A plea for butter

frische Butter

Over the last 100 years, at least in Germany, butter has experienced a rather checkered history: While it used to be a sign of good living to indulge in the generous use of butter, in the second half of the 20th century butter became increasingly frowned upon, as it was attributed to be detrimental to health due to its high content of saturated fatty acids and to contribute to high cholesterol levels and vascular blockages.

The bad reputation of butter

The claim that butter is detrimental to health was refuted early on, and the study initially put forward as evidence against butter was exposed as technically deficient and unsubstantiated. But the reputation of butter was nevertheless ruined to some extent. Margarine products made from hydrogenated vegetable fats or vegetable oils were able to gain significant market shares. The Mediterranean diet with lots of olive oil was praised as ideal. The fact that in France, for example, with traditionally high consumption of butter (7.9 kg per capita and year), life expectancy is comparable to that in Italy, where only a fraction as much butter is consumed (2.3 kg per capita and year), was always successfully ignored by the butter opponents.

Butter for frying

Many people also avoid using butter for frying because it burns easily in a hot pan. But this actually only happens at temperatures that are rather disadvantageous for frying anyway. Experience shows:

Most fry too hot! "Hot frying" does not mean "full power"!

Butter in der PfanneBy far the most common reason for damage to pans is overheating, which leads to deformation of the bottom of the pan and / or destruction of coatings. In fact, contrary to what is often assumed, pans for frying should not be operated at maximum heat.
Even if the recipe calls for hot frying, with modern, powerful stoves, this does not mean that the pan should be heated at maximum heat / power! The maximum reading of a stove is only for heating larger amounts of liquid (bringing water to a boil).

Butter is like a pan thermometer

To avoid such overheating in the first place, butter is a great help when frying, because butter (and also margarine) gives much better feedback about the frying temperature through its change of state, from melting to foaming to browning, than oil, which only suddenly starts to smoke when very strongly overheated.

This is how butter behaves in the pan

  • about 30-100°C: The butter melts.
  • approx. 100-140°C: The butter foams because the water it contains (approx. 16%) boils away. If you want to fry a fried egg, add it to the pan as soon as the fat has settled and turn down the heat if necessary. The egg should cook rather gently in the fat and not fry hot like a piece of meat.
  • About 150°C: The water has boiled away and the foaming has stopped. The butter is clear and begins to brown due to the proteins it contains (Maillard reaction). Good frying temperature for onions, for example.
  • Approx. 160°C: The butter is slightly brown. Good frying temperature for most foods. (Vegetables, meat, fish, omelettes, pancakes, etc.).
  • approx. 170°C: The butter is brown. Good for frying very thin slices of meat.
  • above 180°C: Butter is black-brown and too hot! Butter tastes burnt / bitter.

Butter is perfect for frying in cast iron and iron/carbon steel pans.

Most iron/cast iron pan newbies fry way too hot, partly because they think they finally have a cookware that, unlike non-stick cookware, is insensitive to high temperatures. And this is true, at least for the pan itself. But to achieve good frying results in such uncoated pans without much sticking of the food, you need a good sense for the right temperature of the pan. If the pan is way too hot, many a frying session ends in frustration as the food burns and cleaning the pan is a hassle.
With a new pan, it takes some time, even as an experienced cook, to get used to the pan's heating and thermal behavior. Overheating can therefore happen quickly, especially in the initial phase, especially with pans that react sluggishly and with a greater time delay to a change in the stove setting, such as heavy cast iron pans.

New pan? Always fry with butter first!

We therefore recommend that when you buy a new pan, you fry it with butter, at least for the first time, until you get a feel for the speed of heating and the temperature behavior of the new pan.