Burnt butter, also known as beurre noisette, is butter that has been melted and cooked until it turns a deep golden brown color with a nutty aroma and flavor. The French term “beurre noisette” literally translates to “hazelnut butter” which describes the hue and fragrance of burnt butter. While regular melted butter has a pale yellow color and mild taste, burnt butter develops a more complex, nutty depth of flavor through the Maillard reaction as the milk solids brown. Here’s a closer look at how burnt butter is made, how it differs from browned butter, and how it’s used in cooking.
How Burnt Butter is Made
To make burnt butter, also called black butter, start with high-quality unsalted butter. Cut the butter into small pieces to help it melt evenly. Melt the butter in a skillet or saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a spatula or wooden spoon. Once completely melted, continue cooking and stirring constantly as the butter foams and then subsides. The milk solids will sink to the bottom of the pan and begin to turn golden, then dark brown. You’ll notice the butter will develop a sweet, nutty aroma once the browning process starts. Cook until the milk solids turn dark brown or black and the butter has a pronounced nutty or toasted flavor, about 5-10 minutes total. Immediately remove from heat and pour into a heatproof bowl to stop the cooking process.
How Burnt Butter Differs from Browned Butter
While both burnt butter and browned butter (beurre noisette) are made by cooking melted butter past the point of just melted, they differ in their final color and flavor:
- Browned butter: Cooked until golden brown in color with a sweet, nutty aroma. Milk solids will be light to medium brown.
- Burnt butter: Cooked until milk solids are dark brown or blackened. Has a more bitter, pronounced nutty or charred flavor.
With browned butter, the milk solids are carefully cooked to a golden brown before being removed from heat. Burnt butter is cooked longer until the milk solids blacken, producing a bitter, toasted flavor. So while both have nutty notes, burnt butter will be much more intense. The longer cooking time also darkens the butter’s color from rich golden to nearly black.
Uses for Burnt Butter
Like browned butter, burnt butter adds a complex, nutty depth of flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. Here are some ways it can be used:
- Sauces and pan sauces: Swirl burnt butter into pan sauces, reductions, and emulsified sauces.
- Seafood: Toss burnt butter with shrimp, scallops, fish fillets, or mussels.
- Pasta: Toss hot pasta with burnt butter sauce.
- Vegetables: Drizzle burnt butter over roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts, carrots, and cauliflower.
- Meats: Use burnt butter as a finisher for grilled or pan-seared steaks, pork chops, chicken, etc.
- Breads: Brush burnt butter over bread rolls, scones, muffins, etc. before baking.
- Desserts: Use in cookies, cakes, brownies, buttercream frostings, etc.
Because of its strong flavor, burnt butter is best used in small amounts as a finishing touch or flavor booster in recipes. Add it to a dish at the end rather than cooking with it. And keep in mind a little goes a long way!
Storage and Substitutions
Like regular browned butter, burnt butter can be stored covered in the fridge for 2-3 weeks and reheated gently when needed. It can also be frozen for up to 6 months. If a recipe calls for burnt butter and you don’t have any, you can substitute an equal amount of browned butter. While the flavor won’t be quite as intense, it will provide a similar nuttiness.
Burnt butter, also known as beurre noir, is butter cooked to a blackened state to develop a bitter, nutty flavor. It differs from the golden brown color and sweeter aroma of regular browned butter. A little burnt butter goes a long way in adding richness to sauces, seafood, veggies, pasta, and more. With its bitter notes, burnt butter adds bold nutty flavor as a finishing touch to both sweet and savory dishes.