Herb butter, or herbed butter is a seasoned butter made by blending butter with an assortment of herbs and spices. It is a popular addition to dishes such as pasta, rice, fish, and fresh vegetables, and it also makes an excellent spread for fresh breads. Many cooks like to keep a stock of herb butter around to quickly dress up dishes, and it is often available at gourmet markets and grocers. It is also very easy to make herb butter at home, and many cooks prefer to do this since it offers more control over the ingredients.
A typical herb butter includes a small amount of lemon and salt, in addition to the herbs and butter. The addition of lemon juice makes the butter slightly more acidic, thus staving off bacterial contamination. Lemon juice is by no means foolproof, and herbed butter should always be handled carefully. Salt and pepper may be added to the herb butter so that they do not have to be added to the food, although they are certainly not required.
Any number of herbs and combinations can be used in herb butter. Thyme, marjoram, dill, sage, parsley, basil, chives, oregano, rosemary, and garlic are some common choices. Fresh herbs are ideal, since they will be more intensely flavorful, although dried herbs can be used as well. If you use dried herbs, crush them lightly to release their flavorful oils, and smell them first to make sure that they are still strong. If the herbs have minimal odor or they smell dusty, discard them.
To make herb butter, start by briefly blanching herbs to remove dirt and bacteria which could contaminate the butter. You will want around one quarter cup herbs for every stick of butter. Pat the herbs lightly with dry paper towels to soak up the water, and then finely chop them before adding them to a bowl of creamed butter along with one teaspoon of lemon juice to every stick of butter, and a pinch of salt, if desired. Blend the ingredients thoroughly, and then form the herb butter into a log or stick on a piece of plastic wrap for easy storage.
The finished herb butter will keep for around a week under refrigeration, or a month in the freezer. To use the herb butter, slice off a pat and add it to a cooked dish. You can also allow it to soften and pipe the herb butter into various decorative shapes which can be used to dress the table at a formal dinner. Should you choose to do this, keep the herb butter in iced dishes so that it will not melt or warm excessively.