What is Brown Butter?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Brown Butter

 Kristina Vanni

Brown butter, or beurre noisette, is a sauce classically used in French cuisine, where it’s paired with both savory and sweet dishes. In French, the name translates to hazelnut butter which is indicative of its nutty, toasted flavor and aroma. The single ingredient in brown butter is unsalted butter, so the key to success is all about the right tools technique. After all, there’s a fine line between brown butter and burnt butter, so although many recipes can be improvised, this one requires careful attention.

How to Make Brown Butter

Butter is a composite of milk solids and milk fat, the former of which settles on the bottom of the pan when butter is melted. As a result, the milk solids begin to cook and brown, giving the sauce its characteristic color and flavor. Although it is a common cooking technique, many end up burning the butter due to its low smoke point. That said, let's talk about the method.

We recommend using a shallow and stainless steel pan as it allows you to more accurately monitor your butter and its color while it cooks. Heat the butter over medium-high heat, While it melts, you’ll notice it begins to foam. Stir or swirl the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. Then, as the foam begins to reduce, stir your butter at a near-constant pace because from this point on, it’s really starting to brown and therefore, be at risk of burning. When your butter takes on a caramel hue and smells toasty, it’s ready to be removed from the burner and poured into a heatproof bowl.

What Does Brown Butter Taste Like?

Many compare brown butter to toffee, tasting slightly toasted and sweet. It certainly has a greater depth of flavor than typical butter and you can define precisely how browned you like your brown butter. That said, it should never taste burnt. If you do accidentally burn your batch, you can salvage it by running the butter through a coffee filter, which will help strain out many of the burnt bits.

Brown Butter v. Clarified Butter v. Ghee

If you’re familiar with the concept of clarified butter, then you’ve likely realized just how similar it is to brown butter. That said, they are not the same. The process for creating clarified and brown butter both begin by melting butter, though as the milk fat separates from the milk solids, the two diverge. Clarified butter reserves just the butterfat, meaning the milk solids are excluded and the end product is dairy-free.

Ghee was originally used in Indian kitchens, though it's now popular in many countries. Imagine it as a hybrid between brown butter and clarified butter, where the butter is melted and its milk solids are toasted. Though instead of including these toasted bits, they're strained out, resulting in a nutty-tasting butterfat.

Varieties of Brown Butter

We briefly mentioned you can tailor just how brown your brown butter is, which is true. But there are some relevant differences in how each variety is typically used. A golden-brown butter pairs well with roasted vegetables or in recipes that may be easily overpowered by a more intense brown butter. A chestnut-brown butter is popular poured over fish and pasta dishes, where it’s often fortified with herbs like sage or tarragon. Lastly, dark-brown butter is an excellent foil to the sweetness of baked goods, like an apple galette or chocolate chip cookies.

Recipes

Brown butter is lovely alongside both savory and sweet dishes, including:

Where to Buy

Brown butter is not commonly seen on market shelves and when it is, it will likely cost you a pretty penny. Specialty or gourmet food stores are more likely to carry prepared brown butter, and of course, the internet solves all access woes. But, if you are deterred by either of these two options, stroll on over to your market’s refrigerated section and simply pick up a stick of unsalted butter, aka, the brown butter starter kit. If you’re undecided on whether to buy brown butter or make it, try purchasing one first as a taste test so you know how brown butter should taste or what you would do differently when making your own batch.

Storage

When the dairy from butter is either removed (clarified butter) or toasted (brown butter) your product is more resistant to spoilage. When it comes to brown butter, you can safely store it in a covered jar in the fridge for at least two weeks. Though if you’re ever in doubt, simply give it a whiff. If it smells sour or vastly different from the original aroma it had when it came off the stovetop, consider it expired. That said, brown butter also stores well in an airtight container in the freezer for up to three months, so if you know you won’t be using yours for some time, it's better to freeze it.