"Butter Is a Vegetable" month: making beurre monté. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

I’d like to declare July as “Butter Is a Vegetable” month. We live in an era where our food is being legislated against, so before anyone takes away my freedom to eat as much goddam butter as I want, I’d like to make sure it’s defined clearly, and in a way that makes it difficult for the Supreme Court to shut down or California to outlaw (“Will you look at the awful way they’re treating that cream! They’re churning it to death! No more butter! No more butter!”). Thus my campaign to define butter as the vegetable it is. Dan Barber recently wrote in an excellent Wall Street Journal opinion piece that even vegetables take their toll on the earth, drawing up valuable nutrients that they store and give to us, the eaters  (“there is no guilt-free diet,” he concludes). Where does that energy come from? The sun.

Michael Pollan has noted that grass-fed beef is a sustainable form of raising beef because they are taking what grows freely, grass that is fed by the energy of the sun.

Harold McGee has a lovely opening passage on the egg in his monumental work, On Food and Cooking: “The yolk is a stock pile of fuel obtained by the hen from seeds and leaves, which are in turn a stockpile of the sun’s radiant energy. . . . An egg is the sun’s light refracted into life.” He also has a lovely turn of phrase comparing the yellow orb in the sky to the yellow orb at the center of an egg, but Monday morning is not a time for lovely turns of phrase, it is a time for serious thinking and clear definitions, dammit.

Because butter comes from cows—we all realize this of course, I hope, but apparently, many of our young do not—and cows live on grass, grass that is simply transformed into milk from which we get butter, butter is essentially grass refracted through a cow, and therefore should be considered a vegetable. Corn is a kind of grass as well, so even dairy cows fed on corn produce that lovely vegetable we spread on toast in the morning and slather our pasta with in the evening. And don’t feel bad when that summer corn comes around—all you’re doing is slathering it with more of itself. As I like to say, “It’s all one thing.” There’s yet to be a category of food labeled “sun,” though there should be. And more, the sun diet.

That’s a great idea! I’m copyrighting this right here. It’s going to be called Michael Ruhlman’s The Sun Diet, wherein we can only eat foods whose energy is derived from the sun (shopping will be easy, the hard part will be that you have to cook it yourself).

To introduce July as “Butter Is a Vegetable” month, I’m offering here the great all-purpose technique in vegetable cookery, Beurre Monté.

Making beurre monté.

It’s a technique that allows you to melt butter without breaking it, keeping it emulsified while liquefying it. It’s a common one in restaurants and I first wrote about it in the French Laundry Cookbook (“The Workhorse Sauce”) and then again in Ruhlman’s Twenty, where I butter-poach shrimp and then use that shrimp-flavored butter to enrich grits, for awesome shrimp and grits (recipe here).

But there’s no end to what you can do with this vegetable when you transform it into beurre monté.

How to make beurre monté:

  1. Heat a pan over medium-low heat.
  2. Add a tablespoon or two of water.
  3. Add cold butter in chunks, swirling it or whisking it continuously until all your butter is melted—a stick, a pound, four pounds.
  4. Remove from the heat and cover. It will keep this way for hours until you’re ready to use it.

Enrich sauces with it, brush it on corn, poach shellfish. Great basting base for chicken. Anyone else? Please tell us how you put the remarkable vegetable called butter to use.


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© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


45 Wonderful responses to “Butter Is a Vegetable”

  • Pavlov

    Amen Michael… For those who aren’t of the mixed vegetable bent… you may consider this liquid vegetable as a digestif for corn on the cob. Being a liquid vegetable would also have it’s advantages in the layered shot department… I recommend two parts steamed clams dunked in broth then set in a shot glass, top this with one part beurre monte…after five or six of these “Beurre Palourde” and five or six martini’s… You’re sure to be less bloated and weighed down than with an “old fashioned” vegetable meal….and the hilarity ensues. Happy Butter Is A Vegetable Month To All!!!

  • Mantonat

    I had a nice vegetarian breakfast yesterday of blueberry pancakes. Butter goes into the batter, slathers the griddle, and tops the finished pancakes. Call it “butter 3 ways!” Really it’s just having butter for breakfast with a flour and egg to convey it to your mouth.

    • Pavlov

      When you think about it…toast, muffins, croissants, pancakes, crepes, waffles and biscuits are really just breakfast fat/sugar conveyors….

  • Bricktop Polford

    Ahhh, butter. My true love. Yeah, I may flirt with olive oil sometimes, but nothing will ever replace you in my heart. And arteries.

    • Mantonat

      The good news is that butter from grass-fed cows has a more balanced ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids than most vegetable oils, so evidently does no more to contribute to atherosclerosis than using other “healthy” oils. It’s the reliance on chemical-fertilizer grown corn as a feed that pushes bad cholesterol through the food chain. I think Michael has said it here before, but eating cholesterol doesn’t lead to high cholesterol and eating fat doesn’t make you fat. It’s a combination of sedentary lifestyle, genetics, and reliance on processed foods (where extremely high amounts of sugar, salt, and artificially produced trans-fats can hide) that eventually lead to high blood pressure, erratic blood sugar levels, and eventual heart disease.

      • Elaine DiRico

        There are several good brands of pasture fed butter that are easy to find. Kerrygold is always pastured and Organic Valley has a seasonal butter that is labeled ‘pastured. This is important, not only because of the fat profile, but because the variety that the cows eat gives them a great range of minerals and fat soluble vitamins as well, that we can assimilate because they are served in fat. Plus the little dears are out there day after day harvesting Vitamin D for us (a fat soluble vitamin). And ultimately, I can eat an almost infinite amount of healthy vegetables with butter.
        The irony of the moral battle for vegetarians is the devastation caused by mono-cropping grains. Plowing destroys nests, burrows, shelters and habitats for all manner of wildlife, as does the subsequent combining and spraying. It has cost our country much of our topsoil, and arable acreage. Hard to imagine that an occasional pig slaughtered is more destructive than that.

  • Carly

    Well, I certainly don’t need anyone to give me a reason to eat butter (though, with all apologies to corn, I do like grass-fed dairy myself).

    Thanks for the link to the Dan Barber piece; I guess I missed that one. Interesting read. I wouldn’t mind if we collectively moved on from evoking the self-righteous vegetarian as a device, though. Sanctimoniousness abounds on all sides, and I think it always pretty much comes from the same place, no matter the details of how it expresses itself.

    • Jennifer Sanborn

      Thanks, Carly, for your points on the vegetarian device. I’m sure we’ve all met a few people who fit “sanctimonious fill-in-the-blank”, selves included. Opinions are fine, even great. We don’t always need to bash an opposing view just to make ours look better. There are other ways to sell a message.

  • Dean

    Michael. Bravo. Anything to reestablish butter on an equal footing with olive oil is a worthy endeavor. Both make everything better.

  • carrie

    I was making dinner last night for my kids, pan-roasting fresh corn from the cob and sauteeing some green onions in butter for a quesadilla, and thinking about how wonderful butter is and how vegans are missing out (I have two good friends who are vegan). I wonder if this new definition would sway them? 😉

  • DiggingDogFarm

    I don’t think that “vegetables” will be immune to the collectivist stupidity. There are already efforts to control seed. When they totally control the food, they’ll control everything!

  • Jessica

    The flavour of butter varies greatly depending on where and on what the cows graze. In Germany and Switzerland (and other countries around the Alps) have a neat herbal flavour to butter, cream and milk yielded. The flavour profiles are distinctive enough to hold a butter tasting event. The butter section in grocery stores in Italy and France are amazing in their range.

  • Joe

    Poaching lobster in beurre monte tomorrow, a la Thomas Keller. Saving the lobster-flavored butter for hollandaise over eggs the next day.

  • Mike

    Funny, I just read this technique in Twenty the other day. I haven’t had time to make this yet.

    One thing – offhand and without going back to look, is this fundamentally different than a beurre blanc other than this starts with water instead of a reduced flavored vinegar?

