What is the Butter Event?

Pats of commercial butterbutter (term)

From Wikipedia: butter (bŭt’ər) is a dairy product made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk. It is generally used as a spread and a condiment, as well as in cooking applications such as baking, sauce making, and frying.

Butter is an emulsion of butterfat, water and milk proteins which remains a solid when refrigerated, but softens to a spreadable consistency at room temperature, and melts to a thin liquid consistency at 32–35°C (90–95°F). The density of butter is 911 kg/m3 (1535.5 lb/yd3). Most frequently made from cows’ milk, butter can also be manufactured from the milk of other mammals, including sheep, goats, buffalo, and yaks. Salt, flavorings and preservatives are sometimes added to butter. It generally has a pale yellow color, but varies from deep yellow to nearly white. Its color is dependent on the animal’s feed and is commonly manipulated with food colorings in the commercial manufacturing process, most commonly annatto or carotene.

Interesting definition, n’est pas?

Wikipedia fails to mention that butter is an item that makes other items tasty, much in the way that salt (the forbidden seasoning), duck fat, foie gras, and a whole host of umami-rich foodstuffs do.

provence55I know someone who avoids butter like the plague because it’s the one invention in the history of the world that has brought on unmeasurable pain and human suffering by being the root cause of all human disease.

Okay, so that’s quite a bit of an exaggeration on my part, but he does avoid butter like the plague because he feels that it will significantly and negatively impact his cardiovascular risk, render his LDL-cholesterol uncontrollable, shorten his lifespan and leave him morbidly obese. And yes, my nose is continues to grow longer: the first two are more-or-less correct (they’re somewhat embellished versions of the actual reasons) but I made up the last two just to keep you reading.

My butter pal is actually the only Francophile I know or am aware of who 1) doesn’t like butter, 2) didn’t train at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and 3) actively cook. He does do the bicycle thing but I have yet to successfully convince him to agree to do the classic Elliott Erwitt “provence 55” pose.

Of course, hearing him say “I avoid butter” pushes all the right buttons to trigger my perseverative behaviour to have me need to serve butter. Lakes of butter. The “must-do-this” urge wasn’t as bad as the time I heard “I don’t eat foie gras because I’m a vegan”, but… lakes of butter. Lakes.

Butter as the heart of darkness transmogrified into eleven keywords:

  • golden arches
  • bittersweet
  • butter
  • tige
  • rice
  • oink
  • thon
  • autumne
  • cinnamon
  • crémeux
  • crystals

That’s it. Eleven.

The Menu

So. Eleven keywords. Eleven dishes. One actually mentions butter. In reality, all of them contained butter. Accidentally omit this small detail until the entire meal has been consumed. Hilarity ensues.

Golden arches: two-component amuse-bouche (an amuse-bouche is one bite! one!) consisting of spiced golden pineapple and my version of Mickey D’s Big Mac. (recipe)

Bittersweet: tomato salad in the isakaya tomato tradition. (recipe)

Butter: osumashi; a clear soup make with fish and shellfish and agar-clarified lobster dashi. (recipe)

Tige: uzura-yaki, a grilled quail kebab. (recipe)

Rice: Chilean sea bass mushimono (sake-steamed Patagonian toothfish with enoki mushrooms). A great stupid-simple dish that’s always consistently good unless you use industrial sake. (recipe)

Oink: foie gras on an apple compote with a blowtorch pancetta-wrapped seared scallop. (recipe)

Thon: a deceptively-simple white risotto that in hindsight would take at least seven months of preparation time if I had to do it again. Risotto plated onto a painted anchovy reduction and instant coffee granules and topped with grated dried mojama de atun and Tanzanian dark chocolate. Did I mention that the chicken stock was made with chicken only (no mirepoix) and was agar-clarified before it was used to avoid adding color to the risotto? (recipe)

Autumne: a multi-component “ha-ha” dish, comprising confit de canard with pommes de terre à la sarladaise and cassoulet (one of the heaviest dishes in the French culinary repertoire), served as micro-portions because well, it wasn’t autumn and this was a tasting menu. I felt that this was the least successful dish of the night. (recipe for confit) (recipe for cassoulet UPDATE: this one is way better than mine)

Cinnamon: five-spice “roast” duck, which is actually isn’t roasted. Sous-vide duck magrets served with super slow-roasted duck skin, hoisin reduction, baby bok choy and wild asparagus. My dish of the night. (recipe)

Crémeux: cheese of course. Creamy cheese (one of them anyway). Look to the pralined almonds.

