Butter up your July 4 holiday with these delicious recipes

Given the brouhaha surrounding Paula Deen the last few days, this probably isn't the best time to be jumping on the butter bandwagon.

No other food is more closely identified with the recently defrocked Ms. Deen than God's gift to dairy. And no one has enjoyed its creamy goodness with more abandon than the Savannah celebrity chef/restaurateur, who slathered it on and in just about everything imaginable. (She'll never live down her recipe for deep-fried butter balls, nor should she.) She loves the stuff so much, that earlier this month the former Food Network star even came out with her own line of flavored butters for ya'll. They're sold at Wal-Mart.

I say she's going to need them, now that her career is toast.

But still . . .

If you don't go crazy, nothing perks up a slice of bread or piece of steak -- or anything you might throw on the grill, for that matter -- like a pat or coin of butter. And if you take time to mash in a few spices or herbs before you spread it on? It comes even more alive with flavor. What was just merely good suddenly seems gourmet.

Called "compound butter" in professional kitchens, a flavored butter is simply that -- butter flavored with some herbs, spices, garlic or a host of other ingredients. Savory or sweet, as a topping, spread or sauce, the possibilities are practically endless. You're limited only by your imagination and what you've got in the fridge, garden or pantry.

Even better for busy or beginning cooks, flavored butters are exceedingly easy. All you need is a fork or spoon, or maybe a blender, to mash the softened butter and flavorings together. That, and a piece of parchment or waxed paper, plastic wrap or foil in which to shape it into a log. And it's just as easy to stuff the mixture into a crock or bowl, especially if you're going to use it right away.

"Flavored butters are culinary magic," Lucy Vaserfirer writes in the just-released "Flavored Butters: How to Make Them, Shape Them, and Use Them as Spread, Toppings, and Sauces" (Harvard Common, $12.95). "With little more time or effort than it takes to wave a wand, memorable meals materialize . . . . Learn how to make flavored butter, and you'll be a wizard in the kitchen, conjuring up gourmet meals in minutes."

The Washington state writer adds that if you stash a couple flavors in the fridge or freezer (where it will keep for several weeks), you'll be able to "pull amazing dinners out of a hat -- even on weeknights."

I'm testament to that. Most of the recipes that follow took me 30 minutes or less to prepare, and all left enough flavored butters in the bowl for one or several more meals. For days, I've been eating the Red Pepper Butter that the Food Network's Michael Chiarello created for a roasted corn recipe in his excellent cookbook, "Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors" (my favorite grilling cookbook this year). I've eaten the stuff on toast, melted it over veggies, tossed it with pasta; it's that good.

All of the many grilling cookbooks that have landed on my desk in the past few months have included at least a few flavored butter recipes, and several had more. Bon Appetit's "The Grilling Book" counted 18 sweet and savory butters to dress up steaks, fish, seafood and even waffles and pancakes. Enough, that you'll have a tough time choosing.

Because butter comes from an animal, it contains higher amounts of saturated fat than the margarine (or oleo, as my mom used to call it) I grew up on. So keep your inner Paula in check when you put it on the table. As with Brylcreem, a little dab will do ya.

In her book, Ms. Vaserfirer suggests always starting with unsalted butter, not only because it allows you to control the amount of sodium that ends up in the final product (manufacturers differ on the amount) but also because it has the "freshest, sweetest flavor." She also recommends buying spices whole, instead of ground, and toasting and grinding them yourself to add a big boost of flavor. But certainly don't feel you have to.

Go ahead: Butter up.

Salmon-Buttered Halibut Steaks

PG tested

Fish-flavored butter on top of grilled fish sounds like overkill to this infrequent fish eater. But it works. The salmon's delicately smoky taste pairs beautifully with the clean, mild flavor of the halibut. We used a big halibut fillet cut into pieces.

If halibut is a little dear for your pocketbook (it's $23.99 a pound at Giant Eagle) substitute bass or cod.