  • Nick

    Am I also a vegetable if since I often eat things that are powered by the sun? I’m just grass refracted through a cow refracted through a human. Please don’t eat me…

  • julie

    Since according to a recent post, you consider chicken stock to be a vegetable, this comes as no surprise. I realize that you’re trying to be tongue-in-cheek here, but do you know anything about nutrition?

    • Dean

      I’m sure Mr. R can stuck for himself, but… having read his books and articles, it’s pretty clear his focus is on eating well and that includes a wide variety of foods. He doesn’t claim to be a nutritionist, just someone who loves food and writes really well about it. Frankly, his regular advocacy of having the family together to eat a home cooked meal may be one of the healthiest suggestions I’ve read lately.

    • Mantonat

      You really wonder if Ruhlman knows anything about nutrition? Obviously you missed his recent post about tequila. Between that and today’s love letter to butter, he’s covered two of the major food groups!

  • Carolyn Z

    Ruhlman is a food writer, not a nutritionist. For those of us with high cholesterol and triglycerides, butter is a treat best enjoyed in moderation. I admire the fact that many of you can eat things high in animal fats whenever you please. I enjoy reading this blog and take what he writes with a grain of salt. (But that is another topic.) This is his opinion, and he welcomes the conversation as it says above. You are welcome to state how you feel here as will others.

  • Betty

    It’s worth seeking out pasture butter this time of year.

  • FJ

    I would love some of that liquid vegetable on a piece of sourdough bread w/foie gras and a big gulp. Oh wait, strike the foie gas I am in California.

  • martin

    For all those butter and fat knocker out there, the french have been eating it for centuries and have very low per capita of heart disease and high cholesterol, all in moderation i say,
    Cheers Mike

  • Saads12

    I use butter all the time in my cooking, in moderation. It adds oomph to my pelau, my stew chicken, my pasta sauces and so good for basting on shrimp and other meats. Who needs table spreads that are two molecules away from being a plastic? And it completes pancakes. Need I say more?

  • DJK

    As a nation, we are revoltingly obese, and it’s a little disgusting to hear people treat that state of being as a God-given right.

    Your second sentence feels a bit closer to Sarah Palin downing a stick of fried butter at a state fair (U-S-A! U-S-A!) than “there is nothing wrong with butter as a part of a reasonably healthy diet” or “obesity is a significant problem, but the manner in which legislators often approach this problem is wrongheaded” or any number of other reasonable responses that would seem to me to be more in line with what this blog usually represents.

    • Mantonat

      Statistically speaking, your statement about “revolting obesity” may have a grain of truth. The number of Americans considered “obese” has gone up 214% since 1950, according to readily available statistics. Oddly enough though, the consumption of butter has decreased almost as drastically in the same time period – dropping from almost 10lbs per capita per year in 1950 to under 5lbs currently. I’d say Ruhlman is on to something.

      • DJK

        That seems indicative to me of the role processed foods have likely played in our increased obesity.

        I’m just not sure “let’s double our butter intake” is a great fix, though. 😉

        • Mantonat

          Although, if we cut out all the processed fats like margarine and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil hiding in processed foods, we could significantly up our intake of good-quality pastured butter with no ill effects. Our body converts most of the saturated fat in butter to monounsaturated fat.

    • Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People

      How about this for wrong-headed: Real butter is good for us. We should eat more of it, and less margarine and vegetable and seed oils.

      The agencies charged with regulating food are completely in bed with the grain growers. It’s a reasonable fear that more legislation will be passed that further distorts the food economy in favor of grains and away from meat, dairy and vegetables.

  • Steve-Anna

    I, for one, treat butter as a primary food group. So, why not treat it as a vegetable?

    Since we are all perfectly imperfect, and butter is fine for some and verboten for others, I cannot help but recall “the butter scene” from the film, The Women. In the scene, Mary Haines (Meg Ryan’s seemingly perfect character), is having her own emotional Beurre Monté (aka meltdown). Finding not a scrap of junk food in her nutritionally pristine pantry, she grabs a stick of butter, dunks it in a can of cocoa and gobbles it down, much to the astonishment of her housekeeper (played by Cloris Leachman).

