Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

When to use salted or unsalted butter?

I just learned this, and as soon as I heard it I felt ridiculous, because it’s such common sense. When I was growing up, we just used margarine, and I didn’t start using real butter until a couple years ago, so I plead childhood ignorance. 🙂

Basically, you use unsalted butter when you shouldn’t add extra salt, and salted when some extra salt is okay.

To wit: in baking, when salt is measured in small amounts, and when it is not supposed to be a strong flavor, use unsalted. For example, in pie crusts, cookies, dessert toppings, baked fruit desserts, etc, use unsalted. If you wouldn’t sprinkle salt on it before you eat it, don’t use salted butter.

As a spread, most people prefer salted butter for the enhanced taste, although you can use either. Use salted butter for sauteing vegetables, caramelizing onions, and in egg dishes. If you would sprinkle salt on it before you eat it, use salted.

Most recipes don’t specify which butter to use, and honestly, the difference is usually pretty small, so if you run out of one you can always substitute another. If you have to use salted butter for baking, consider reducing the amount of salt you add to the dry ingredients. How much salt is in the butter varies based on brand, so you’ll have to play around with it to get the correct taste.

On the topic of butter, I know that its price and high fat content cause many people to avoid it and use artificial substitutes. I myself use butter-flavored shortening for cookies and pie crusts because it makes them lighter and fluffier. But for some things, there really is no substitute:

Caramelized onions: My mother-in-law makes amazing pierogis, and always makes an onion sauce to go over them. The secret is to use REAL butter, and to make sure that the onions are browned in a SMALL amount of butter before adding the remainder of the butter. If you dump in two sticks of butter at once, the onions will steam and will never brown. My usual proportion is about one stick of butter per onion, just because it’s convenient. You can change the amounts based on how much you like onions and/or butter. For this, I will usually use salted butter, although either would work. You can toss in some salt if you use unsalted.

I started using real butter a few years ago when I started reading a lot about eating ‘real’ food, even if it isn’t considered as healthy. Many of our ‘healthy’ versions of foods contain a lot of chemicals, artificial ingredients, and are overly processed, so even if some of the fat was spun out, you end up putting a lot of weird stuff into your body and possibly doing more harm than good. In the end, it’s probably better to eat small amounts of real, minimally processed food that your body can digest and process than to substitute things that human beings weren’t designed to eat.

Plus, the real stuff often tastes so much better that you only require a little bit to feel satisfied.

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