Monday, April 04, 2011

Butter makes it better.

Mackeral à la maître d’hôtel, as we found out in Friday’s post, has been a popular dish for a very long time. ‘The great authority’ mentioned in the post, the famous gourmand Grimod de la Reynière, was born in 1758 (died 1837), and à la maître d’hôtel was already a classic way of serving fish during his writing and eating lifetime. A dish served à la maître d’hôtel traditionally means that it is served with a ‘sauce’ of maître d’hôtel butter, which we discussed in a previous blog post (here). The other ‘compound’ or flavoured butter with a long history, but which is more familiar to most of us is garlic butter, which we have also met in a previous post (here). Compound butters are amongst the standard sauces of classic cuisine, yet we have hardly given them due reverence here to date, so methinks it is time to remedy that situation.

My ‘go to’ book on this topic is Charles Herman Senn’s Book of Sauces (Chicago, 1915). He gives no less than sixteen savoury versions of compound butters. Naturally he includes the very classic Ravigote Butter. In a previous post we learned that the name comes ‘from the French verb ravigoter, meaning to cheer or revive. This ability supposedly comes from the four herbs it traditionally contained - tarragon, chervil, chives, and burnet - which together had the reputation for being restorative.’ There are several ‘sauces’ named this way, including a vinaigrette type and one with a velouté base. Today I give you Senn’s version of the compound butter.

Ravigote, or Green Herb Butter.
Ingredients: 1½ ozs. chervil, 2 ozs. spinach, 1½ ozs. of green chives, 1 oz of tarragon, ½ oz. of parsley, 3 or 4 shallots, 6 ½ ozs. of butter, pepper and salt.
Method: Wash and pick the chervil, spinach, green chives, tarragon, and parsley. Put it in a sauce-pan with water and blanch. Drain well and pound in a mortar. Peel 3 or 4 shallots, chop finely, cook them in a little butter until of a golden color, and put with the herbs; work in 6 ozs. of butter, rub through a fine sieve, add a little pepper and salt, and spinach greening if necessary. The butter is then ready for use.

Amongst the classic butters Senn also gives recipes for several other interesting combinations. This one caught my fancy, because I cant resist anything with an Anglo-Indian twist.

Chutney Butter (Beurre à la Madras)
Ingredients: Four ounces of Mango chutney, 1 tablespoonful of French mustard, 6 to 8 ounces of fresh butter, and lemon juice. Method:
Pound the chutney in a mortar, add the French mustard, add work in the fresh butter, season to taste, and add a few drops of lemon juice. Rub through a hair sieve, place it on the ice, and use as required.

If you scale that recipe down, it is the perfect way to use up that last spoonful of any chutney lurking in the bottom of a jar in the depths of your refrigerator!

Quotation for the Day.

It was the sort of poverty of conception, reproached by some foreigner to English cookery, that we had but one sauce, and that that sauce was melted butter.
W. Windham Speeches Parl. (1812)

No comments: