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 Butter Let's rehabilitate another delicious basic ingredient that's had a bad rap.
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It seems like a shame that eggs and butter - two of the most delicious and natural of basic ingredients - have come under attack in modern times.

If we let ourselves be seduced by the siren song of the Health Fascists, we might start to believe that these culinary delights are little more than poison. Eggs? Little bombs of cholesterol, waiting like nutritional terrorists to bomb our hearts! Butter? A sneak attack of saturated animal fat, a heart attack on a biscuit!

And then, once they just about got us weaned from nature's butter to margarine - a darn poor chemistry-set substitute for the natural stuff - some genius finally figured out that stick margarine is loaded with trans fats, which are apparently even worse for us than butter.

It's time to speak up for freedom and, of course, good taste. Barring advice to the contrary from your cardiologist, there's nothing wrong with eggs or butter (or both of them together in a perfect, simple omelet) as long as we consume them in moderation.

But how much is moderate? There's the question. According to, a joint venture of, um, Land O' Lakes Butter and the American Dairy Council, "All foods can fit into a heart healthy diet when consumed in moderation. Butter contains only 4 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat per teaspoon, and can easily fit into the daily value of 65 grams of fat and 20 grams of saturated fat recommended for individuals consuming a 2,000-calorie per day diet."

The rather puritanical Center for Science in the Public Interest, on the other hand, an organization that seemingly would have us live on dry toast and distilled water (and that is also decidedly cautious about wine), dismisses butter - and red meat and most fats - as "artery-clogging," and advises against all but the most minimal use. (Actually, CSPI is relatively OK with soft tub margarines - not sticks - advising consumers to check labels for the lowest-fat brands available.)

Personally, I think I'd rather have a little bit of pure creamery butter than a huge portion of partially hydrogenated soybean oil, water, salt, whey, soy lecithin, vegetable mon- and diglycerides, potassium sorbate, citric acid, artificial flavor, vitamin A palmitate and beta carotene. But maybe that's just me.

This rumination started the other day at my favorite local food specialty shop (Lotsa Pasta) when I ran across a display of a fresh artisanal butter, Smith Creamery Roll Butter from Louisiana. It was festooned with printouts of a rave review (possibly "advertorial," based on its tone of unskeptical affection, but still tempting) from an unidentified publication that made it seem, well, good enough to eat. I usually keep a small supply of French butter on hand (Beurre d'Isigny from Isigny Ste.-Mère), but this looked like a good change of pace.

I brought it home, and with the point-counterpoint advice of the Dairy Council and the Center for Science for Public Interest warring in my head, decided to feature it as the primary ingredient - an Iron Chef secret ingredient approach - in a dinner that would showcase butter as the unifying flavor in a couple of simple small plates.

The results were fine, although I have to say that the Smith Creamery butter - despite its unknown fancier's hymn of praise - was OK but didn't really transport me to a higher level of buttery Nirvana. It sure beat the socks off margarine, though.

Here are the dishes, both quite simple indeed. You could certainly make either one separately, but they went very well together as a two-plate dinner ... and the amount of butter used in both stays within your daily limit, even if it doesn't leave a whole lot of wiggle room for French fries with lunch.

Spaghetti with butter and sage

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

4 ounces (120g) spaghetti
Fresh sage, enough to make 2 tablespoons roughly chopped
1 tablespoon (15g) butter


1. Cook the pasta in a large pot full of boiling salted water.

2. While the pasta is cooking, chop the fresh sage leaves and measure out the butter. The proportions are flexible ... use a little less if you're really worried about saturated fat; a little more if you want plenty of butter flavor.

3. When the pasta is done, drain it and toss it in a warm bowl with the butter and sage and salt to taste until the butter melts and the herbs are distributed.

Butter-sauteed shrimp

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

Enough shrimp for two, maybe a dozen large or 20 medium
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon (15g) butter
Dried red-pepper flakes


1. Peel the shrimp and devein them if you like. Squeeze the lemon into a cup and discard any seeds.

2. Peel the garlic cloves and mince them fine. You should have at least 1 tablespoon, or more to taste. I like this dish garlicky.

3. Melt the butter in a nonstick sautee pan over medium-high heat. Put in the minced garlic and dried red-pepper flakes to taste, then add the peeled shrimp and toss just until they cook through and turn pink. Quickly stir in the lemon juice, check for seasoning and add salt if needed. Serve while sizzling.

Chardonnay - yes, in a "buttery" style - is an obvious choice with butter-based dishes, and the Colin-Deléger 2000 Saint-Aubin featured in Monday's 30 Second Wine Advisor article about oaky and not-oaky Chardonnays went very well. Happily, so did the Kim Crawford 2003 Marlborough Chardonnay from New Zealand, even though it was not buttery in style.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Butter,"

Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at

Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Kung Pao chicken (Sept. 8, 2005)

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Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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