Hot Mess: Butter is Better

When it comes to butter, that delicious oblong block of pale yellow cream, we have been graced with another Morgan Freeman- an ingredient that can really make a difference in flavor, texture, and technique. It’s not just for toast, my friends.  Butter, with its amazing chemistry, has the ability to completely transform even the most lackluster of foods. Used correctly, it can crisp breads, sweeten vegetables, thicken sauces, and create the most delicious frosting you’ve ever tasted. But, even at its simplest, butter just makes things taste good.  It’s cream and salt; what dish wouldn’t benefit from that?

Now before we get too far along, I just need to say one thing.  Margarine is NOT butter.  Unless it’s for allergies or veganism, margarine is NEVER okay; it should never be used; it should never be in your fridge; it should never be near your toast. Well, that’s my opinion anyway.

There is no true substitute for sweet cream butter.  It is a product unique in the way that although it adds salt and cream to foods, it also adds sweetness and mellowness.  For example, if you’re making a sauce and you think it tastes a little too sweet or spicy or bitter, adding a few pats of butter can smooth out the flavors and reduce their intensity.

Though commonly used to thicken (or mount) sauces in higher end cooking, butter is also great for thinning out mixtures without changing the texture.  In the famous recipe of Puppy Chow, butter is added to the chocolate and peanut butter mixture to create a more pourable consistency.  Just try making it without butter; you end up with a goopy mess.

Photo by Jasmine McNenny

My favorite thing to do with butter, however, is to fry things.  Pretty much everything tastes amazing fried in butter, but true to the classics, I prefer fried bread, most notably, fried peanut butter and jelly.

Photo by Jasmine McNenny

So some of you may be wrinkling your nose in disgust, while others wonder exactly how frying a simple PB&J is even remotely fit for a foodie.  Let me attempt to explain.  A fried PB&J is nothing more than making a grilled cheese, of course with a different filling.  When heated, the peanut butter and jelly melt into each other in a hot, sticky, salty/sweet symphony.  The butter beautifully crisps the outside of the bread while adding another mild layer of salt and a much needed layer of richness.  Ever since this discovery, I’ve been frying the bread for almost all my favorite sandwiches- from egg, to chicken salad, to hamburger.

But my most happy butter discovery came when I was fishing through the pantry, looking for something sweet to eat.  What I found was half a package of Maria cookies, open, and stale beyond consumption.  Maria cookies are a type of crunchy, graham cracker-flavored cookie that I first tried in Spain.   (You can find them at certain grocery stores in the international aisle.  I found mine at Bueler’s.)  Sadly, upon finding them again, it appeared as if they would have to be thrown away.  But not willing to give up so easily, I heated a frying pan, threw in a tablespoon of butter, and fried up the cookies on both sides.

Photo by Jasmine McNenny

I must admit, it was better than eating them fresh.  Butter does something to the cookie that changes its texture to something reminiscent of a buttery pie crust.  The staleness was gone and replaced with a decadent caramelized exterior.  Ever since then, I’ve been trying to find ways to use these fried cookies.  I used them to garnish ice cream sundaes, topped them with roasted bananas, and munched on them along with fruit-flavored tea.

Oh, butter!  Those rectangular prisms of sweet cream and salt are nothing short of magical.  Whether it’s actually part of a recipe or just a nice addition, I use butter ever day of my life.  And in case there’s any confusion, I always consider it worth the calories.