If you want to build flavour into a dish, reach for the butter. Better still, reach for a really good flavoured butter like Irish Gourmet Butter...
If you want to build flavour into a dish, reach for the butter. Better still, reach for a really good flavoured butter like Irish Gourmet Butter…
Butter is magical. It can transform dishes from the mundane to the spectacular. There’s a reason chef’s sear off steaks and things in lakes of the stuff – flavour. For years, I wondered why my morning scrambled eggs would sometimes “leak” until I cooked them with a nob of butter and got perfect eggs every time – with added flavour.
Since science told us butter won’t actually kill us, I find myself embracing it more than oils. You know where you are with Irish butter, but I cannot be so certain when it comes to olive oils, for example, (did you know that the widest food fraud regards the olive oil trade?). There’s something reassuringly familiar with the aroma of gently melting butter, and the changing sound it makes from not ready to ready to holy-crap-it’s-burning!
As I say, you know where you are with butter.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Harrison Sharpe who is the head chef of Elbow Lane for a feature series in The Echo about innovative and ambitious young chefs in Cork. During the interview, he mentioned that his mum and dad, Mary and Billy Sharpe, had set up a handmade butter company back home in county Waterford that was proving to be a bit of a hit. Turns out that a bit of digging into the family history uncovered a tradition of butter making in the family all the way back to 1936, so not so much a new business as a resurection of one long interrupted. Mary, Harrison’s mum, had sent down some samples for me to try. Five different flavoured butters – every single one of them handmade. This is Irish Gourmet Butter.
The butters themselves are not freely available everywhere. This fact is why its taken me a while to put this blog post together. Should I get readers enthused about these butters only for them to be disappointed when they can’t find it in their local shop? But to be honest, these butters are so good (and believe me, I road tested everyone of them thoroughly) that I felt I had to at least tell you about them so you can keep an eye out for them next time you’re in the Waterford area.
Or, for my fellow Corkonians, you can sample them by dining out at Elbow Lane where Harrison dutifully and liberally uses his parents’ handmade butters for finishing his dishes and putting the edge on his sauces!
So, what did I sample?
In the selection pack I was kindly gifted by Mary and Billy was their Lightly Salted, Bistro, Garlic & Herb and Chorizo & Chilli butters in foil packs. In a small jar was one of the butters from their Christmas Range, mellow with sweet spices.
When I say these butters are handmade, they really are, and this is the main reason why they are not available everywhere. It’s just Mary and Billy whipping, rolling and wrapping every single one of those golden logs. The lines from the butter paddles are impressed into each roll of butter, and each one a slightly different shape.
There are other butters in the range, including a Pastry Butter. Irish Gourmet Butter are the only makers in Ireland of this kind of butter which is in high demand by patisseries and bakers – especially for those who make laminated pastries like croissants or their own puff pastry. It’s not available all year though, as this fresh butter in particular is only at its best when there is access to summer milk with its richer cream. For this reason, most of the pastry butter used in Ireland is imported from France where there is a year-round supply. That’s not to say it’s better, though…
There is also a Taste of the Sea butter which is great in finishing dishes like Moules Marinere, or pan frying white fish, but for this post I’ll be focusing on the butters I received and how I used them.
The most versatile in that it can be used in cooking and baking or simply spread thickly on very good bread. It has a rich, comforting creaminess to it that is very moreish indeed. We used it quite a lot for crisping up our lunchtime toasted cheese sambos, or for delicious hot buttered toast. It’s the OG butter, and we loved it!
Garlic & Herb
I used this a lot during late summer for finishing off blanched summer veggies like peas and beans freshly picked from the garden. We fried juicy prawns with it, finished pork chops with it, and melted it into sauces and gravy’s for an added bit of pow. Some garlic butters taste very synthetic but this tasted fresh and the balance of the garlic and herb was not overpowering. Really good!
Chorizo & Chilli
I’m partial to Eggs in Hell during the weekend, and using the Chorizo and Chilli butter gave fabulous uplift to this dish. It has small pieces of chorizo in it so when the butter melts, you get a beautiful combo of butter and chorizo oil melding together. I enjoyed serving this on top of just picked and cooked sweetcorn on the cob, and in the base of slow cooked beef chilli for that smoked and spiced undertone. Again, great with prawns or other meaty fish like monkfish. I also used it in my recipe for Clams with Nduja and Sherry where, as you would expect, it worked a dream!
This butter is a version of Cafe de Paris butter which is a very rich savoury butter best used for cooking steak. Anchovies, herbs, spices and other condiments go into a Cafe de Paris butter to deliver a richly aromatic umami laden foil. We like to reverse sear our steaks which means we cook in a low oven first and then flash it in a pan over a very high heat. This delivers rose pink meat that’s soft and tender but not bloody with a dark crust. That crust is where the flavour is and comes from the butter, garlic and herbs used in the final sear. The bistro butter here is a total game changer. If you thought your steak was tasty enough, lash a load of this on it and you have a next level, restaurant quality steak dinner on your hands. Serve with skinny fries for dipping into the lashings of butter.
There’s cinnamon and all sorts of Christmassy spices in this little pot of wonder! I used all of mine in an autumnal apple and blackberry cobbler using apples from my parents-in-law’s mini orchard (it’s five trees – don’t get too excited!), and blackberries picked from the brambles that grow wild in the hedgerows all around me. Those classic flavours were absorbed through the cobbler topping giving a wonderful aroma as it baked and perfectly complimenting the jammy fruit underneath. It was magical!
I didn’t get to try this recipe suggestion, but if you get your hands on a pot of the Christmas butter, I suggest you immediately try this…
Rum & Butter Punch
Mix together and pour into a warmed glass. Yum!
Find out more about the wonderful butters Mary and Billy are making by visiting their website: www.irishgourmetbutter.ie
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