Let there be butter

butter sizzling

Over on my GenevaLunch blog, I've written about the wonderful taste and smell of Swiss butter. If you have a chance to come here please make an effort to try some, and if you can, melt some in a hot pan.

Butter is almost subversive these days. It's okay to soak your bread in olive oil or declare an eccentric fondness for exotic fats like goose fat and bear fat, but butter just tends to be The Worst Fat For You and that's that. Maybe only bacon fat has a lower status. But you know...butter, really good butter, has a life transforming aroma and taste. When I was sick as a child, I would develop a peculiar craving for my mother's butter rice - just leftover rice that was sautéed in butter until it turned slightly crispy, and seasoned with salt and pepper. The smell of sizzling butter can still make me feel better now.

Good butter has a fresh, milky and very slightly acidic smell and is a pale cream in color. If it is overly yellow, it probably has some coloring added to it. I prefer unsalted butter, which can turn rancid much faster than salted, forcing you to use it before its time has passed.

I remember my parents periodically enjoying something called raisin butter in the '70s and early '80s, before butter became evil. This was a log of chilled butter mixed with raisins, sliced into rounds, and enjoyed on a cracker. The kids were only allowed one or two of these butter-laden crackers. Ah, the innocent days.

Gone are the days when I would mindlessly slather soft butter over a slice of hot toast, watching it sink into the crispy brown surface; or when I could put pats and pats of butter on top of a stack of steaming pancakes until the melting goodness would run down the sides. With an eye firmly on my midsection and all those health warning about 'bad fats' in mind, my butter consumption has dropped drastically in the last few years. It's healthier olive oil and such that I turn to for everyday cooking, trendy foodie that I am.

Still, there is something so seductive about butter. The creamy texture when it's still solid. The, well, buttery taste. The nutty aroma when it's sizzling and turning a bit brown in the pan. Even though even the most local-organic-pure-special butter is not that expensive, in a lot of ways butter has become a real luxury item, something we can only afford to enjoy sparingly. When I do choose to indulge, it's worth every calorie and saturated-fat point or whatever.

Oh, and I absolutely refuse to use margarine in recipes that call for butter. Don't even get me started about the inferiority of margerine in so many ways, starting with that awful taste. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, my ass. Only if your taste buds are dead.

Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy butter. How about yours?

  • On hot toast or a piece of freshly baked bread
  • For cooking a proper omelette
  • In proper puff pastry
  • On hot pasta, with some freshly grated Parmesan and lavish amounts of black pepper
  • Spread on a delicate tea sandwich, such as a cucumber sandwich
  • For cooking a rösti (Swiss crispy potato pancake)

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