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The Unsung Hero of French Cuisine

The Unsung Hero of French Cuisine

By Joseph Steele.

"I like butter. I like a lot of butter” – Anthony Bourdain.

There is a theatre behind French cuisine. The Chef takes the role of conductor, orchestrating each meticulous dish. The kitchen workings become a performance, a chaotically graceful expression of the culinary arts. Yet there is one unassuming star behind the arias of each meal: butter. The golden, unsung hero of French cuisine transforms simple ingredients into culinary masterpieces.

Food trends come and go faster than a jet-setting influencer’s sponsored Instagram posts, however, butter has remained a steadfast, irreplaceable cornerstone in all French kitchens.

Let’s take ourselves to a crowded Parisian bistrot where we see Chef wielding a knife with the precision of a surgeon. The dish? Sole meunière, served swimming in browned butter, capers and zesty lemon. It’s a flawless execution of French sensibility - simplicity matched with indulgence.

Each note of the dish is perfectly harmonised with the transformative fat. Without butter, it would be akin to staging a play with no lead actor. Without butter… let’s not think too hard on that. Simply put, the dish just would not be.

Butter in French cuisine is not a mere ingredient. It’s a philosophy. It’s the warm baguette slathered with enough butter to make cardiologists weep. It’s the impossibly flaky layers of the iconic croissant, it’s the golden coin of Café de Paris sitting atop your perfectly cooked steak. It’s the béarnaise, the Hollandaise, the beurre blanc – sauces so rich and luscious they cling to your taste buds and refuse to let go. It’s the heart and soul of French dining.

Look beyond butter’s perfunctory use as a flavour magnet. It is the workhorse of the kitchen (sorry Chef). From an emulsifier to stabiliser, from flavour enhancer to seasoning, it does it all. Heat it up and it releases a nutty, caramel-like aroma that rivals the most exquisite of French parfums.

Butter is a chameleon. It has the ability to bring flavours together in a silky, unctuous texture that no other fat can replicate. Margarine? Get out of here. Olive Oil? Nice try.

Butter is the Beyoncé of the culinary world – irreplaceable.

There are those who are willing to argue that butter’s reign in the modern world is coming to a close with so many alternatives available, all fitting in with today’s dietary trends. To them, I say "get a grip”. Butter is a culinary constant in an ever-changing world. It’s the little black dress of the kitchen. Always in style, always appropriate and always fabulous.

Julia Child in her kitchen, cheerfully insisting on 'two sticks of butter' in her recipes conjures up sentiments of a simpler time. Can you imagine her saying the same about coconut oil? I think not. Butter is tradition. Butter is authenticity. Butter is love.

We haven’t even broached the cultural significance of butter. In France it is more than a pantry staple – it’s a symbol of pride and heritage.

Normandy, with its lush pastures, produces some of the finest butter known to man. The AOC (the French equivalent to the DOP) ensures that this butter is crafted with the utmost care, preserving a centuries-old legacy. Each pat of butter tells a rich story of terroir and tradition.

Chef Paul Bocuse, dubbed ‘the Pope of gastronomy’, once mused "without butter, without eggs, there is no reason to come to France”. If the man with an award named after him, so prestigious in recognition that the crème de la crème of Chefs from around the world compete to hold a statue made in his likeness, sings the praises of butter. I listen.

Butter is to French cuisine, what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. An enduring icon, a beloved fixture and an essential part of the cultural landscape. It’s the heart and soul of French cuisine. Take a moment to appreciate the humble ingredient that is butter.

Bon Appetit.
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