When I was growing up we didn't use unsalted butter in the Darling household. It would have never occurred to MD to use anything but salted butter.
Then Julia Child came on the scene and woke up the American upper middle classes to the joys of French cooking, and people started to replace salted butter with unsalted. If you needed salt to flavor food—either when preparing it or eating it—the thought was that you could always add it. Besides, unsalted butter was so European, so it had to be better!
Well, that's fine, but that's not where it stopped . . .
Because in some culinary circles people lost sight of the fact that there are times when the use of salted butter is actually preferable to unsalted butter. And it became verboten to even consider using salted butter. For anything! Only cretins used salted butter!
Reggie, being a gullible chap, and with an admitted tendency to snobbery—whether it be social or culinary—got swept up in the anti-salted-butter hysteria, and he stopped buying or using salted butter at home. That's because he thought he wasn't supposed to like salted butter.
But he never could quite understand why it was that the toast he buttered in the morning just wasn't as yummy as he remembered it as being when he was a boy. Nor could he understand why the contents of the bread baskets that arrived in (most of) the restaurants he frequented tasted so delicious when he liberally spread said bread with the butter that accompanied it. He assumed it was because he was a bad, willpowerless person who couldn't stop eating bread (also vilified in certain circles these days—but that's a story for another day). Why was it so good, he wondered?
Because, Dear Reader, he has finally figured it out that it is far preferable to butter one's bread with salted butter—which is what most restaurants serve with bread (with the exception of Italian ones, which provide olive oil). If you haven't done so, Dear Reader, I suggest you try this little butter taste test: Buy a package of salted butter and one of unsalted butter, and see which tastes better on your morning toast, or English muffin, or whatever bread you choose to spread it on.
Not only is Reggie convinced that you will find the salted-buttered bread tastes better, but he believes you'll be surprised that the unsalted-buttered bread, in comparison, tastes as if it is has been coated with a mildly sweet, practically tasteless shortening spread.
Salted butter tastes better!
Now, I have a confession to make. Dear old Reggie didn't figure this out all on his very own. He owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Alex Hitz, who debunks the salted-versus-unsalted-butter myth in his highly entertaining, chock-full-of-mouth-watering-recipes cookbook My Beverly Hills Kitchen. Reading what Mr. Hitz writes on the matter was a Eureka! moment for Reggie:
"Always use salted butter . . . sneering purists will have you believe that if you use salted butter you might, perhaps, better control the salt in a dish by putting it in yourself. The result inevitably ends up tasteless. I have never yet tasted a dish whose salty taste came from salted butter."And that applies to when one butters one's bread, too!
I now exclusively use salted butter when I butter my morning toast, or when buttering other breakfast treats such as pancakes, french toast, or waffles (which I eat only very rarely). I do, though, still (mostly) use unsalted butter when I'm cooking. I may come around to Mr. Hitz's admonition on that score, but I'm not there . . . yet.
Tell me, Dear Reader, what kind of butter do you use?
Please note: While the photogenic packages of butter that illustrate this post do appear regularly in our kitchen at Darlington House, you would not be surprised also to find packages of Land O'Lakes butter in our refrigerator, should you chance to peek inside it.
All photographs by Boy Fenwick