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.
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:
- Heat a pan over medium-low heat.
- Add a tablespoon or two of water.
- Add cold butter in chunks, swirling it or whisking it continuously until all your butter is melted—a stick, a pound, four pounds.
- 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.
If you liked this post on Butter Is a Vegetable, check out these other links:
- My post and rant on Food Fascism.
- Digginfood is a blog written by Willi Galloway, and she shares her passion for gardening and food with others.
- Roasted Cauliflower is one of Emilia’s favorite recipes from Twenty.
- Dan Barber’s talk at Harvard on Molecular Differences Between Production Methods, which also features Harold McGee.
© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.