How to brown butter and take your recipes to a toasty, nutty next level

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How to brown butter and take your recipes to a toasty, nutty next level
Those brown bits are the toasted milk solids in brown butter.JacobVanHouten/Getty Images
  • Brown butter is simply melted butter that has been gently cooked to a toasty golden brown.
  • This French technique uses the Maillard reaction to create nutty, savory flavors.
  • It can be used to add extra depth, richness, and dimension to any dish that calls for butter.

While many chefs and home cooks already extol the virtues of cooking with butter, it can actually be improved upon. We're talking about the toasty and delectable iteration known as brown butter.

"Brown butter is truly a wonder ingredient, and even when used in small amounts can have a huge impact on a dish," says chef, author, and Food Network Kitchen instructor Virginia Willis.

In classic French cooking, it's called "beurre noisette," in reference to its hue and hazelnutty flavor. It's made when butter is melted over low heat until much of its water content evaporates and the milk proteins brown.

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The result is a golden brown liquid that possesses a depth of flavor regular butter doesn't have, like toasty notes of caramel and toffee. "The resulting flavor is phenomenal and can magically transform nearly any dish, savory or sweet," says Willis.

You can substitute brown butter in nearly any recipe that calls for regular butter, from shortbread to mashed potatoes — brown butter is easy to whip up at home following a few quick steps.

Quick tip: "​​Better quality butter will make better brown butter," says Willis. She suggests opting for more flavorful, high-quality butter with high fat content. Good butter has a creamy, smooth texture and will often appear darker yellow in color, an indicator that the milk came from grass-fed cows.

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How to brown butter

How to brown butter and take your recipes to a toasty, nutty next level
Use a light-colored pan so you can see the color of the butter change.Candice Bell/Getty Images
  1. Cut up your desired amount of butter. One cup of butter will yield the same amount of browned butter. You can use any kind of butter, but unsalted butter is more versatile. Salted butter is better suited to savory applications.
  2. Put butter in a saucepan. For best results, use a light-colored, heavy-bottomed pan. A light-colored pan makes it easier to visually monitor the color of the butter as it starts to brown. Heavy-bottomed saucepans tend to ensure even heating.
  3. Melt butter over medium-high heat. Use this higher temperature to fully melt the butter so it is completely liquid and starts to boil. Keep the butter from burning by gently stirring with a wooden spoon to prevent hot spots.
  4. Reduce heat to a simmer. At this point, the butter will start to foam. Continue cooking and stirring, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any stuck-on bits. The butter will begin to darken, and the toasted milk solids will separate and sink. They'll look like brown flecks. This may take anywhere from five to seven minutes depending on how much butter you're browning.
  5. Remove from heat and use or store. Brown butter can be used immediately. If you opt to store, pour your finished butter — browned bits and all — into an airtight container and keep it in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for up to two weeks.

Important: Don't strain your finished brown butter. According to Willis, the flavor is in the browned milk solids, so use every last bit.

How to use brown butter

  • Pasta: Add a few fresh sage leaves to your butter while browning for a savory sauce that goes well with pumpkin gnocchi or butternut ravioli.
  • Vegetables: Drizzle brown butter over carrots or green beans for an upscale vegetable side dish.
  • Cookies: Use brown butter in place of plain butter for added richness, depth, and nuttiness.
  • Fish: Make a quick sauce for your favorite white fish using brown butter and a squeeze of lemon.
  • Popcorn: Toss popcorn in a bit of brown butter for an elevated snacking experience.

Insider's takeaway

Brown butter is a transformative ingredient that adds a unique, caramelized richness to a multitude of recipes. Made by gently cooking high-quality butter to a beautiful golden brown color, it is a simple technique that can be used in a variety of applications to give a recipe an extra boost of flavor and complexity. All you need is a saucepan, high-quality butter, and a few minutes to create this "liquid gold."

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