Julia Child famously said, “If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream.” We’re not afraid of butter. It sees a lot of action in our kitchen, if in moderate amounts. Sometimes, it’s just a pat added to oil in a pan to give something a little buttery goodness.
So compound butters already have something going for them in my book because, well, they contain butter. Simply put, compound butters are butter with something added for flavor. Those herb butters that come with dinner rolls in some restaurants are an example.
Often, though, compound butters are used as finishing sauces for fish, meats or vegetables, a dollop placed on the still hot food just before serving, melting into and onto it as we eat. The herbs, aromatics and other seasonings team with the butter’s richness to elevate almost any dish. The French are of course masters at compound butters (or beurres composés). Beurre à la bourguignonne is a classic – and classically simple. Butter, garlic and parsley are mashed together to form a paste. Among other dishes, this beurre composé is used with escargot.
There are countless variations on compound butter, another thing I like about them. You can chop up just about any combination of herbs and perhaps an aromatic (chives, garlic, shallots and scallions are all good bets) and mash them into room temperature butter. Add spices, if you like, and a little salt. Some recipes also include lemon juice or lime juice. You then re-chill the butter, forming it into a log, if you like.
For this recipe, I took a slightly spicy direction. Jalapeño pepper provided the heat. (Only a little, as it happened – have you noticed that jalapeños are all over the place in terms of heat? The recipe below calls for removing the seeds and ribs; if you think your pepper isn’t going to be very hot, leave some in.) For the other flavors, I took my cue from La Cocina, a Mexican storefront restaurant in our neighborhood. When we order taco dinners there, they always ask if we want them topped Mexican style (cilantro and onion) or American style (tomato and cheese). We always choose Mexican. I substituted shallot for the onion to give it a little hint of garlic without adding garlic and having it overpower the other flavors.
Cook the steaks however you choose. I seasoned strip steaks with salt and pepper and pan-seared them to medium rare, but grilling them would make them deliciously smoky.
Cilantro Jalapeño Compound Butter
Makes 4 to 6 servings
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed
2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot
2 tablespoons (packed) chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cut butter into chunks and place in a bowl. Bring to room temperature (if you’re a little impatient, and the butter’s still a little stiff, that’s OK). Mix the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl (this will help distribute their flavors more evenly throughout the butter). Add the cilantro jalapeño mixture to the butter and mash with a fork until thoroughly combined. The lime juice won’t completely mix into the butter, but that’s okay.
Form the compound butter roughly into a ball or log shape in the bowl with the fork and transfer it to a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap the compound butter in the plastic wrap, shaping it into a log. Place the wrapped compound butter in a bowl and refrigerate (the bowl will catch any stubborn lime juice that escapes from the plastic wrap). Chill for at least a few hours to let the butter re-harden and the flavors swap around. You can make your compound butter a day or more ahead from when you want to use it.
Remove the compound butter from the fridge while the steaks are cooking. When you plate the steaks, top them with a slice of the butter. Serve.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Pan Seared Lamb Chops with Lemon Caper Sage Butter