Improve Your Butter with This One Ingredient, According to an Icelandic Chef
Inside The Retreat, the sleek new hotel at Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, Moss Restaurant serves a seven-course tasting menu that seamlessly blends the country’s traditional ingredients with unexpected flavors. Fresh crudo is spooned over pungent horseradish granita, sweet beets arrive atop a fine powder of blue cheese snow, and the lamb, a classically rustic dish prepared in kitchens all over the Nordic nation, is elevated with a complex mustard sauce and herby broth. Dessert can be served by the fireplace, behind which floor-to-ceiling windows offer a backdrop of an ethereal blue lagoon and craggy black volcanic terrain.
But before all of that, there’s the butter.
You may have eaten great butter in your life. Maybe in a tiny Parisian bistro, or at a rustic farm in upstate New York. Hell, you can get some pretty outstanding butter at Trader Joe’s. But the butter at this restaurant, in this remote island nation, just may be the best butter on earth.
The secret—which won’t surprise you if you’ve been to Iceland or are generally up on butter news—is one extra ingredient. Skyr, the Icelandic yogurt, adds a smooth, creamy tang. It’s so obviously perfect, you wonder why every butter out there isn’t made this way.
The skyr-mixed butter arrives to your table with several butter-delivery vehicles, including dark sourdough made from a five-year-old sourdough starter, and a potato and caraway bread, inspired by a traditional Icelandic variety—both baked from scratch in-house. There’s also a basket of crisps that include dill bread, curry rice crisp with Arctic thyme and lemon, and cod skin, sourced from the local harbor in Grindavík. The fish meat and scales are removed before it’s blanched, dried overnight, fried, and finished with a dusting of caper powder. These certainly add to the butter’s appeal, but frankly you could spoon straight dollops into your mouth and be just as satisfied.
Moss Restaurant sous chef Arnar Páll Sigrúnarson notes the country’s fondness for bread and butter is intertwined with its past. “In Iceland, we tend to eat quite a lot of bread,” he says. “Throughout our history, those working manual labor—farming, fishing, processing salt—would need to eat a big meal at the end of the day, but money and ingredients were often tight. Serving bread with the meal could often make a little go a long way.”
Here's how to replicate it:
Luckily, the yogurt-adding hack is easy to do at home. According to Sigrúnarson, they soften butter over warm water, then fold in the Skyr before adding söl—seaweed harvested from beaches around the south coast of Iceland, and a sprinkle of Blue Lagoon lava salt. Somewhat more difficult to achieve, maybe, is the perfectly delicate, crispy cod skin and the rest of the wondrous bread basket. But the butter is all you really need.