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Fresh radishes dipped in butter and sprinkled with salt is a classic French preparation that's that's so easy, even the worst cook could get it right. The spicy, crisp, and juicy radishes are at perfect odds with sweet, creamy, fatty butter, producing one of those elemental combinations that's nearly impossible to improve upon. But I'm a stubborn guy, and finding a way to add a small flourish to the theoretically un-improvable is a challenge I'll gladly hand myself. My solution? Creating a selection of compound butters, which brings new variety and flavor to the dish without sacrificing the qualities that make it so perfect to begin with.
If you're new to compound butter, don't be intimidated—it's simply a butter that's blended with other ingredients, like herbs, spices, or pastes. It's generally very easy to make: Just soften the butter to a kneadable, spreadable consistency, add your flavorings, work it all together with a silicone spatula, and either use it immediately or store it covered in the refrigerator, allowing it to returning to a softer consistency before serving.
The three flavors I decided to pair with my sliced radishes all start with a basic foundation of butter mixed with crème fraîche. Though the latter isn't strictly necessary, and recipes will work fine if it's replaced with an equal amount of butter, it adds a tanginess that works so well—dare I say, it improves the butter and radish combo?—that I would strongly recommend using it. The one thing to watch out for with crème fraîche is that, since it's simply cultured cream, it can break apart into butterfat and watery buttermilk if over-beaten. That's not a problem if you use a spatula to blend these compound butters, but it could be if you decide to take a shortcut and beat them together with a stand mixer.
The first of my compound butters is a miso-soy flavor. It just makes sense: We have the bitter spiciness of the radishes, the sweet fattiness of the butter, and the tang of the crème fraîche. The only key savory flavor we're missing is umami, which is where the miso and soy come in. The result is a more deeply delicious, more profoundly savory butter to dip your radishes into. It's flat-out addictive. Working the liquid soy sauce into the mix is a minor technical challenge, but if you blend it with the miso first, it's much easier to combine with the butter.
The next flavor is aimed at amping up, and enhancing, the radishes' own fresh pepperiness. That means adding freshly grated ginger for an even more intense zestiness and heat, along with curry powder for a more complex array of spice aromas.
For the third dimension in compound butter flavors, I went with mixed fresh herbs, which play up the fresh, straight-from-the-garden appeal of the radishes even more. Any minced herbs will work, especially more delicate ones like parsley, mint, tarragon, basil, and chives.
You can make just one for dipping (or to spread on some dainty tea sandwiches), or you can make all three. Or, you know, you could just stick with plain butter, but what's the fun in that?
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