    It was a cinematic moment that seemed perfectly unbelievable, and believable, at the same time ; )

  • Harry

    I do like me some butter but this post had me wondering, is it April Fool’s aready?

  • Tags

    According to Eugene Walter’s Hints & Pinches (under “Butter”), “in Indian mythology, the Salmala is a river of butter which winds about the globe.”

    Under “Holly” it also says, “in many parts of Northern France, where holly proliferates and reaches greater heights than elsewhere, the young stems are gathered, dried, and bruised and served with great success as fodder for cattle through the winter. The resulting milk is considered particularly healthful, and butter made of it of an especial excellence.”

  • Kevin Locke

    According to my neice when she was about 4 years old, butter is actually a main course, and toast is just a plate you use to serve it on.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    I am going to take another view on this considering that food is directly related to our Health. I am going to play Devil’s Advocate with regards to the Health Care System that you Americans will soon benefit from and us, Canadians already have.

    …and I am going to say Michael that this statement could be true if the ramifications of such a thought weren’t so bad. Butter is a Food to be eaten in limits; something your suggestion does not reflect.

    I truly believe had Canada realized in the wake of the birth of Medicare, that food is directly related to Health and had they begun the steps to make us Canadians a healthier people, our Medicare system would work. Our Medicare system does not work and is close to going Bankrupt.

    Now, of course, legislating and taxing food is a very touchy subject and I won’t go there; but it is a great idea to get the children when they are young to learn about healthy eating and to reduce obesity.

    Yes, here in Canada a heart transplant is free; but if you break your arm an average wait time to get that fixed is 8 hours or more. It impossible, in Montreal, to get a G.P, so we wind up going to clinics where each time you see a Doctor it is a different doctor. We had an exodus of Doctors when the Government had no choice but to put a ceiling on what a Doctor can earn. Our system is and was going Bankrupt. Then our Doctors became part-time.

    Michael Moore did not tell the real story.

    As much as I love to eat; as much as food is a part of our culture; if the Americans are to get a Medical System where each and every person gets affordable Health care then it is vital for those in Food to understand the ramifications to that one particular area of Life as well as the other areas where Food is vital to Life.

    Keep in mind this is from a Montrealer; I know Toronto suffers much the same as we do. In the past year there have been numerous Doctors opting out of Medicare due to a loop hole in the law. Now I will pay 1200 for an MRI needed to detect cancer rather than wait the 6 months for one at the hospital.

    However…a friend’s daughter born a bad Diabetic had a Pancreas Transplant many years ago where the Doctor flew to Quebec City to harvest and bring the Pancreas at 3 in the morning when she was beeped and the transplant occurred that night – not one cent out of pocket. For those of us, sadly so sick, Medicare is truly working. The Gastric Bypass Surgery for Obesity has a five year waitlist on Medicare – had our Country known then, how much Food would become a factor in Medicare the way your Government is; perhaps our waitlist would be 6 months long.

    Yes, I know this is a whole other discussion; and yet it involves at its heart FOOD.

  • Jessica

    Chefs drizzle (olive) oils over just about everything and they do it in a way that makes drizzle look like a stream. Oils, although good for you in many ways, are 100 per cent fat whereas butter usually is around 80 grams per 100 grams. If you read food blogs for its nutritional information, you are bound to be disappointed.
    I forego anything labeled low-fat (or that has any fat modication added to it), ie. I keep to butter.
    I’m myself over-weight. I know exactly what I’m doing to keep it that way; I drink regular soda.

  • Tim

    some of you people really need to go back to the Huffington Post…

  • Craig

    Not to take away from the post, as I’ll be using the beurre monté with shallots & sage over sautéd chicken breasts this afternoon… but if butter is a vegetable because it’s grass refracted through cows… isn’t cow sh*t a vegetable too? Wouldn’t want that showing up in my supermarket!


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