Monday, August 1, 2011

Homemade Sweet Cream Lemon Basil Butter and Cedar Plank Salmon

If you get distracted in the kitchen like I sometimes do when I have too many things going at once, then you've probably had this same experience.  You're beating heavy whipping cream in your stand mixer, you walk away for a few minutes, and  when you come back, it's suddenly gone past that perfect "soft peaks" stage and has become a little too stiff.  It's still useable, but it's a little more buttery and thick than whipped cream should be.

Well, "buttery" is exactly what it's trying to become!  For dinner last Friday night we made cedar plank salmon on the grill (funny story on that in a little bit...), and some lemony, basil butter sounded like a great match for the fish.  You could, of course, just buy some butter at the store and mix lemon and basil into it, but it's really so much more fun to do it this way.

When you make butter, what happens is very simple:  the heavy cream is churned, whipped, beaten, shaken, or however you want to do it, until the fat (the butter) separates from the liquid (buttermilk).  It's pretty cool, really, and sort of made me feel like a pioneer woman.  Except that I was making butter from an air conditioned 3rd floor condo and not in a one-room log cabin while stoking the fire in the oven.  Being part Danish, I loved telling my friends when I was a kid that my ancestors were Vikings and seeing their shocked reactions.  I wonder how the Vikings churned their butter?

Now about the salmon...  Jamie stopped for salmon at Costco on his way home from work--they actually have a great selection of quality meat there, and they remove the skin off the salmon for you, which is perfect if you're not wanting to try to make crispy skin, and perfect for us since we don't have a good filet knife to slice it off cleanly.  But when he brought it home, I noticed two things:  it still had the skin on and....  it wasn't salmon.  It was Steel Head Trout.  Which looks deceivingly similar in color and texture.  He didn't notice he'd picked up the wrong fish until he was at the register, so we had Steel Head for dinner and just prepared it like we would have if it were salmon.  It has a somewhat similar taste, as well, although not nearly as flavorful as salmon is.  I'm a little prejudiced in my love of salmon, though!  I love it so much that I have to force myself not to order it in restaurants, or I'd never try anything else.

When you grill it on a cedar plank, it absorbs so much wonderful smoky flavor from the wood; just make sure you soak the wood well.  We soaked ours for 2 1/2 hours before hand and it was still too dry.  Look what happened.

Fortunately by the time the wood caught on fire, though, the fish was done so it worked out well in the end.  :)  We grilled some asparagus also, which tastes great with salmon, as well as with the lemon basil butter.

Homemade Sweet Cream Lemon Basil Butter
(makes 1 cup butter and 1 cup buttermilk)
  • 1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • lemon zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (our grocery store sells small packages of organic basil and other herbs - about 0.6 ounces each - I used the whole package)
Pour the cream into the mixing bowl of your stand mixer.  Add the powdered sugar.  Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium speed.  After 4-5 minutes, it should become whipped cream, and you will see soft peaks.  Keep on going!  The cream will become more and more thick.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl every few minutes.  Finally, it will become very clumpy, and suddenly, it will separate into solid clumps and a liquid.  When it reaches this point, you can turn off the mixer.  (It took mine about 10-12 minutes to separate.)

Secure a piece of cheesecloth over a strainer and pour the mixture through the cheesecloth to strain the liquid.  Squeeze the excess liquid from the butter.  What you have now is homemade sweet cream butter, and the liquid below is slightly sweetened buttermilk, which you can use in any recipe which calls for milk or buttermilk (I used ours in the Strawberry Breakfast Bread Pudding I made for breakfast the next morning - delicious!).

The butter is surprisingly firm, even at room temperature, so you will need to use a little muscle to stir in the lemon and basil, or just return it to the mixing bowl to finish the job.  Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and basil to the butter and stir until smooth.  You can add a little salt, too, if you like your butter on the salty side.  It's ready to eat!  This was fantastic on our fish, would be great on a bagel, spread on biscuits or corn muffins, or added here and there to vegetables for some extra flavor and richness.

I think the next time I do this, I will add some honey to the plain butter to make a sweet honey butter.

Cedar Plank Salmon
  • a large salmon filet (about 1 1/2 - 2 pounds)
  • salt and pepper
  • a cedar plank (available at most grocery stores on the "grilling" or seasonal aisle)
Place the cedar plank in a large baking pan or sheet and cover with water.  The package says to soak for at least 1 hour, but we soaked ours for 2 1/2 hours and it still got too dry on the grill.

When you are ready to grill, season the salmon with salt and pepper.  Place the salmon directly on the cedar plank, then place the plank on the grill.  Grill until cooked to your liking - we like ours medium rare.

Top the fish with a dab of the lemon basil butter and serve with vegetables.