Everyone knows that during December we are granted the caloric equivalent of universal carbon credits when it comes to fatty foods. Egg nog, latkes, butter cookies, roast duck, and prime rib: all are permitted with not a moment's hesitation and the merest twinge of guilt.
So in the spirit of the season, let me share with you one of the dirty little secrets of the kitchen (especially French kitchens): brown butter. Amanda Gold of the San Francisco Chronicle, has an admirable essay on this rich (in more than one sense) enhancement for a surprisingly wide range of dishes, a primer on how to add flavor (and plenty of fat) to your dinner table.
One of the keys to brown butter lies in careful attention. As with browning garlic, there comes a magic moment when the flavor is at its peak, and beyond which burning begins, spoiling the whole enterprise. It is a veritable high wire act. You must wait for the optimum, carefully watching and smelling the butter as it cooks. And then, recognizing perfection as it appears, immediately stop. There is some sort of life lesson embodied in the process. Don't be greedy, going for more. Recognize the optimum and be satisfied with it. Experience counts.
Amanda's advice on making and storing your very own stock of briwn butter for the holidays.
To make brown butter: Cut up a pound of unsalted butter into small pieces, and put into a large, cold saucepan. Turn the burner to medium, and let the butter melt, swirling or stirring it occasionally. One pound of brown butter should take about 15-20 minutes to reach the right point. The butter will start to foam, and the milk solids will sink to the bottom before they turn brown, so keep an eye on it and stir frequently, so that it doesn't burn.
It's done when the mixture begins to turn golden and a release a nutty aroma. At this point, it will turn from golden to black very quickly (and black means bitter), so you'll want to transfer it immediately to your clean, shallow bowl, as it will keep cooking in the pan even after you take it off the heat. Let the butter cool down, then cover well and refrigerate.