TGIFOOD

CLASSIC, NOT FRENCH

Throwback Thursday: Café de Paris butter

Throwback Thursday: Café de Paris butter
This recipe for Café de Paris butter contains 23 ingredients. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Many presume Café de Paris butter to be a classic of French cuisine, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s not even listed in the French culinary bible, Larousse Gastronomique. Welcome to our first weekly Throwback Thursday food story and recipe, first published nearly three years ago on 1 March, 2021, and our take on the famous compound butter. Republished for the many who may have missed it at the time.

You might expect the compound butter known as Café de Paris to have originated in a Parisian café of that name, or at least in a café in Paris. But if you take the logical step of opening Larousse Gastronomique to read up on the butter’s origins, you’ll be astonished to find that the French culinary bible does not even list it. It does detail two restaurants of the name, one that opened in 1822 in the Boulevard des Italiens in the French capital and was renowned as “a temple of elegance”, and closed in 1856, and another, “just as splendid, smart and expensive”, which “was in business in the capital from 1878 to 1953”. The disgraced Prince of Wales and that Wallis woman used to dine there.

In fact, the compound butter is widely sourced to a café in Geneva where entrecôte Café de Paris has been a speciality since the 1930s, which perhaps explains the snooty French attitude to both the sauce (there’s a sauce of the same name) and the butter as being “not ours”. The “Switzerland” entry in Larousse remarks that “there is no typically Swiss cuisine” and lists little more than cheese and chocolate.

In Geneva’s Rue du Mont Blanc, Café de Paris continues to serve entrecôte café de Paris nine decades after the compound butter started its path to worldwide fame. It acknowledges that the closely guarded recipe was invented there, but all its own website will share is that the butter was “enhanced with multiple spices, herbs and other ingredients”. You can buy a jar of the butter at the café today, but if you want to make it yourself, you’re at the mercy of a host of chefs who claim to have perfected, or near perfected, the butter.

Traditionally, Café de Paris, the butter, is served with entrecôte, which is the cut we know as ribeye, but it can be served with other beef cuts. Ironically, it is often cited as a fine example of what Parisians call “steak et frites”, literally steak and chips, a staple of the capital’s street café life. You have to wonder how many Parisian waiters’ eyebrows have curled and noses twitched when foreigners have ordered entrecôte Café de Paris; an understandable error, given that the city’s name is part of its, well, name, but surely seen as a slight in Paris.

Let’s be clear on one fact: there is no known recipe for Café de Paris butter which is definitive. But chefs are clever people and love to try, taste, try something else, taste again, until they get what to their palate is a recipe which they believe is close enough to the original to call Café de Paris butter.

The recipe is widely believed to include parsley, Worcestershire sauce, anchovy fillets, Dijon mustard, ketchup (really), shallots, onion, lemon juice and zest (some recipes say orange too), brandy and Madeira, garlic, a variety of herbs including thyme, rosemary and tarragon, and spices including Cayenne pepper and curry powder.

The elements are combined with butter and blended, then rolled up in foil and refrigerated. A slice is served atop a freshly cooked steak immediately before it is served.

Bearing in mind that this is taste-and-guess work, here is our attempt at a Café de Paris butter, which we served with fillet steak, which we did not bash the life out of, despite the tradition of an Entrecôte Café de Paris being pummelled with a meat mallet before cooking. I’m not a fan of that, but if you want to hack away at your perfectly textured slab of steak, whichever cut you choose to use, be my guest.

Café de Paris compound butter

1 kg butter

3 shallots or 1 medium red onion

6 anchovy fillets

1 garlic clove, minced

4 Tbsp parsley, leaves only

3 Tbsp garlic chives

4 sage leaves

2 tsp thyme leaves

1 tsp rosemary needles

1 Tbsp dried tarragon or 2 Tbsp fresh

3 Tbsp tomato sauce/ ketchup

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp capers, chopped

2 Tbsp brandy

2 Tbsp Marsala

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp curry powder

¼ tsp white pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

Zest of ½ lemon

1 Tbsp orange zest

1 tsp salt

Method

Some recipes call for the onion and garlic to be sweated with the chopped herbs. But I considered this: recipes for it call for brandy and another wine, usually fortified. So I decided to macerate the raw onion and garlic and herbs in the brandy and marsala while I was preparing the other ingredients to be added. The end result was truly delicious (we had it with fillet steak), so I’m happy with my take on Café de Paris butter as one to take seriously.

Chop the onion and garlic, place in a bowl with the brandy and Marsala to macerate while you chop all the herbs. Bash the chopped herbs with a mortar and pestle to release their essences. Add to the bowl. Chop the anchovy fillets and capers and stir in. Add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard and stir. Add the dry spices, lemon juice and zest, orange zest, salt, and stir well. Leave to stand while the butter softens if it has been refrigerated. 

When the butter is nearly soft, cream it in a bowl with a wooden spoon. It will attain a paler colour.

Add all other ingredients and stir until well combined.

Lay out a double layer of foil 30cm long.

Spoon half of the butter near the edge of the foil nearest you and start rolling it up away from you. Shape it by rolling it in your hands until you have a long tube of it, then twirl the ends. Freeze until next time you cook steak, but it will work well for chicken too. You could defrost some to smear on your chicken before roasting, or use it for frying duck breasts in. DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido. Order his book, foodSTUFF, here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sarah Hetherington says:

    Thanks, I’ll try this. I remember a dark restaurant at the Kloof Nel Road traffic lights (gone in the road widening) that used to serve this! Delicious.

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