“I’d have buttered white sliced bread and mashed up banana with a Cadbury Flake on it, press it down, wrap it in cling film,” he remembers fondly. “Then you get to lunchtime and it would sort of look – when it was out the cling film – almost like a tennis ball. It would be all congealed together. But you managed to eat it. Nobody wanted to swap with me, but it was proper.”
Several decades on, this is a Yorkshireman who puts butter on roast potatoes (specifically when they’re “not cold, cold”, but lukewarm) and has now written a whole cookbook devoted to the yellow stuff, simply titled Butter.
“People just think butter is butter, and it’s not,” he says, explaining how different butters suit certain types of cooking. “If you’re going to do French-style patisserie, you just don’t use the stuff you get in the supermarket – it’s too heavily watered, and there’s too much water in buttermilk. Really, really good pastry butter should snap in half like a Dairy Milk.”
Try some of these new recipes celebrating butter
Crispy buttermilk chicken with chipotle dressing
12 chicken thighs, skinned and boneless
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Fine sea salt
For the seasoned flour:
300g self-raising flour
2tsp celery salt
2tsp dried oregano
2tsp cayenne pepper
½tsp ground nutmeg
3tsp garlic salt
3tsp onion salt
2tsp dried thyme
1tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the chipotle dressing:
1tbsp Dijon mustard
3 egg yolks
200ml vegetable oil
1tbsp chipotle chilli paste
A few sprigs of coriander and mint, chopped
1 red and 1 green chilli, sliced
2 limes, cut into wedges
1. Place the chicken in a large bowl or container and coat in the buttermilk. Cover and pop in the fridge overnight.
2. The next day, heat a pan of vegetable oil or a deep-fat fryer to 170°C (338°F).
3. Mix the flour together with all the spices in a shallow bowl. Drain the chicken from the buttermilk and dredge it through the seasoned flour, coating each piece well.
4. Fry the chicken in batches for six to eight minutes until golden and crispy, then drain on kitchen paper.
5. To make the chipotle dressing, whisk together the mustard and egg yolks. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking continuously until you have a thick dressing, then whisk in the chipotle paste.
6. To serve, pile the chicken onto a platter, drizzle over the chipotle dressing and sprinkle the herbs and chillies over the top. Dot with lime wedges for squeezing.
Roast crab with lime and chilli butter
100g butter, softened
Zest and juice of 2 limes
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
1 lemongrass stick, finely chopped
4 spring onions, sliced
2tbsp fresh coriander, chopped, plus extra leaves to serve
1 red chilli, finely diced
300g white crab meat
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan)/400°F/gas 6.
2. Beat together the butter, lime zest and juice, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, spring onions, coriander and chilli. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Spoon the crab into two ovenproof dishes and top with the butter. Place them on a baking tray and roast for 10 minutes until hot and bubbling.
4. Sprinkle with coriander leaves and serve straight away, with toasted sourdough on the side.
Filo croustades of figs, almonds and clotted cream
Plain flour, for dusting
8 sheets of filo pastry
80g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
80g caster sugar
75g flaked almonds, toasted
4tbsp clotted cream
4 ripe figs, stems trimmed and crossed to press open
200g clotted cream
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan)/325°F/gas 3 and grease four 10 centimetre tart tins, one and a half centimetres deep.
2. On a lightly floured surface, cut out 12×12 centimetre squares from the filo pastry. From the remaining pastry, cut out eight discs, using a five centimetre round cutter.
3. Brush one filo disc with melted butter on one side and place it butter-side down into a tart tin. Lightly brush three of the filo squares on both sides with melted butter, then cut them in half into triangles. Arrange the triangles evenly on the disc like petals, then seal them with another filo disc on top (this will ensure light, flaky and crisp croustades). Repeat to assemble the remaining three tart shells.
4. Bake the tarts for eight to 10 minutes until crisp and golden, then carefully place them on a wire rack to cool. Remove from the tins once cool.
5. Put the sugar in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat; do not stir but carefully swirl in the pan until the sugar is brown and caramelised. This should take about three to four minutes. Toss in the almonds to coat them.
6. Place a dollop of clotted cream into each filo shell, add a fig, top with a scattering of caramelised almonds and drizzle with honey. Serve topped with a dollop of clotted cream.
BUTTER: Comforting, Delicious, Versatile – Over 130 Recipes Celebrating Butter by James Martin, published by Quadrille. Photography John Carey. Available now.