Beurre noir [bur nwoir], beurre noisette [bur nwoi-ZET] and brown butter: These are related terms for brown butter and are sometimes used interchangeably. Beurre noir means black butter and often designates a sauce made with brown butter, lemon juice, capers and parsley (in effect a delicate vinaigrette, often served over lean, white, sautéed fish). Beurre noir should never be cooked until it actually turns black. Beurre noisette, or brown butter, refers to butter cooked till the butter solids brown, and the butter develops a nutty aroma and flavor (thus it’s name, hazelnut). The trick with making a brown butter sauce is to recognize the right color and aroma, then to stop the cooking by adding the acid which cools the hot butter fat. Brown butter is a versatile preparation, whether as a beurre noir or meuniere sauce, or as a kind of seasoning for vegetables, pasta, potatoes or sweet preparations such as custards and cakes.
From The Elements of Cooking, my book containing a thousand essential (opinionated) cook’s terms.
Photo by Donna T. Ruhlman
Brown butter is one of the great ingredients quietly hiding in your refrigerator. With its nutty, caramel flavors, it enriches everything from savory pastas to legumes to soups to sweet cakes and ice cream. Virtually anything to which you add butter can be made more complex and intriguing by the addition of brown. I’m posting about brown butter here after reading a brown butter post in Alex Talbot’s excellent blog (he makes a brown butter and corn ice cream). Talbot links to this post in a blog by Michael Laiskonis, pastry chef of Le Bernardin, who gives recipes for financiers (cakes flavored with brown butter), a butter cream flavored with only the solids, and a chocolate-brown-butter ganache. Cory Barrett, pastry chef of Lola here in Cleveland, figured out a way to increase the amount of solids the butter yielded by adding milk powder (the solids are where all the flavors are). Michel Richard in his most recent book uses strained brown butter in his potato puree for decadent delicious mashed potatoes. Suvir Saran, a chef and owner of the excellent Indian restaurant in Manhattan Devi, told me how his mother used to make a sweet treat of the solids strained from the butter when she prepared ghee (Suvir’s got an excellent new book out, btw, American Masala, Indian cooking in his American kitchen).
There’s no end to the uses of brown butter and it’s available to anyone with a stick of butter and a pan. Simply cook butter over medium high heat; after the water cooks off, the temperature of the fat can rise high enough to brown the solids; remember that the fat gets hot and stays hot and will keep cooking the solids even after you take it off the heat, so be careful not to take it too far or the solids will burn and become bitter. Transferring it to a bowl can speed the cooling process. The main image above shows the golden brown hue of the fat and a very fine sediment of browned butter solids.