Bittman Basics

Brown Butter Is an Easy and Elegant Way to Elevate a Dish

You need just 4 tablespoons and time

Mark Bittman
Published in
2 min readMar 26, 2020
Photo: Aya Brackett

Brown butter fell out of style when we irrationally started to see butter as the enemy.

While certainly not an everyday sauce, brown butter is great for special occasions when you want something both satisfying and elegant.

Browning butter gives it both color and a full spectrum of nutty, caramelized flavors. It takes only a few minutes, even with any of the additions in the variation and the list that follows. Serve over steamed or broiled fish or chicken, or toss it with noodles and parmesan for a quick pasta. And the recipe is (obviously) easy to double if you think you’ll need more.

Brown Butter

Makes: ¼ cup
Time: 15 minutes


  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter


  1. Put the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula, until the foam subsides and the butter turns brown and smells irresistible.
  2. Turn off the heat. Keep warm until you’re ready to use it, up to 15 minutes.

Black butter sauce (beurre noir)

One step further and more dramatic: Cook the brown butter until black flecks start to form, another 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately drizzle the butter over whatever food you are serving, then turn the heat to medium and rinse the pan with 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar, swirling it and letting about half the liquid evaporate. Add 1 tablespoon drained capers if you like and ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle over the food. Toss if necessary and serve.

5 simple additions to brown butter

Stir in any of these during the last minute of cooking, when the butter is just about ready (this point is easy to recognize once you’ve made it a couple of times). If you want to use them in combination, increase the quantity of butter by 2 tablespoons for each additional ingredient.

  1. Finely ground nuts (¼–½ cup): The usual ones, like hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, or almonds. But also macadamia nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or whole pine nuts.
  2. Chopped fresh herbs: 1 tablespoon or so of oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, or tarragon; up to ¼ cup milder herbs like parsley, cilantro, mint, dill, or basil; or 1 fresh bay leaf
  3. Mustard: Up to 1 tablespoon of either Dijon or whole grain, to taste, whisked in
  4. Vinegar: About 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar, which will make a “broken” sauce rather than emulsifying into the butter
  5. Anchovies: 2 or more mashed anchovies



Mark Bittman

Has published 30 books, including How to Cook Everything and VB6: The Case for Part-Time Veganism. Newsletter at