Enfleurage is an old method of extracting fragrance essence from flowers or other botanicals using fat, usually beef tallow. A glass plate would have a layer of fat spread on it, then flower petals pressed into it, after which the fat is left for 1-3 days, then removed and cleaned, using an evaporating solvent, like alcohol. This technique was used for making perfumes, and was the preferred technique for extracting fragrance from delicate flowers like jasmine and tuberose.
So, if it worked for jasmine, would it work on lavender and butter? I took a thin slab of unsalted butter, buried it in lavender buds, covered the butter in plastic wrap, and left it in the fridge for 24 hours. Then removed it, and over the course of another 4 hours, let it come up to room temperature, scraped most of the buds off and definitely did not use any sort of solvent!
Now what to do with my lavender butter? It is a traditional French accompaniment to grilled meat, so that seemed like a good place to start. The meat flavor still seemed to need a bridge flavor between the lavender and the meat, so I chose thyme as the bridge. Think of layering the flavors like layers of perfume…. a base note (beef), a mid-range (thyme) and the top note (lavender). The thyme flavor is infused into the meat by burning the thyme branches into ash on top of the meat. There is a brasserie in Paris that does this, and the whole room smells of burnt thyme, it’s an intoxicating smell. Getting the thyme to burn is tricky. I dry the fresh branches in the oven; light a bunch of matches and work near a good exhaust system. If you light the thyme tableside, for dramatic effect, be prepared to set off the smoke alarm.
Then I wanted to see what would happen when acid was brought into the flavor mix, and we tried white asparagus with lime and lavender butter. The asparagus was steamed in water that had a few slices of lime in it, then fresh lime juice and a knob of lavender butter was added right before serving.
The meat was good, but the lavender flavor was a bit lost, it almost seemed too close in flavor to the thyme to create that bridge. The asparagus, on the other hand, was gorgeous. The lime added a brightness and lift to the lavender and it was the perfect foil for the white asparagus.
I think this is an interesting technique, and I can’t wait to try it again, when I’m in Italy and I can go outside and just pluck some fresh lavender. What else? Basil butter, anchovy butter… the advantage of course, is that you don’t wind up with little green particles or fishie bits in your teeth.