Compound butter is butter which has been mixed with a seasoning to make it more flavorful. It is often served with steak, seafood, and vegetables as an alternative to a sauce or to add zest to the meal, and it comes in both savory and sweet varieties. Although some stores sell compound butter, it is also very easy to make at home. Using compound butter at a dinner party or event can make the food feel more sophisticated, and it requires very little effort. Cream cheese can also be flavored in the same way, with cream cheese and fresh herbs being a classic spread for bagels and breads.
To make compound butter, butter is allowed to soften at room temperature and then ingredients are stirred in. The finished butter is put back into refrigeration to cool, and some cooks make it into a log or block for easy slicing. It can also be formed into balls or other shapes and chilled so that it will make an attractive garnish. The imagination is the only limit on fillings for compound butter. Typically, unsalted butter is used, with cooks adding salt to taste.
When cooked ingredients such as roasted garlic are used, they should be allowed to completely cool. Mixing warm ingredients into the butter could cause it to separate, rendering the compound butter useless. Fresh ingredients like herbs may also be quickly blanched to reduce the possibility of bacterial contamination, but they should be allowed to cool and dry before use. As a general rule, the compound butter should be used within a few days once it is made, or frozen for up to one month. Using an acid like lemon in the compound butter will also help to preserve it.
Savory compound butter can be spread on bread, served alongside meats, or tossed with vegetables, pasta, and anything else the cook might imagine. Some ingredients one could use in savory compound butter include cilantro, parsley, chilies, paprika, lime, lemon, dill, garlic, anchovies, mustard, dried mushrooms, a red wine and shallot reduction, tarragon, thyme, and other fresh herbs. Lemon and dill butter pairs charmingly with many fish dishes, while tarragon compound butter is a classic French garnish.
Sweet compound butters can be spread on baked goods such as morning toast, scones, or biscuits. Honey, maple, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves can be used in these butters. Some cooks also like to bake these butters into things like cinnamon rolls and sweet breads, as the infused butter will make the overall dish more sweet and flavorful.