Butter remains one of Ireland greatest cooking assets

I HAVE always admired the delicate carvings of a butter stamp and remember my grandmother showing me one when I was very young. 

They are beautifully tactile objects in themselves and were used to imprint patterns, designs or crests onto slabs of butter, by families or businesses.

The stamps tend to be carved-out wood with a handle to allow them to be pressed into the soft butter.

Butter is one of Ireland great assets, our verdant fields provide dairy herds with ample food and the butter they produce is sought after around the world. 

According to The National Dairy Council, this has been the case since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when Ireland was the major butter exporter in northern Europe and the Americas. Much of the butter shipped from Ireland to Europe was reshipped across the Atlantic to markets such as the West Indies and the Americas.

 This butter had to be highly salted to ensure its preservation on such long and often hot voyages. 

Most butter in Ireland is still salted today. I use this regular Irish salted butter in baking and then just add additional salt very sparingly, even though in many recipes recommend unsalted butter.

Whipped or flavoured butters can be handy to have in the fridge. You can whisk ingredients together with the butter and roll on some baking parchment for later use. 

Sun-dried tomatoes, capers, olives all work well as do most soft herbs and of course, garlic. The butter is tasty melted over meat as it is cooking or used to fry fish as seen in the recipe below. 

Sweet butter can also be made, honey whipped with cinnamon and butter is delicious melted over warm pancakes or French toast on a lazyweekend morning.

Because butter absorbs flavours in the fridge, it should be wrapped airtight for storage. You need cold refrigerated butter for pastry making and the trick to crisp pastry is to keep the butter as cold as possible throughout the process. 

It is not good to handle it too much, just quickly rub it into the flour and put in back in the fridge once it is formed. It the butter begins to get overly warm and oily in texture, the resulting pastry will never be as good. 

The pastry recipe here can be used with many different fillings. It is a useful recipe and I would often make a larger batch and just pop the extra into the freezer for easy use at another time.

Whiting with smokey lemon butter

50g of butter, room temperature

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Zest of 2 lemons

A bunch of parsley, finely chopped

1/2 tsp of smoked paprika

4 whiting fillets, skinned and boned

A dash of rapeseed oil

Green leaves for four

1 tbs of vinaigrette dressing

A handful of toasted seeds

Mash the butter with the garlic, lemon zest, parsley, and paprika until they are completely combined. You can use a food processor if you wish.

Season the fillets of fish and heat the oil in a pan. Fry skin side up for three minutes and then turn the fillets over. Fry for a minute and add the butter to the pan. 

Allow it to melt and spoon it over the fish. Fry for a total of three minutes on this side or until it flakes away with a fork.

Toss the salad leaves in the dressing and top with the seeds.

Peas and potato butter mash with sausages

Potatoes for four, peeled and freshly cooked

150g of frozen peas

6 tbs milk

25g of butter

1 onion, sliced into rings

8 banger style sausages

4 tbs of chutney

Put the potatoes on to boil in lightly salted water, add the peas for the last few minutes of cooking. 

Drain the water and mash with the milk and butter. Season to taste.

Heat another knob of butter in a pan and sauté the onions until soft. Set aside and fry the sausages until cooked.

Serve the sausages on the mash with the fried onion and chutney.

Tomato and tarragon tarts

300g of plain flour

A pinch of salt

150g of cold butter, cubed

approx 2 tbs of cold water

Sieve the flour into a bowl. Rub butter into flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Using a fork, add the water to bring the pastry together. You may need to add a little more to bind the mixture.

Cover the pastry with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least a half an hour.

Grease and flour four tart tins. Roll out the pastry and line your tins with it, put parchment paper on top of the pastry and blind bake the tart for 15 minutes

When tart has cooled slightly, fill with desired filling and bake until warmed.

For the filling

3 eggs

Small bunch of tarragon, finely chopped

100 mls of creme fraiche

2 tsp of grated nutmeg

100g of goats cheese, crumbled

8 cherry tomatoes, halved

Beat the eggs, tarragon, nutmeg, and creme fraiche. Stir in the goats cheese and season. Scoop the mixture into your tart cases. 

Lay the cherry tomatoes on top. Bake at 180 degrees for half an hour until the mixture is cooked through.

Butter cookies

200g of butter

200g of caster sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tbs of lemon juice

1 tsp of vanilla essence

500g of plain flour

1 tsp of baking powder

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius or 350 Fahrenheit or Gas mark 4

Beat the butter and sugar in the machine until fluffy.

Then mix in the egg, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Finally beat in the flour that has been mixed with the baking powder.

When the dough is coming together, take it out of the machine, knead lightly into a ball, wrap it in cling film, and leave in the fridge for an hour.

Roll out into 3-4mm thick, then cut with your chosen cutter

Bake the biscuits for 7-8 minutes, or until they are nicely brown.

Decorate with coloured icing. Dry the biscuits in the still warm oven.


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