Friday, October 14, 2011

Ode To Butter

It makes savory dishes pleasing to the palette, and adds an inimitable richness to desserts. Whether cold, hot, or somewhere in between, butter has transformative power.  Perhaps it's because butter itself is the result of something more like transmutation --- white liquid milk into golden, creamy heaven.
We love butter so much at Restaurant Eugene that we've started churning our own, and serving butter courses every night to accompany our various breads.  But that's not all.  The contemplation of perfecting house-made butter actually led Chef Hopkins to write this ode.  In the style of Keats, it's Chef's attempt to capture in words everything Vollon did with paint, and what we all feel with that first bite of the sweet, creamy, salty wonder that is butter.

Ode to Butter

Thou still unravished bride of promises
a child of art and craft
fixed with many suitors eyes
born of Thracia from capra and aries
reaching perfection with the cow

bursting from chicken kiev
laced with chive
my first experience
a joy I still recall

Vollon,  still life's master
Conjured you in 1875
Escoffier's contemporary,  he knew who you were:
a foundation.

In ancient India you were clarified into one of their most elemental of foods.
GHEE,  sanskrit for "bright"
you are an ancient offering to the gods and burned in holy lamps and funeral pyres

beaten out of cream
kneaded and shaped
salted to preserve
fresh, room temp-there is no need to refrigerate you

as the poet Seamus said
you are "coagulated sunlight"

sunlight transformed by the cow
from the seasonal hue
cool and spreadable I taste your season,
bright, fat and herbal in spring and summer when
fed on clover and fresh grass
in the winter you taste of hay and grain

ulia became Julia when met with your aroma
commingling in a pan with shallots
many people don't know that you actually lighten a dish
small knobs stirred into reduced stock
mouthfeel, richness
the dish which is missing something
is quickly set right

Would French cuisine exist without you?
Chef Point in '37, manned the stoves at La Pyramide writing
"Butter! Give me Butter! Always Butter!

So versatile are you
clarified to remove the milk
you saute at high heat
whole at low flame you perform a feat of magic:
you emulsify with yourself

the water, milk solids and fat,
a whisk, some coaxing
a smooth warm sauce is born, beurre monte
a little wine vinegar and shallot ... beurre blanc

toasted till hazelnut brown; noisette
darkened to almost burnt dark black; noir
worked into eggs: hollandaise and bernaise

asparagus, broccoli, and legumes
they all cry out for you

Pastry without you is unimaginable
your melting between the million layers is the puff
pate brisee, pate sucree,
cookies and cakes all begin with creaming
you and sugar

the South?
fresh churned from cream with a  second gift; buttermilk
whose quality is determined by how many of your children float across the surface
spread on warm biscuits with sorghum
a small knob in a bowl of grits
steaming hot sweet potatoes with you on top
bread & butter pickles tell us how they should be eaten
sweet, sour and unctuous
butterbeans are named in your honor
creamy like you when cooked right
glazed with you and black pepper

Who has not thought of you when you are not around?
hungry and romantic
blamed for a multitude of sins
doctors who decry you are often found at your back door

new science has shown;
you ain't all that bad.
in fact, your very nature may be good for the fabric of our brain

I knew that already

Think not of others. 
Margarine, unworthy imitation, it has no song
Lard, Schmaltz Oil.
they are not so universal
nor so simple and complex

an infinite story

I place you in an ancestral cast iron pan--
my grandfather's
watch you glaze across the black surface
when the bubbles foam and begin to subside
it is an invitation

add the minced onions and sweat
the beginning of so many journeys
from gumbo to perloo
I always begin with you

Come try Chef's house-churned butter at Restaurant Eugene soon.