Compound butters are one of those old-school French preparations that don't get much play these days outside of bistros and steakhouses, but there's no good reason not to make them at home—they're quick and easy and nice to have on hand to spruce up simple dinners. This version is a riff on the classic lemon-and-parsley beurre maître d'hôtel, but here with the addition of garlic scapes to add a subtle depth and funk.
Garlic scapes tend to hit markets in the late spring and can last into the summer: They are the shoots the garlic bulbs send up that, if left on the plant, would open into a flower, just like a tulip or daffodil. Farmers remove them in order to produce more delicious garlic, but the scapes themselves are edible, with a more mild garlic flavor that's layered with a green herbaceousness, much in the way a scallion or chive is oniony but also herbal.
There are just a couple key things to know about working with the scapes for this compound butter. First is that you need to trim the scapes of any dry or woody parts, usually at both the cut end and the bud end. Exactly how much you need to trim will depend on the age of the scapes, so do your best to feel it out and remove anything that seems particularly fibrous and tough. In the end, it's better to remove more than accidentally let some overly woody bits get into the food.
The second is that the garlic scapes need to be blanched first before mincing and kneading them into the butter. Because the compound butter is not going to be cooked after it's formed, you don't want any raw, slightly tough bits of scape in it (yes, even after trimming, the scapes can still have some bite to them). Blanching is as simple as boiling the scapes in salted water until they just become tender; then you'll want to plunge them immediately into an ice bath—my own tests on blanching found that the ice bath step is the single most important for setting a fresh green color and flavor in the vegetable.
Some of you may notice, and be annoyed, that my instructions for this compound butter involve hand-mincing of both the parsley and the garlic scapes. Can't you, after all, use a food processor or blender for this? The short answer is yes, you can, though you have to be careful not to burn out the motor (in particular when using a blender with something as thick as butter; this shouldn't be a risk with a good food processor), and also that all the pieces of garlic scape and parsley get minced finely enough, as the machines have a way of leaving some chunky pieces behind. I personally find hand-mincing to be easier and faster, and it saves me having to clean up blender and food processor parts.
Once the compound butter is fully mixed, you can roll it up into a log and chill it to firm it back up. The log can then be sliced into rounds set on top of a steamed, roasted, or grilled piece of meat or fish, tossed with cooked vegetables, spread on bread, or added to a hot bowl of soup as an easy and rich garnish.
- 1/4 pound (113g) garlic scapes (about 6 scapes), woody ends trimmed and scapes cut into roughly 4-inch lengths
- 1/4 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems (1/2 ounce; 14g)
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks; 226g), softened (see note)
- Kosher or sea salt
In a large bowl, prepare an ice bath. In a pot of salted boiling water, blanch scapes until just tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain, then immediately plunge scapes into ice bath, stirring to chill rapidly. Drain scapes, transfer to a work surface, then mince finely along with the parsley.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine minced scapes with parsley, lemon juice, butter, and a large pinch of salt. Using a clean or gloved hand and/or a silicone spatula, mash until all ingredients are thoroughly and evenly incorporated into the butter. Season with additional salt, if needed.
Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface. Scrape compound butter onto the middle of the plastic wrap, patting it into a rough log shape, about 2 inches thick, as you roll the plastic around it. Holding the plastic by its ends, spin to twist the ends and tighten the butter into an even log, using your hands to gently give the butter an even cylindrical shape. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill until firm, about 30 minutes, before slicing into rounds and using as desired.
While we typically call for unsalted butter in recipes to better control how much salt is eventually added, this is one case where a salted butter would work very well; if using salted butter, simply omit the additional salt.