Needless to say, this is not an elegant time that we're in. Sure, when it comes to cooking, there are plenty of people who are admirably seizing this as an opportunity to take on all sorts of full-blown projects (baguettes, soufflés, cassoulet, etc), but plenty of others are just trying to hold it together from one meal to the next.
This can mean a lot of super simple dishes, leftovers, canned food combos, and messy hodgepodges (we call them, very lovingly, "bowls of crap"). I have long argued that cooking regularly, from the realest ingredients you have access to, is something worth celebrating. "Fancy" has never been the goal.
Still, I won't deny that in these days of endless beans and sweatpants, it can be nice to throw together something that feels a little special. That's where brown butter comes in.
Under "normal" circumstances, we'd probably think of brown butter (made by, well, cooking butter until it's brown) as an elevated sauce for elevated occasions. Now, however, I'd like to make the case for it as a really easy way to turn the simplest possible dishes into pretty extraordinary ones.
No joke, spoon brown butter over pretty much anything and it automatically feels special: simply cooked fish or chicken, literally any steamed or roasted vegetable, tossed with noodles and Parmesan for a quick pasta (add a little chopped sage in there if you like), even stirred into some plain cooked or canned white beans with garlic. Or try this: cut some carrots in half lengthwise and roast them with salt and pepper and a little olive oil in a 400 degree oven until browned and cooked through. Find a big plate or platter and spread some thick yogurt (Greek or whatever) on the bottom. Pile the carrots on top and drizzle brown butter all over them. Throw some chopped parsley on there if you want. People go nuts for these. Why? The brown butter.
The recipe is below, and it's pretty simple. The one thing you're trying to avoid is burning it, which you can do by watching, and, even better, smelling (the smell of brown butter is one of the best in all of cooking, perhaps second only to garlic cooking in olive oil). You can also flavor it in the last minute or so of cooking, with things like chopped fresh herbs, nuts, anchovies, or mustard. And the recipe is also easy to double if you've got more ground to cover.
If you come up with any brilliant uses for this stuff, I'd love to hear about it (email me, or use #cookbitt on social). I have a feeling we might be at this for a little while, so new ideas are very much welcome.
Browning butter gives it both color and a full spectrum of nutty, caramelized flavors. It takes only a few minutes, and you can mix it up with all sorts of additions.