Rich, Sweet & Wild: Acorn and Pine Nut Infused Butter
Most of my readers well know my fondness for the sweet, rich taste of New Mexico’s wild acorn. This smooth dark nut from the evergreen woodlands of the Southwest’s middle mountain ecology is often prolific and a great favorite of local wildlife. And with good reason, as this little nutrient powerhouse is both delicious and deeply nourishing, providing us with fat, protein and a plethora minerals…. The problem with acorns and with the SW’s other great nut, the pine nut, is that they’re small and take damn near forever to shell a sizable enough amount to make much food. With this in mind, I’ve been experimenting with various ways of concentrating and extending the flavor.
I was recently trying to figure out how to best send the flavor of acorns to a dear friend of mine, and because this friend has a particular love of butters and oil, it occurred to me to attempt to infuse the taste of the acorns into an oil. Now, I knew this could be done by first decocting the acorns into water and then adding to clarified butter and then cooking off the water, as I do with ashwagandha and certain other herbs but meh, I’m not much fond of such long drawn-out methods. So, I figured that nothing could be hurt by trying to directly pull the flavor of acorns out into the butter, after all, most nuts are quite oil-soluble. And if it didn’t work, well, the butter would still be fine and the buttery acorns would be extra good in a stew or nutbread.
I love making a dark, hearty brew with my roasted acorns for my morning beverage and so I always have a handful or two recently boiled acorns on hand. I took a large handful of the acorns and tossed them into a small pot with a stick of butter. I let the butter get hot and froth up and then moved them to a cooler burner on the woodstove to barely simmer for a bit longer. The acorns were on the stove for a total of about 30 minutes. Afterward, I strained the now deep-fried acorns out of the butter and preserved the liquid in a small jar and set aside the acorns to be ground up and used in seed-cakes or tortilla or chocolate.
Once the butter cooled back to solid, I had a fabulously rich and acorn-infused treat that tastes amazing in venison stew, chocolate, homemade herbed mayo, nut-breads, eggs, and so many other dishes, both savory and sweet! You can bet that there will be some acorn infused butter in my egg nog this year, and probably into my holiday berry and nut stuffing as well.
I tried the same thing with roasted Pine Nuts and Hazelnuts (as seen in the picture), both of which turned out rich and flavorful, with the Hazelnuts being the mildest tasting of the three. These nut infused butters will definitely become a staple in our kitchen, if only we can keep Rhiannon from eating it all with a spoon!
- 1/3 – 1/2 C of flavorful roasted nuts (acorns*, pine nuts etc). If the nuts are very hard, as is the case with acorns, soak them the night before or boil them for a few minutes (and drink the tea). If the nuts have a milder taste, you may need to use a larger amount.
- 1-2 sticks of unsalted (preferably cultured) butter or other mild-flavored fat/oil.
- Place butter and nuts in a saucepan on the stove on medium heat.
- Allow the butter to heat until a froth forms on top, stirring occasionally (some people prefer to skim the milk solids from the surface, I however, just stir them back in).
- Stir, and turn the heat to low. Continue to stir and let the nuts continue to infuse in the butter for about 20 more minutes, depending the heat, and the nut. Longer infusion will generally result in a stronger flavor.
- Remove from heat, and strain, reserving both nuts and butter.
- Allow to cool. The full flavor will not be apparent until the butter is cooled and set.
- Store the butter in a small canning jar or similar airtight container. Save the nuts to use in any dish that needs a touch of flavorful, nutty goodness.
- Eat your infused butter on everything and anything, or right out of the jar.
*If you use acorns, you’ll want to roast them first, and you’ll probably want to use Southwestern acorns, since they seem to be far tastier than acorns from back East. If you’re from somewhere other than the SW and have delicious acorns, please leave a comment, my readers would love to hear about it, I’m sure