In the 1970s, there was an annoyingly accurate saying, “It takes money to make money.”
It also takes resources to save resources, so while I write about decreasing waste I am highly aware that I am lucky to have a fully equipped kitchen, lots of Tupperware, a good freezer, and cooking theory in my little brain.
When I was a teenager, I remember my mother once lamenting that we were eating leftovers. I said, “It wasn’t too long ago that we couldn’t AFFORD leftovers.” So at that, we were both grateful. For a long time we were hungry, then we had JUST ENOUGH food, then we had extra food, and now, as an adult, I have extra food, and usually it is food I actually feel like eating, and more than I need. This still seems miraculous to me, most of the time.
My mother never used margarine. She grew up right after WWII and margarine was, for her, a symbol of food coupons and of rationing and of want. No matter how poor we were, she always made sure we used butter. If she ran out of it, there were substitutes. Just never never the hated margarine.
I am not a nutritionist; how much fat of any kind to consume is between you and your doctor. But if you are out of butter, here’s what you can do:
Baking: Butter provides a luscious kind of moisture, so it can be replaced by something moist—that part is easy to figure out. If you want the luxury of fat, you can sub just about one to one with mayonnaise or sour cream (cream is what butter is made of, in case we forget this). Vegetable oil, being runnier, usually should be in a smaller amount than butter. Olive oil can work but it is costly, so if I were you I’d run out and get some butter.
What about animal fats? If you are the type to save bacon or ham fat, it is usually pretty yummy in baking—especially nowadays when “salted” (chocolate, caramel, whatever) is in vogue. Chicken fat will work but not add as much flavor.
If you are on a low fat diet, you can use a veg or fruit puree for at least part of butter or oil, but it will change the texture. Applesauce, puree of carrot, stewed pumpkin, can all be substituted for butter in baking but it will not fool anyone.
If you are out of butter for bread, that is a good time to break out the olive oil. Plain olive oil is dull—that’s what it is prized for, not adding much flavor—so if you don’t have flavored or specialty olive oil that’s when you get to grind in pepper, garlic, or other seasonings and dab your bread, rather than spreading something on it.
Frying: You probably shouldn’t be frying things in butter anyway, because it burns too easily, but you knew that, right? If you are sauteeing and are low on butter, you can actually work in some water after the butter has melted. You must move the food around quickly if you choose to do this, but it is a lower fat way to sautee.
There are times you can cook with mayonnaise; it makes great grilled cheese. I rarely do this, though. It tastes great but it feels odd to me.
I have to laugh but I just realized: I am out of butter.