Compound butter is a fancy name for butter that has been flavored with herbs, seasonings, acid, or any other flavorful and aromatic ingredient. In French it is beurre compose. To make a compound butter, the flavoring ingredients are chopped fine and then folded into room temperature butter until evenly distributed. The flavored butter may then be formed into a log using plastic wrap and chilled in the refrigerator. For busy restaurants or the busy home cook, the butter can be chilled, sealed in its plastic wrap, in an ice water bath. When firm it can be sliced into attractive discs and used to top all sorts of dishes, or portions can be used as the basis of a quick sauce. Alternatively, the compound butter can be served out of ramekins or other small vessels, or made into quenelles such as the image below depicts, using sage compound butter.
Depending on the flavoring ingredients, a slice of compound butter can be the perfect finishing touch to a grilled steak, fish, or chicken. Or, flavored butter can be used in place of regular butter to spread on sliced baguette or other bread. Typical ingredients are herbs like parsley, shallots, garlic, lemon or lime zest, salt, and pepper, but many other more exotic flavorings may be used, including truffles or even caviar. 1
A common type of compound butter is called Beurre Maître D’hotel. It is flavored with parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. This compound butter got its name because it was often created to order at table-side by the maître d’ at fancy hotels, along with other meal components such as sauces, salads, or desserts. It is so common that many cooks seem to conflate compound butter with Beurre Maître D’hotel, thinking that this is the French term for flavored butter, and it is true that it can be considered a basic compound butter starting point to which many different ingredients can be added, creating endless combinations. This basic and classic flavored butter is perfect on top of a grilled steak, fish, or as a spread on bread. It can also be used as a basic sauce base. If you have a compound butter at a nice steakhouse, it is probably buerre maitre d’ hotel, or a variation of it, so that “hotel butter” is also sometimes called steakhouse butter. A classic variation of this butter is beurre Colbert maître D’hotel, or Colbert butter, which includes melted meat glaze and chopped tarragon. 2 3
Here is a great post on compound butter with a lot of beautiful images. Also, the video below shows a Maître d’Hôtel Butter being created. Included is a very good demonstration of a technique for forming the butter into a nice tube shape, using plastic wrap. Wax paper can also be used but the result will probably not be as smooth. The flavored butter can then be firmed up in the fridge. How long the flavored butter will last in the fridge depends on the ingredients but this butter should be fine for at least a week or more. It can also be kept frozen for several months. However, be sure to seal it up very well. I would recommend leaving it in the plastic wrap and then adding an aluminum foil over-wrap, and placing this inside a quart freezer bag to help prevent freezer burn. Keep in mind that some ingredients don’t react well to freezing.
Other French Compound Butters
- beurre d’ail – made with equal parts blanced garlic and butter, passed through a seive.
- beurre d’amandes – almond butter
- beurre d’anchois – flavored with anchovies
- beurre d’ aveline (beurre de noisettes) – hazelnut butter
- beurre Bercy – chopped shallots, white wine, bone marrow, parsley, seasonings, and lemon juice (steak and chops!)
- beurre d’ caviar – caviar butter
- beurre d’echalotes – equal parts chopped shallots and butter
- beurre d’ crevetetes – Shrimp butter!
- beurre d’estragon – tarragon butter
- beurre moutarde – mustard butter
- Ruhlman, Michael. The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2007.
- Sinclair, Charles G., and Charles G. Sinclair. Dictionary of Food: International Food and Cooking Terms from A to Z. London: A. & C. Black, 2005.
- Culinary Central.” How to Make Maitre D’Hotel Butter. Le Cordon Bleu, 15 Nov. 2011. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://www.chefs.edu/Student-Life/Culinary-Central/November-2011/How-To-Make-Maitre-D-Hotel-Butter>