A common phrase that describes much of my cooking is “butter makes everything better.” While my arteries might not agree, my tastebuds are calling the shots. From meat to veggies to carbs, butter helps take a dish from drab to delicious. Sometimes, when it’s time to kick it up a notch and plain old butter won’t do, adding an ingredient or two can turn you into a real Mr./Ms./Mrs. Fancy Pants! One easy, crowd-pleasing option is garlic. I’ll bet reading the phrase “garlic butter” makes your mouth water a bit. It’s only natural! Luckily, I’m here to talk about garlic butter, how to make it, and how to incorporate it into your dishes.
Almost anyone can make garlic butter because it’s super easy. As basic as it sounds, the most fundamental recipes call for mixing one stick of butter with chopped or pressed garlic. That’s it! Of course, you can add more, if you’d like, but there’s really nothing more to it. If you’re feeling a little uncertain, let me walk you through some tips.
- The right amount of garlic is subjective. If you’ve never made your own garlic butter, I’d recommend using two cloves for every stick of butter you use and adjust up or down per your preference. Please keep in mind that a clove of garlic differs from a head of garlic. If you go to your local produce market, you’ll likely find heads of garlic. Once peeled, you will see what appear to be bulbs—approximately 8 to 10 in quantity. Each of these bulbs is what’s referred to as a clove. When cooking with garlic, it’s very important to pay attention to whether a recipe calls for garlic in cloves or in heads. Using a head when you should have used a clove will leave you with enough firepower to join Van Helsing’s vampire hunting squad, and you’ll likely be emanating garlic for a week.
- Use unsalted butter, then salt to taste. When using garlic butter, the headliner is garlic, not salt. So, rather than trust the folks churning the butter to get the right amount of salt to complement your preferred quantity of garlic, just go with the unsalted stuff and add in just enough salt to enhance the flavors without overpowering them.
- Use a garlic press. Rather than chopping or mincing, the press will allow you to efficiently and uniformly crush those cloves while delivering the juices right into your mixture. If you don’t have a press, then to quote Ferris Bueller, “I highly recommend picking one up.” Buy one here.
- Use soft, but not melted butter. The consistency should be somewhere between clay and play-doh. Then, to mix it, I recommend selecting one of three options: 1) A fork; 2) A hand mixer; or 3) Your hands. If you like a little more texture to it, the table fork or your hands are the way to go. If you like your butter a bit more whipped, use the hand mixer. If you want to form your butter once it’s mixed, you can use your hands, a spatula, or a butter bell.
- Once you’ve mixed in your garlic, refrigerate it or put it in an aforementioned butter bell. This allows the flavors to effectively combine and it preserves the butter in the event that you don’t use it right away.
- Mix in other things, if you’re feeling bold. Great things to try include lemon juice, red wine vinegar, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, and thyme. Like many things, the specific amounts are subject to your tastes, so experiment. After all, that’s what makes the dish uniquely yours!
Now that you can make garlic butter, here’s how you can use it:
Bread and Garlic Butter
Get a loaf of your favorite bread, slice it up, and serve with the garlic butter you just mixed up. There’s really no simpler way to take a meal-time staple—bread and butter—and kick it up.
If you’re looking to give a salad a little flavor, make some homemade garlic croutons. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take your garlic butter and melt it on low heat in a small frying pan or saucepan. Next, break up some pieces of bread with your hands (if you like the perfect-angle look, use a knife) and sauté your bread, mixing until all pieces are thoroughly coated with garlic butter. Spread each piece of bread on some aluminum foil or a cookie sheet. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until the bread is crisp. Remove and let cool (or don’t let cool, they’re your croutons!). Sprinkle the croutons on top of your salad. You win.
This one is a combination of the two above. Let’s say you’re having a nice pasta dinner (see below), and you want a solid garlic bread to go with it. No problem! Remove the garlic butter from the refrigerator (if refrigerated) to soften. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice up your favorite loaf of Italian bread. Spread the garlic butter on each slice. Place the bread on aluminum foil or a cooking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until toasted golden brown. You ever wonder how you say “awesome” with bread? This is how.
You know that nice pasta dinner I just talked about? Well, here’s how you can make that happen. Cook eight ounces of your favorite pasta (make sure it’s al dente). Pan sear then sauté about a pound of diced chicken or medium sized shrimp in your garlic butter. Sprinkle in some parsley. Combine pasta, protein, and garlic butter. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve. Too easy. Too good.
My mom makes one of the best vegetable dishes I’ve ever had. The secret? Garlic butter. You can sauté any vegetable in your garlic butter until the veggie has reached your desired tenderness and you’ll be a vegetable hero. My mom’s dish? Tarragon carrots. She takes her garlic butter up a level by adding a bit of tarragon (naturally) and red wine vinegar. Normally, I reserve the term “delicious” for meat dishes, but these are delicious!
Speaking of meat, you can use garlic butter to turn your boring roast into a tastebud celebration! Simply spread your garlic butter on the roast (it’s okay to use your hands!), and bake as normal. This works great with pork, beef, and lamb. This might also be a time to try throwing some more stuff into your garlic butter—salt and pepper, for starters. Cooking lamb? Try rosemary and thyme.
Maybe I should start using a new phrase: Garlic makes butter better. After reviewing these six dishes, it seems appropriate. The next time you have a job that calls for spreading or sauteing in butter, add some flair—add some garlic. Enjoy!