Chili-Infused Butter Will Give Your Steak A Spicy Flavor Boost

There are two camps in the steak world. Staunch purists will tell you that nothing should adorn the pure beef flavor other than some simple salt and pepper. The steak should shine, they say. Still, others are constantly seeking new routes toward an elevated steak experience. Neither, of course, is more correct than the other, but even those in the latter camp tend to agree that light hand is called for as steak is such a potent protein. To complement it, the round, nutty richness of butter is often employed, but, for those still craving more oomph, infusing that butter with chilis adds a pleasant touch of heat and more.

A great steak should have as its cornerstone the unmistakable umami flavor of beef. That is produced by the muscle fibers, connective tissue, and fat marbled throughout, each adding different notes to the bite and mouthfeel. That said, the punch of chilis can make for a welcome secondary note that amplifies the steak's flavor as it augments it. While there are plenty of ways of going about adding chilis — and other forms of spice — to steaks, butter has some distinct advantages. First, it adds richness and flavor of its own, especially when used to baste the steak and caramelize a bit under the heat. Second, certain flavor compounds found in chilis are soluble in fat, meaning butter is a fabulous medium with which to deliver the full gamut of spice to the steak.

Pick your pepper

Consider the number of different cuts of steak that exist and the panoply of peppers that are available. It's deliciously obvious that the number of combinations is staggering, so experimentation is key to finding the pairing that works for your tastes. Making chili butter is simple; all that is required is to soften butter and add to it diced fresh or rehydrated dried chilis, hot sauces, powdered chilis, and other herbs and spices as you see fit. Wrap the chili butter up into a log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for topping steaks after they've cooked.

Tasting Table recipe developer Leah Maroney suggests making steak not just spicy, but smoky with a chipotle compound butter. Stirring canned chipotles in adobo, which have a tangy kick, with garlic, and cilantro into butter for a topping that is great melting over grilled skirt steak. If, however, you want to add the spice of chili butter during the cooking process, try making a compound butter that works well as a baste for pan-seared steak. Louisville chef Ed Lee shared with Tasting Table his recipe for kalbi butter that is spiced with Korean gochugaru chili flakes as well as soy sauce, white and brown sugar, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and scallions for all the flavors of Korean barbecue. Throw a few pats of this butter in the skillet with a searing steak, tilt the pan, and use a spoon to carefully baste the steak with the fragrant, bubbling butter.