Crystals: melon granité, because it’s always nice to have something nice and refreshing to end a meal. It’s also cold enough not to be able to detect the flakes of butter hidden within.

Wines

  • Canard-Duchêne Grande Cuvée Charles VII Blanc de Noirs
  • Kuromatsu-Hakushika Gouka Sennenju Junmai Daiginjō

The sparkler and the sake accompanied the first five elements. The remaining six were served with wines served as blind head-to-head pairings.

Why is that you say? I don’t drink a lot because of the lack of alcohol dehydrogenase and the intake limits means that I don’t adhere to the quality-price-ratio arguments. Well, I am lazy, but the reasoning is if I don’t drink that much in the first place, why waste effort hunting for something cheaper that tastes “almost” like what I like when I can just simply buy something that I like? I have had significant discussions over how spending more than $15 for a bottle of wine is a waste of money as there are no significant discernable qualitative differences between a sub-$15 “value leader” and something costlier. Ergo, because the wines I buy generally average in the $40-80 per bottle range, I’m technically throwing my money away in the oenological equivalent to making a donation to the NDP.

I don’t say that all less-expensive wines are bad, but I almost never experiment on this end of the market. In another light-bulb moment, I decided I could make things even more interesting by putting this “value” versus “just buy it” theory to the test at the same time I was poisoning everyone with industrial quantities of butter.

This was however, harder than it looks as it is very easy to go to any liquor store and pick the absolute worst wines available (e.g. Cabellero de Chili, Jouvenceau Cuvée Héritage, Harfang des neiges etc). In reality, it is incredibly difficult to identify “the best”  for under $15 because there are lakes of wine that compete at this price point. Case in point: the SAQ inventory system lists 1155 distinct wines for under $15 for a 750 mL bottle. I had to enlist some heavy-duty help from an oenophile friend for the value leaders (his selections make my selections look like they come from the “ends” bin). To keep it fair, I selected first, taking bottles between $40 and $80 per bottle (my purchase average) and excluding ringers like a 2004 Greenock Creek Creek Block Shiraz. My oenophile pal then paired against my selection. He did a great job as he not only picked good bottles, he went out of the way to match varietal to varietal and region to region to come up with the following pairings:

  • 2005 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese versus the 2005 S.A. Prüm Essence Riesling Qualitätswein
  • 2004 Clos Jordanne Le Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir versus the 2006 Château des Charmes Niagara-on-the-Lake Pinot Noir
  • 2002 Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander Pinot Noir versus the 2007 Blackstone Monterey County Pinot Noir

In terms of tasting, it was pretty evident which were my bottles and which were the value leaders. The Pinot Noirs were particularly easy as mine displayed significant complexity and nuances that were absent from the competitors. 2005 was definitely a great year for German Rieslings as the Essence Riesling turned out to be a surprise treat: its acidity was very well-balanced, paired well with the food and ran very well against the Selbach-Oster. The Auslese was slightly more complementary with the food, which is probably why it edged the QbA out.

Photos

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What have we learned today?

So what did I learn? Not much of the butter front because I love butter. I was really tired by the end of the evening and cleaning was nightmarish with hand-wash everything not to mention the multiple sequential loads in the dishwasher. In hindsight, there were probably three dishes too many and the progression was not as harmonious as it could have been but every single dish was strong in its own right. And no one detected butter even when it was overtly presented.

I don’t think I would ever do blind head-to-head tastings again since it takes too many wine glasses, uses too much table space and it is really a whack-load of alcohol. There were actually two additional wine pairings (a red and a white) which I had to bail from as everyone was already loaded.

That flight to Amsterdam the next day was really tough sledding.

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