flavor, even stretches it, as it’ll permeate the whole glob.
Assuming you’re growing your own herbs now, you’ll be stuck with this predicament of having too much. And the “how” part of this is actually stupidly easy. Pick much any herb you really like, or the most prolific ones you’ve got. You can choose to make single-herb butters or mix and match and come up with blends.
Spend an agonizing few minutes getting all the tiny leaves off the stems of your thyme, for example. Relax and enjoy separating bigger leaves and spindles like those of the lovely lavender plant off the stem. Finely chop your herbs next, and try placing both hands on the top of your knife and guiding it up and down with the hand that’s on the handle like a seesaw. A fan-like pattern should appear on your cutting board. (Lifting the knife off the cutting board and hacking straight down seems to make these denser herbs fly across the counter.) Go back and forth until you’ve got nicely chopped, very fine bits. (Do we say “minced” for herbs? I would use the word only it seems like “mince” usually involves moisture. I’m not sure.)
While you’re doing this, let your butter sit out. Actually, let it sit at room temperature for a good fifteen minutes, if you’re using a one-pound block of butter. Use the best butter you can find; this could be organic, or from your favorite dairy farm. Here, I’ve used a block of Plugra European-style butter, because it’s so creamy (I don’t have any connection with Plugra, just saying). Also, I liked not having to unwrap four individual sticks. Be sure not to skip the sitting-out step and do something crazy like put the butter in the microwave, because any melting will break the emulsion and change the butter’s texture forever. Just wait it out, and don’t wait too too long, especially if you’re doing this in a hottter-than-room-temperature kitchen, which you probably are. The butter should be somewhat firm when you start to blend in the herbs, and definitely still opaque.
For roughly one quarter of a pound of butter, the size of one stick, use roughly two tablespoons of finely chopped herbs. But you can adjust the amount of herbs as to your own liking. Plop the butter in a bowl and sprinkle the chopped herbs right on. Now start cutting up the butter and letting the herbs fall into the crevices. I like to use an (appropriately named) butter knife for this because it doesn’t encourage as much smearing as a spatula, and hence possible melting. It should take all of a minute to somewhat “evenly” distribute the herbs around the entire quarter-pound. It doesn’t have to be that even, and of course, it never will be perfectly so.
Store it in an airtight container and enjoy as long as you want. You can be reminded of your garden in full summer bloom all year ’round now. And, you’ve also found a much better vessel for your butter — in a tightly sealed, airtight container in the fridge! Each time you open it, it should smell like newly clipped herbs.
Hint: drop a glob of this in the center of a hot bowl of soup.
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