Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

Blended Bacon Butter (& Friends)

One of the first techniques we learned in cooking school was for making compound butter. It's essentially just butter that's softened, blended with something flavorful, reformed and re-chilled for serving.

Compound butters are so decadent and so easy — though they never fail to impress guests when you make the effort — and yet, they're one of those delicious details I invariably forget about.

Bread & Butter
Why bread and butter when you could be eating a better butter?

Here's three recipes for compound butters — each supremely simple and very tasty. You'll notice the method is the same for each, so once you've made one or two, you can kind of go crazy and add in just about anything you like.

The Bacon Butter is divine on grilled vegetables (try it on your corn-on-the-cob), the Herb Butter is great sliced and slipped under the skin of a chicken you're about to roast, the Anchovy Butter especially loves steaks and broiled fish... and (surprise!) all three are delicious spread across the surface of a fresh baguette. Or maybe even a hot biscuit. Mmm...
Blended Bacon Butter
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup crisp bacon, finely crumbled (or proscuitto or serrano ham, minced)
1/4 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)

1. Blend the butter in a bowl with the bacon or minced proscuitto/serrano (a wooden spoon works well for this).
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the butter into a tight log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week. If you won't use it that day, wrap well (or seal in a freezer bag) or freeze for up to 3 months.

Zesty Herb Butter
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 Tbsp parsley, minced
1 Tbsp chives, minced
1/2 Tbsp tarragon, minced
1/2 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)

1. Blend the butter in a bowl with the garlic, herbs, zest and lemon juice (a wooden spoon works well for this).
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the butter into a tight log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week. If you won't use it that day, wrap well (or seal in a freezer bag) or freeze for up to 3 months.

Garlic Anchovy Butter
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter, softened
4 Anchovy fillets, minced
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 Tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)

1. Blend the butter in a bowl with the minced anchovies, garlic, zest and lemon juice (a wooden spoon works well for this).
2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Roll the butter into a tight log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week. If you won't use it that day, wrap well (or seal in a freezer bag) or freeze for up to 3 months.


Happy Eating!
Miss Ginsu

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8.14.2008

On Bread (and Butter) Alone

Butter is butter is butter, right? Sweet cream butters are all made with cream (from cows) that's been whipped into a frenzied state in which the fats glob together and the water falls away. So it should all pretty much taste like butter, yes? Well... yes and no, actually.

After reading a piece on Endless Simmer, in which Brendan goes crazy for Kerrygold, I really wanted to know whether I'd be able to detect appreciable differences between butter brands... particularly the "higher end" brands (read: imported).

So, before the wimpy dollar dropped any further against the powerful Euro, I biked to my local Key Food (Greenpoint, Brooklyn). I knew they carried lots of crazy European brands.

Bread and Butter

Are there differences? You betcha. I can say (or type, rather) this with conviction now, because I just tested nine different butters in rapid succession.

Taking one in the gut (ow!) and another one in the wallet (oh!) for scientific research, I'm publishing my results for you, dear reader.

The Method

Just so you know a little bit about the process here... I made every attempt to purchase the sweet cream/unsalted butter varieties for maximum flavor range. (I'd hoped to use Plugra, a "European-style" US brand as the tenth contestant, but the only type on hand was salted, unfortunately.)

I'm listing the lineup in the random order in which they were sampled. Super-thin slices of a "French" loaf were used as sample-carriers and sparkling mineral water was the palate-cleanser. (And just in case you were wondering, "Yes... I do feel ill now. Thanks for asking.")

The Lineup

9 Butters

1. Lurpak
Weight/Price: (8oz/277g) $3.99
Origin: Denmark
Color: Pale white-yellow
Sweet and creamy with long-lasting pleasant flavor that lingers in the mouth.
Score: B

2. Spomlek
Weight/Price: (7.05oz/200g) $2.99
Origin: Poland
Color: Pale yellow
Creamy. Buttery. Nothing distinguished.
Score: C

3. Delitia (Parmigiano-Reggiano Butter)
Weight/Price: (8oz) $4.99
Origin: Italy
Color: Pale white-yellow
This is a funkier butter flavor. Is it possible it's not as creamy?
Score: B-

4. Mantuanella Farmstead Butter
Weight/Price: (200g) $5.99
Origin: Italy
Color: Pale white-yellow
Again, this one has a funky-farmy flavor. For some reason, I like it slightly better than the Delitia. Maybe a little sweeter?
Score: B

5. Krowka Maslo Wiejskie from Lieberman Dairy
Weight/Price: (200g) $2.99
Origin: Pennsylvania, USA
Color: Pale white-yellow
With a flavor that's fresh, sweet and creamy, I have sudden visions of buttercups for no apparent reason. Not sure if I like this one more than others because it's whipped, so there's a little extra air in it? Maybe it's actually fresher because it's from PA? Whatever the case, I like it.
Score: A-

6. Celles Sur Belle
Weight/Price: (8.82oz/250g) $4.99
Origin: Poitou-Charentes, France
Color: Pale white-yellow
It's... buttery. But it tastes kind of flat. Nothing to write home about. Maybe it's old?
Score: C

7. Elle & Vire
Weight/Price: (200g) $3.99
Origin: France
Color: Pale white-yellow
Wow! Yum! This butter tastes sweet and fresh with crazy high notes that make it taste... lively. I was just wondering if I was experiencing butter fatigue, but WOW! I want to eat the whole packet. I'm a little shocked.
Score: A

8. Land O' Lakes
Weight/Price: (16oz, 453g) $4.29
Origin: USA
Color: Pale white-yellow
Ah, the butter of my youth. It's fine. It tastes pretty flat, actually.
Score: C

9. Kerrygold
Weight/Price: (8oz/227g) $2.50
Origin: Ireland
Color: Yellow
This tastes like it could be a good, creamy butter, but they put salt in it (is that just for the ones they stamp "Imported"?) so most of what I'm tasting is salt. I'm actually pretty disappointed.
Score: C+

The Summary

I know people go crazy for European butters, but some of those brands just don't seem like they're worth the money or the hype, particularly with the dollar in the doldrums these days.

Land O' Lakes is the best dollar value among these samples and it's probably fine for baking. The Pennsylvania brand, Krowka, made a surprisingly strong showing. And I don't know what kind of crack they're putting in the Elle & Vire brand (maybe I just got a very fresh batch?) but I like it. A lot.

I suspect that freshness has a lot to do with quality, so I'd bet that any butter tasted at the source is going to be simply delightful.

Yours in food exploration,

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4.03.2008

Eat This Now: Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums. Look for 'em next time you're at the farmer's market.

Quiz your Great Aunt Bea to see if she sprays hers for pesticides and, if not, plot a midnight raid on her flowerbeds.

Prime your window-box or fire escape flowerpot now... there's still time for a late-summer harvest.

Nasturtiums are wholly edible — flowers, stems, leaves, flowerbuds and seeds — and they add a peppery kick to salads, sandwiches, cream cheese and compound butters.

Infuse some in your favorite white wine vinegar to lend your winter days a touch of color and cheer.

Praise their beauty. Appreciate their vigor. Devour them whole in front of an astounded six-year-old and grin devilishly.

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7.01.2005

Dear Miss Ginsu: Why All the Different Salts?

Dear Miss Ginsu,

I'm confused. What's the difference between sea salt, kosher salt and iodized salt? Are any of these salts better for a salt-reduced diet? And why do some recipes have unsalted butter?

— Brine on the Brain

Dear Briny,

That's a lot of questions! Let's number them as we go along...

1. What's the difference between all the salts on the market?

All three are variations on the same compound: sodium chloride. The difference between these salts is found in the flavor (from trace minerals) and the crystal size (from the manufacturing method).

The salt we use in kitchens comes in in several crystal sizes, from very fine (almost powdery salt used for popcorn); to fine-grain or granulated salt (like table salt); kosher salt (flaky, larger crystals); and coarse (the crystal size you see on pretzels). There's also rock salt, but that's only really used for making homemade ice cream and thawing your sidewalk, as far as I know.

Iodized salt is generally a table salt, which has a small crystal size that's meant to slip out of your shaker with ease. When compared directly with non-iodized salt, iodized salt will have a slightly bitter taste. It also makes your pickles go dark if you're doing cucumber pickling. Iodine was included for reasons of public health and not for culinary artistry, and that's why the top chefs never use iodized salt.

Chefs sometimes use sea salt because it has additional minerals that give it subtle flavors (and sometimes pretty pastel colors). These other minerals tag along when the salt is harvested from the saltflats in one of a handful of exotic areas around the globe. The very expensive sea salts should only be used as a sprinkled garnish, because the delicate flavors would be overpowered in most dishes.

For everyday kitchen use, I find that chefs generally prefer kosher salt, which has larger, flake-like crystals that make it easy to pinch, measure and sprinkle in a dish.

As a side note, you shouldn't measure out table salt (iodized or not) in a dish that calls for kosher salt. Because kosher salt crystals are larger, you'll use too much salt in the recipe if you substitute table salt.

Table salt's very small crystals actually fit together tighter in the teaspoon than kosher crystals, which leave some space. So you end up salting more than you'd reckoned on, and the dish can be too salty.

In short, it's most efficient to use a table salt (iodized or not) in your shaker, kosher salt for cooking, salting meats, etc., and sea salt for extra-fancy garnish.

2. Are any of these salts better for a salt-reduced diet?

Technically, no. But you might end up using less salt in a dish if you're using kosher salt, because it's easier to control.

Those "lite salt" mixtures are usually potassium chloride mixed with the standard sodium chloride. I personally feel that fresh herbs and spices, vinegars and citrus juices are better flavoring options for salt-restricted diets.

3. Why do some recipes have unsalted butter?

Again, that's about controlling the flavor of a dish. If you're using unsalted butter, you're responsible for how much salt you want to add, not Land o'Lakes or Hotel Bar.

Long ago, salt was added to butter as a preservative, but thanks to modern shipping and refrigeration, that's not generally necessary these days.

Incidentally, the salt level in a stick of butter varies from one dairy to another, so it's difficult to put a firm teaspoon amount on how much salt you're getting in a stick.

Hope that helps!

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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3.20.2005