During grilling season, everyone talks about spice rubs, marinades and barbecue sauces. But there is another less-discussed and even quicker way to add flavor to grilled foods: compound butter.
Compound butter is butter that has been flavored with herbs, spices or other tasty ingredients. It couldn't be easier to make. Soften butter on the countertop, mash it together with the flavorings of your choice and some sea salt, if desired, roll it into a log and wrap in plastic or wax paper, and refrigerate for up to three days (or freeze for a month or longer) until needed. Let it soften a little so it's easy to slice before using.
Let's face it: There aren't many foods that aren't improved when bathed in a little melted butter. To perfectly dress a grilled rib-eye steak or thinly pounded chicken breasts, let the meat rest for five minutes before topping with pats of compound butter with lemon and herbs. Chipotle-lime butter is great on grilled corn. Grilled shrimp get an incredible flavor boost from anchovy butter.
When using compound butter, you don't have to limit yourself to grilled foods. Toss blanched green beans with some toasted sliced almonds and smoked paprika butter. Or pair steamed or boiled new potatoes with Parmesan, garlic and parsley butter.
I would rather add my own sea salt to unsalted butter than begin with salted butter, for several reasons. Salt is a preservative, and salted butter is allowed to stay on the supermarket shelves for weeks or even months longer than unsalted butter. For the freshest result, it's better to buy unsalted butter, then add salt at home.
When you add your own salt, you can choose any salt you like (in my rotation are Maldon sea salt from England, French fleur de sel and my new favorite, Amagansett Sea Salt, harvested in the Hamptons).
The texture of your butter will depend on the salt you choose. Maldon, with its thin flakes, adds a distinctive crunch. Amagansett Sea Salt adds a subtler texture. Fleur de sel has such fine, moist crystals that it will melt right into the butter as soon as it is added.
How much salt you add to butter will depend on the type of salt you use (crystal shape and size determine saltiness) and your taste. I like a teaspoon of fine sea salt in my savory compound butters.
Compound butter isn't just for dinner. Sweet versions with honey and cinnamon are delicious on pancakes and waffles. Or place a pat of maple-blueberry compound butter on top of a steaming bowl of steel-cut oats.