  • 6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter

  • 3 ounces cold-smoked salmon, minced

  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds 1-inch thick halibut steaks (I used a fillet)

  • Extra-virgin olive oil

  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt

  • Capers or caper berries, for garnish

In a small skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and add salmon. With the back of a fork, mash salmon until nearly dissolved in the butter. Stir in lemon zest and juice. (The butter can be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated or kept frozen for several weeks. Reheat it before proceeding.)

Cut around the center bone of the halibut steak to make 4 medallions. Coat lightly with oil and sprinkle with salt. Let it sit, covered, at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, fire up the grill, bringing the temperature to medium-high (3 seconds with the hand test). Oil the cooking grate.

Transfer halibut to grate and grill, uncovered, turning once, until opaque throughout, 8 to 10 minutes. Rotate half turn once on each side. Don't touch or move the fish except when it's time to turn or rotate, because getting a good sear where the fish touches the grate is essential to prevent sticking. If there is any resistance when you turn the fish, re-oil the grate.

Serve the halibut hot, topped with the smoked salmon butter and a scattering of capers.

-- Adapted from "100 Grilling Recipes You Can't Live Without" by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common, April 2013, $16.95)

Roasted Corn on the Cob with Red Pepper Butter

PG tested

This garlicky compound butter was the runaway winner of the many we sampled, and not just on roasted corn. It's terrific on pasta, steak or grilled summer squash or simply spread on bread, toasted or otherwise. We ate lots this butter on top of sliced ciabatta. Store leftovers tightly wrapped in the freezer.

  • 3 medium red bell peppers, roasted

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic

  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus more for serving

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (cut into large chunks), at room temperature

  • 8 ears fresh corn

Make roasted red pepper butter: Peel the roasted peppers, discarding skin, seeds and ribs. Coarsely chop and set them aside.

Heat olive oil in small saute pan over high heat. When oil is hot, add garlic and decrease heat to medium-high. Saute just until garlic begins to show some color, about 2 minutes. Take pan off heat and stir in oregano. Set pan aside to cool.

In food processor or large blender, combine peppers, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth. Pour in olive oil with garlic and oregano and pulse to blend. Add softened butter and process until mixture is smooth with a consistent color.

Transfer butter to a bowl and refrigerate until it's hardened enough to shape into a log, about 30 minutes. Place an 18-inch sheet of aluminum foil on a work surface, and spoon butter lengthwise down the center of foil. Shape into a log about 11/2 inches in diameter and wrap tightly in foil. Refrigerate for 1 week or freeze up to 1 month.

For corn: Fill bucket with cold water. Pull corn silk from ears without tearing off the husks, discard silk, and smooth husks back over the corn. Soak the silk-less corn in their husks for at least 30 minutes.

Start your gas grill and set it to medium-high. With charcoal or over a campfire, it's best to roast the corn over a fire that is starting to burn down, about half an hour after the coals are at their hottest.

When grill is at medium heat -- when you can hold your hand about 5 inches above the grill rack for 4 to 5 seconds -- then put the corn on the grill. Grill until husks look brown and slightly charred, about 10 to 12 minutes. Take 1 ear off fire and test to see if it's done.

Pull half the husks from each ear of corn, slather on some red pepper butter, season with salt and pepper and serve corn while it's hot. If you have a crowd, put out a few crocks of butter and let everyone spread as much of it on their corn as they like.

Serves 8.

-- "Michael Chiarello's Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors" by Michael Chiarello (Chronicle, May 2013, $35)

Grilled Pineapple Wedges with Rum Butter and Toasted Coconut

PG tested

The original recipe calls for a garnish of toasted coconut, but my kids wouldn't hear of it. So we enjoyed it nude. I tossed the leftovers (cubed) into quinoa salad.

A ripe pineapple gives slightly when you press the base and lower sides, and smells sweet.

  • 6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 tablespoons dark or spiced rum

  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons packed dark-brown sugar, divided

  • 3 tablespoons sweetened coconut flakes

  • 1 pineapple, peeled, cut lengthwise into 8 spears, core removed

  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine butter, rum and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Beat with a wooden spoon or mix with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until smooth and fluffy and the rum is completely incorporated.

