One of the absolute simplest pleasures in the world of food is a really well made (and seasoned) bread and butter. If I'm out to eat and the menu has an $8 specialty bread-and-butter service, I'm automatically in. Some of my most wonderful food memories center around that perfect combination.
Whether you're out to eat and enjoying an expertly crafted roll and a compound butter pairing or you're having a simple breakfast of plush, perfect bagels and some rich, salted butter, there's an innate enjoyment that comes along with that, from taste to texture. It's offers a satisfaction that not many other foods meet.
I am not alone in my adoration; a cursory Google search for "butter poetry" led me to some truly fascinating works. Butter adherents are attracted to so much: the symbolism, the history, the flavor, the comfort, the mouthfeel.
However, I am pretty clear-cut on my butter proclivities, because when you get it right, there's nothing like it, right? That's why — as someone who craves a little more control in the kitchen — I tend to only buy unsalted butter. There's a customization and control that come with unsalted butter for which I have a deep appreciation.
While I will use salted butter in conjunction with breads, rolls, pancakes or waffles and bagels, I essentially only use unsalted outside of that. And in most instances, the "salted" butter I use on the aforementioned items is really just unsalted butter that I've seasoned myself, or in some cases, a pat of unsalted butter with a tiny sprinkling of salt on top. (Hey, I'm not always in the mood to soften the butter, put it in a bowl, season it and whip it.)
Frankly, I'm also not a big baker, so if you're accustomed to only ever baking with salted, don't, as they say, @ me. Savory is always more my beat and in that domain, unsalted unquestionably reigns supreme.
Whether adding richness and body to a sauce, giving onions and garlic a perfect fat to bathe in or topping a cheesy Italian-American classic, unsalted butter is truly a multifaceted unsung hero of the kitchen.
While I know that many are committed to salted butter and some may already be copying/pasting the URL to this story to hate-send to a pal, I assure you that I'm not trying to convince or persuade you otherwise! As I always say, it's your kitchen.
For me, though? On the scant occasions when I do want salted butter, I like the control, the customization and the specificity of making my own. By this, I mean that I take the unsalted butter I already have on hand (in copious amounts), let it soften and then whip it up with the salt of my choosing, as well as some herbs, spices and zests. Sometimes, I want a cold, smooth, fatty butter with large flakes of sea salt, while other times, I want a room temperature citrus-forward compound butter with sage and kosher salt. It really differs, but I find that a lackluster butter can really diminish the enjoyment of the bread and butter, which essentially starts your meal or gathering on a disappointing note. And who wants that?
That why, while purchasing salted butter is a breeze, I would rather know precisely how much (and what kind) of salt is in my salted butter.
I will also note that salted butter actually lasts longer than unsalted, since the salt basically acts as a preservative, so unsalted butter is also usually fresher, since it's being replaced more often in-store than salted. The amount of salt (and the precise type used) differs from brand to brand.
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Beyond the control discussion, though, salted butter can also adversely affect your dishes: adding salted butter to an already-seasoned sauce might take it over the salty mark, while including salted butter in a cookie dough might offset the sweet-salty ratio. At the same time, a flat, unseasoned butter on a really terrific slice of bread is such an "...oh" moment that can be super disappointing or even off-putting.
I find that unsalted butter (with or without salt that I've added myself) has a fuller, rounder flavor that has more of a buttery flavor profile, as well as a subtle sweetness that resonates on the tongue. This sweetness is the perfect complement to a salty, flaky note. When it comes to something like corn on the cob, I usually do a pat or two of unsalted butter, plus a sprinkle of kosher salt and some paprika or chili powder.
It's an interesting dichotomy, though: I hate a bland, under-salted butter moment, but an overly salty one can be downright inedible. So it is a toss-up in that regard.
There's also another really lovely option when it comes to compound butters that's found in crafting the perfect butter jacket for your Thanksgiving turkey — or your weekday roasted chicken, for that matter. I usually opt for unsalted butter, kosher salt, sage, thyme and rosemary. It is incredibly succulent, savory and makes for some truly perfectly seasoned poultry.
Clearly, I like having a perfect, malleable butter in front of me that I can tweak or modify in whatever way I deem necessary, whether that's flavor-wise, texture-focused, seasonal or holiday-related, or anything else. At the end of the day, however, I like being in control in my kitchen — so unsalted butter is always the go-to in my arsenal.