Ask Addie: What’s the word on salted versus unsalted butter?

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Please give me a clarification on using butter. When a recipe calls for butter, it means regular salted butter, and only use unsalted if specified, correct?

Thanks,
Betty Hambright
Fayetteville, Texas

butterUnsalted butter is considered the default, especially in the baking community, but in my kitchen, I use salted butter for almost everything. I understand the logic against using salted butter as your standard — you can control the amount of salt used more accurately when you’re the one doing the salting — but try telling that to my palate, which prefers the taste of salted butter on everything from pasta to toast.

And here’s where I think recipe writing is changing: Every recipe writer has a secret or not-so-secret personal preference, and I’d say it’s about 50/50 on salted or unsalted. Consciously or not, whatever butter you have handy is the one you use when you’re cooking, and you learn to salt accordingly. After all these years of using salted butter, I know I’ve developed a light hand with table and kosher salt when cooking and baking, but many of you might take the opposite approach.

We try to be specific in our recipes, but I know we don’t always succeed in getting it in there. When not specified, use unsalted butter if you have it, but more importantly, use your best judgment about whether you tend to like foods on the saltier side and tweak as such.

If you’re baking and don’t have unsalted butter, decrease the amount of additional salt by 1/4 teaspoon per 1/2 cup of salted butter.

The same is true for both salty and sweet applications: You can always add salt, but you can’t take it away. (A squeeze of lemon juice can help if you accidentally oversalt.)

Which salt is always in your cart at the grocery store? Do you assume a recipe means one or the other when you’re cooking? I’d love to hear your opinions on this subject matter — and answer any other culinary questions you might have — by email (abroyles@statesman.com) or phone (512-912-2504) or comments below.


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