Monday, May 2, 2016

Two butters were walking down the strasse...

Question for Monday: Why do we even have salted butter?

I was talking with a hoity-toity Culinary Institute of America chef (actually a really nice guy) who, like many chefs whose cookbooks I have worked on, insisted that you must cook with unsalted butter, because that enables you to control the amount of salt you use.


So why do we even have salted butter?

Good Housekeeping has an article that is not much help and also misspells palate. Basically they found that using salted vs. unsalted butter for baked goods does make a flavor difference but doesn't ruin the food, and decides that it "comes down to personal taste."

Wikipedia says that salt is added as a preservative as well as for the flavor. Joy of Baking says that the salt adds about two months to the butter's shelf life (raising it from three to five) but notes that the amount of salt in salted butter varies by manufacturer, and that's one reason why you should use unsalted butter to control the amount of salt in your dish.

CONTROL! COOKING IS ALL ABOUT CONTROL!

Interestingly, most people I know preferred salted butter to unsalted when using butter directly on food, as on toast, pasta, pancakes, corn, sardines, whatever. And yet the fancy schmancy restaurants always serve unsalted butter with the bread, when they do anything so mundane. Why? We know salt makes things taste better, but if that were universally believed to be the case with butter, wouldn't the pricey places serve the better-tasting butter?

My theory is that popular but less pricey restaurants, diners and such, the kinds of places you would eat in anytime, favored salted butter to extend the life of the butter, while expensive joints didn't care so much about cutting costs. Since more of our meals come at cheaper joints, we got used to the flavor of the salted stuff. So yes, it's the peons that demanded salted butter for direct consumption.

So there we have it once again: elitist chefs demanding no salt (Control!) and plebes demanding salt (Flavor!). Even salted butter is political. But both sides will join forces to kick vegans' butts. You have to draw the line somewhere, and butterless butter is as good a place as any.
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