Monday, May 6, 2013

Preserving the Flavors of Spring: Ramp Compound Butter Recipe

Making herb-infused butter is a centuries-old practice. In the days before refrigeration, hot-houses and airplanes to bring us food from across the globe, butter was used to preserve the flavors, medicinal benefits and nutrition of vegetables and herbs.

Today, it's a great way to preserve the fleeting flavor of ramps, which are only found for a few short weeks in the spring, in only a very small area of our planet, and which--so far--have not been cultivated.
Ramps: at one time the first green available after  long
winters; the flavor captures the essence of spring.

Herbed butters, called compound butters, are a favored tool of chefs, restaurants & gourmands. In fact, the most famous compound butter is called "Butter à la Maître d’Hôtel" because it was a secret ingredient hotels used in their food to entice the wealthy to keep coming back for more.

A little dollop is wonderful on steak, steamed or broiled with fish, under the skin of chicken or turkey, or just spread on toast. Over time, the rich, herbal flavors completely saturate the butter, which, when melted, seeps into every crevice of meat or flake of fish, to really infuse the taste and aroma.

Ramp Compound Butter
The following is for 1lb of butter (4 sticks), feel free to half or quarter the recipe. The proportions aren't exact, if you have a few fewer ramp leaves than you need, the result will still be delicious. 

1lb salted butter (4 sticks), completely softened
1 1/2 cups minced ramp leaves, approximately 4 cups of packed whole leaves *
Kosher salt (optional)
Zest of 2 lemons (optional) **
All mixed up in the food processor
  1. Mince the ramp leaves, a food processor is ideal for this purpose, but a fine mincing will do as well. The sizes don't need to be completely uniform, a few larger pieces will be attractive in the finished product.
  2. The butter should be softened enough to easily indent. Cut each stick into pieces about 1" long.
  3. Working in batches, whip the butter with a stand mixer (with a paddle), a food processor, or by hand.  After each stick is whipped, mix in about 1/4 of the minced ramps, a generous sprinkle of kosher salt, and 1/4 of the lemon zest (if using).
  4. Once all your butter, ramps, and seasonings are incorporated, spread out narrow strips of plastic wrap. On each strip, put a small portion of the butter, about 2 tablespoons. 
  5. Roll the plastic up around the butter, creating little "logs". Wrap the plastic ends over the logs. Store all your butter logs in a freezer bag, in the freezer. Remove a single, pre-portioned log, as needed. Alternatively, you can make several larger logs, wrapped in parchment paper, and stored in large freezer bags. Slice off individual portions as needed.
  6. Butter will keep in the freezer for a year. 
Individually wrapped and ready to freeze
* Sustainably harvesting ramps calls for never using the bulb, unless you are sure you are the only person harvesting, and you are taking less than 5% of the bulbs each year. But you wouldn't want to use the bulbs here anyway, the leaves are superior in this instance. 

** Lemon zest is a traditional ingredient of "Butter à la Maître d’Hôtel", and it adds a brightness to the finished product. Because the ramps are so flavorful on their own, it's completely optional here. 

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