In skillet over low heat, toast coconut, about 3 minutes. Watch it closely, as it can quickly burn. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Put pineapple spears in a nonreactive baking dish just large enough to hold them. Combine remaining 2 teaspoons brown sugar, salt and pepper and season the pineapple evenly with the sugar and spices. Allow pineapple to stand at room temperature for 1 hour, brushing the liquid released from fruit over the spears once or twice.

Prepare grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees).

Grill spears over direct medium heat, with lid closed, until nicely marked, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice. Remove and immediately spoon the rum butter over spears. Top with coconut and serve immediately.

-- "Weber's New Real Grilling" by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, April 2013, $24.95)

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Basil and Prosciutto Butter

PG tested

Nearly a week later, and my husband still hasn't shut up about this chicken, which he liked just as much cold as he did hot off the grill. This is not a dish you can place on the grill, shut the lid and walk away -- there will be flareups when the butter starts to melt. Definitely have a pair of tongs at the ready.

For butter

  • 1/2 cup ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 ounce prosciutto, finely chopped

  • 1 medium shallot, minced

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil leaves

  • 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For chicken

  • 8 chicken thighs (with bone and skin), each 5 to 6 ounces, trimmed of excess fat and skin

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Using a fork, combine the butter ingredients. Divide the seasoned butter into 8 equal portions.

Prepare the grill for indirect and direct cooking over medium-high heat.

Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Using your fingertips, gently loosen the skin of the thighs, being careful not to completely separate the skin from the meat. Lift skin up and place a portion of butter underneath. Smooth the skin over the butter and massage it gently to spread it evenly over the top of the meat. Season thighs on both sides with salt and pepper.

Grill thighs, skin side up first, over indirect medium-high heat, with the lid closed, until sizzling, slightly firm and lightly marked on the bottom, 18 to 20 minutes. Then turn the thighs over and cook over direct medium-high heat, with the lid closed, until the juices run clear, the skin is blistered and crisp, and the meat is no longer pink at the bone, 2 to 4 minutes more. If flare-ups occur (and they did frequently for me), move the thighs temporarily over indirect heat. Remove from grill and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Serves 4.

-- "Weber's New Real Grilling" by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, April 2013, $24.95)

Paprika-Parmesan Butter

PG tested

The original recipe pairs this with porterhouse steak, but it was quite delicious on ribeyes.

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons finely grated parmesan

  • 1 anchovy fillet packed in oil, drained and minced (I used 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste)

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Mash all ingredients in a small bowl until blended. This can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Return to room temperature before using.

Serve on warm steak.

-- "The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit" (Andrews McMeel, May 2013, $45)

Tomato-Herb Butter

PG tested

Drop a spoonful of this on grilled filet mignon. As it melts over the warm steak, it creates its own sauce. Yum!

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 2 tablespoons chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more as needed

  • Kosher salt

Blend butter, tomatoes, basil, garlic, rosemary, thyme and pepper in a medium bowl. Season with salt. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface. Transfer mixture and use plastic as your aid to form into 6-inch-log. Freeze until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 1 week.

Serve slices on warm steak.

-- "The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit" (Andrews McMeel, May 2013, $45)

Mint Butter

PG tested

This goes as well with lamb as it does with pasta and fresh vegetables (it's especially good on peas). If you leave out the garlic, it also can be dolloped onto sweets like scones.

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint

  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 1 garlic clove, grated

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Blend together butter, mint, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a medium bowl. Form into a log or pack into a small ramekin and refrigerate before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

-- "Flavored Butters" by Lucy Vaserfirer (Harvard Common, April 2013, $15.95)

Honey-Ancho Chile Butter

Drizzle leftovers on cornbread or roasted sweet potatoes. You can find ancho chiles at Reyna Foods in the Strip District.

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided

  • 1 tablespoon ground ancho chiles

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add chiles and cumin; stir 10 seconds. Transfer to medium bowl; whisk in honey and let cool 10 minutes. Add remaining butter, oregano, salt, garlic and onion powder to skillet. Whisk until smooth. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.

Serve with grilled corn or vegetables.

-- "The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit" (Andrews McMeel, May 2013, $45)

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay. First Published June 27, 2013 4:00 AM


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