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Ways with butter

Melted butter was the keystone of English sauce-making in the Regency period. Whether served as an accompaniment to puddings, fish or meat, most sauces started off with a large print of butter in a pan.

Although melting butter over the stove may seem like a simple thing to do, William Kitchiner claimed that few English cooks have mastered this basic technique.

In The Cook’s Oracle, he explains his concern:

Melted butter appears to be so simple and easy to prepare, it is certainly very surprising it is not uniformly well done, and it is a matter of general astonishment, that what is done so often in every kitchen should so seldom be done right.

It is spoiled nine times out of ten, more from idleness than from ignorance, and rather because the cook won’t do it, than because she can’t do it“.

Determined to stir the idle cook to better butter-melting, Kitchiner introduces his own tried and tested method. Perhaps chastened by his tone, one of our unknown lady cookbook compilers has transcribed the recipe, word for word, for future reference:

Kitchiner’s instructions for melting butter, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Kitchiner’s instructions for melting butter, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Melted Butter

Keep a pint stewpan for this purpose only. Cut two ounces of butter into little bits that it may mix more readily. Put it down with a large teaspoonful of flour and two tablespoonsful of milk. When thoroughly mixed, add six tablespoonsful of water. Hold it over the fire and shake it round every minute (all the while the same way) till it just begins to simmer. Then let it stand quietly and boil up. If the butter oils, put a spoonful of cold water to it and stir it with a spoon. If very much oiled, it must be poured back & forwards till it is right again.

Who would have thought that there was so much skill to melting butter?

And that’s only the start. Kitchiner also sets out detailed instructions for preparing clarified butter (“as sweet as marrow & a good covering for potted meats”), burnt butter (“used as a sauce for boiled fish or poached eggs”) and oiled butter, a substitute for olive oil.

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