Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The Herb Butter Is In The Fridge
Have you ever made food that was more ritual than recipe? The kind of food where you know you could take shortcuts, and get the exact same results, but you don't actually want to? The herb-infused butter for my Herb-Roasted Turkey (you'll see this one in full on Thursday!) fits the bill exactly. After the groceries come in, it's the first thing I make. A simple combination of finely-chopped thyme, parsley, and sage, the flavors and rich, green aromas intensify beautifully if made ahead and left in the fridge for a few days.
But as I said: ritual over recipe. The following provides a little insight into both the fine art of making a quality herb butter, and my occasional food-related delusions.
1) Get everything out of the fridge that you're going to need. Two sticks of butter, and a large bunch each of fresh thyme, flat-leaf parsley, sage. By the time you're done dismantling the herbs, the butter will have softened perfectly.
2) Dig around in your cupboards until you find the perfect metal bowl. The little bowl you see pictured above was lucky enough to have been chosen the first year I made this, and as such, I refuse to use anything else. It's a little too shallow for anything else, even scrambling a few eggs, so this butter is really the only reason I have kept the bowl with me through four moves.
3) Start with the thyme. After you rinse the thyme, pat it as dry as you can. I've even left it sitting out for a little while to dry properly -- it makes the later chopping much easier, and I try to avoid adding additional moisture to the finished product. But that's easy; picking these tiny leaves off of their stems is what takes the most time. I'm serious. I was picking leaves through The Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and an episode of Futurama. This is because I insist on picking the leaves off the stems individually, instead of just ripping them off all in one go, like a normal person might do, by pinching the top of the stem and pulling your fingers down along it. While I fully realize that getting bits of tiny, tender stem from the longer leaves totally wouldn't matter, I have decided that the extra, invisible ingredient into this butter is a couple of hours of unblinking attention and love. I have made matters worse for myself by also deciding that the tiniest leaves are the ones that taste the best, so I tend to take extra effort to get as many of them as I can. You should end up with a pile of leaves that looks like this (left: whole thyme, right: deconstructed thyme):
4) Now chop. It does help if you patted your thyme dry -- it stops the tiny leaves from sticking like mulch all over your knife.
5) Keep chopping. We want this extra-fine. It should look like coffee grounds...green ones.
6) Now for the parsley. Rinse, pat dry, as above. Again, I spend too much time picking the individual leaves of of the stems, but this only takes about five minutes, as the parsley leaves are approximately ten thousand times larger than a thyme leaf. Chop as above -- extra fine.
7) The sage is up. Repeat as before. While I generally try for the same volume of each herb, post-chop, I usually can't resist adding extra sage anyway.
8) Pop all of these into your perfect metal bowl. (See? Isn't it perfect? It's so shiny!)
9) Add about 1 tsp each of salt and fresh-ground black pepper, and drop in the two sticks of now marvelously softened butter. Mash everything together -- it's easiest if you use the back of a spoon against the side of the bowl. You'll be left with a glorious mound of perfect, verdant, marvelously-scented herb butter. Cover and store in the fridge until Thanksgiving, being sure to take it out and smell it a few times a day until then.
Of course, in this case I'm going to be using this butter with my turkey (and as a finisher for the gravy), but it works wonderfully in more day-to-day applications as well -- I bet a grilled cheese sandwich, buttered on the outside with this, would be spectacular.
For those of you unwilling to adhere strictly to the Doctrine of the Buttery Faith, the simple version is below. You could probably even do the chopping bit in a food processor, and have the whole thing knocked out in five minutes.
Adapted (as are many of my favorites) from Bon Appétit, November 2000, by way of epicurious.com.
2 sticks of softened butter
3 tbsp finely-chopped fresh thyme
3 tbsp finely-chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp finely-chopped fresh sage
1 tsp each salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Mix together in a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate.