LONDON — Around Valentine’s Day, I raise my glass particularly high to any couple who managed to save up any top chat for a romantic dinner for two. What on earth is there to talk about when you haven’t been anywhere or done anything for a very long time? In the absence of such discussion, may I present three ways to remind someone why they love you: the general concept of cupboard love; the very specific qualities of butter; and the particularly special advantages of brown butter?
Cupboard love is not always held up as a very pure form of love. At its heart is the relationship between the feeder and the fed. It is, in short, why your dog appears to love you and only you. It’s not, sadly, that your pet is the only one who truly understand your soul, but simply the fact that you fill its bowl with food once a day.
I’m someone whose “love language” is often wrapped up with food, so cupboard love does not strike a particularly false note with me. If I want to show someone love, a meal is generally made. I, in turn, love my cupboard when I open it and see my staples at the ready: my jars of butter beans, my anchovies, my silky olive oil, my chile flakes. If really big hugs and comfort are needed, though, I often reach for butter.
The link between butter and love was recently crystallized for me when I was reading a recipe for Sho Spaeth’s butter chicken. His description was for a “mother’s love’s worth of butter and cream” to be added at the end. This matched perfectly with dishes I cook for my kids, so many of which have butter at their heart: grilled cobs of corn, buttery mashed potatoes, my very wet scrambled eggs, baked aromatic rice and a whole range of spongecakes.
It’s not just a language between parents and their children, though. Watch grown adults take their first bite of sole meunière, and the pure joy of this French classic will become immediately evident on their faces. The magic of the dish does not derive just from the presence of butter, balanced perfectly by tangy lemon, but from heating the butter to the point of becoming beurre noisette — a nutty, frothy, caramelized brown butter.
Making brown butter is easy. It’s butter, plus heat, plus time: The butter is heated in the pan, then the water evaporates and the solids left behind start to caramelize and smell nutty. If butter is an everyday love, then brown butter is the candlelit moment: simple to achieve (so long as you keep a close eye on the pan) and makes everything feel sort of wondrous. Decadent as well, as drizzling frothy, nutty, browned butter over everything would not, literally, be a great idea for the heart.
Brown butter can be paired with — so as to elevate — the most basic of ingredients. Here, it’s a jar of butter beans that have been roasted in the oven, but it also works well drizzled over wilted greens, baked eggs, mashed carrots, rice pudding or plain tagliatelle. Everyday dishes, each and every one, made utterly lovable by the simple addition of butter.