This is a tribute to butter, eggs, cream and cured pork fat. We are told all the time that you need to stay away from these ingredients to be healthy and happy. As much as we try not to use them, they really are devilish, and you have to face them dead-on. I do buy and embrace them in my pantry, and they are always lurking in the back of the fridge.
If you cook for a long time, whether as a home cook or a professional, your cooking evolves. The way you eat, your lifestyle and your understanding of your craft are constantly in flux. Throughout this evolution, you are always looking for ingredients that drive flavor and take a dish from good to great. These four items especially have so much impact in dishes; without them, foods are not the same. The challenge is to understand when and where to use them and not to be afraid to do so.
I am not going to preach the health benefits for not eating them in your food-you have pop culture, your doctor and the grocery aisle to tell you that. I am going to give a few of my favorites dishes that rely on these ingredients.
The first is a heavy hitter where all three take center stage: classical sauces such as the Hollandaise family and some certain fish sauces, especially with Dover Sole. I just cooked my version of Sole Verornique-a perfect delice of the sole, poached al a minute, alongside the sauce built up from the poaching liquid and the perfectly peeled grapes. I cooked this dish the first time 35 years ago in culinary school, and it is still awesome and luxurious. Fish Veloute finished with a liaison of egg yolks and heavy cream finished with a big beurre monte to take it over the top.
The other dish that has become a family favorite when eaten with appropriate portion size is Spaghetti Carbonara: spaghetti tossed with raw eggs, cooked pancetta and parmesan cheese. Some chefs like to add cream, but the fat and richness from the egg yolk that is folded into the hot pasta as it is served is simplicity itself but hard to perfect. The cream is the crutch, albeit a good one.
The quintessential dish-yes, I am going there-is chowder. No decent New Englander will accept a bowl without the bacon and the finish of half and half or light cream. Don’t forget the butter used to make a good roux. If you look into the history of chowder, the thickening agent was not flour and butter but soaked hardtack that was found on most sailing ships. They also always had cured ham or pork for the journey. Some of the best chowders and braised fish I have had are always light and finished with butterfat from cream or even beurre manie.
My journey hasn’t been on the high seas, but the travels I have had always led me back to dishes where, on occasion, you feed your happiness with rich, luxurious food.
Butter is a simple staple, but some vary widely in taste, so be careful in what you choose. Do a taste test. Taste it at room temperature on a piece of unsalted Italian bread. Note: Cold butter does not belong on bread. Here are a Couple of Choices:
There are a couple of choices here; there are some beers that have a slight diacetyl nuance associated with the flavor of buttered popcorn but generally not preferred to the average beer drinker. So something crisp and refreshing to cut through the fat and richness. Try a nice Kölsch; both of these are nationally rank beers from the US.