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What is Lemon Butter?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Lemon butter has two definitions. It can refer to cold butter in sticks or whipped that has actually been flavored with lemon and sugar. More commonly it refers to lemon butter sauce or meuniere, a wonderful tart, creamy and savory sauce that can be used to top a variety of different dishes. White meats, light fish and shellfish, and plenty of vegetables are commonly served with lemon butter sauce.

Lemon butter sauce begins with clarified butter or ghee. This is butter that has been melted, and then strained. When you melt butter you’ll note little pieces of white in it, which is milk solids. By straining the butter, you get a clear yellow substance that’s a little lower in fat.

Traditional lemon butter recipes call for clarified butter to be browned slowly over low heat, adding about three tablespoons lemon juice for every half cup (113.4 grams) of butter. Many chefs also add a tablespoon of chopped parsley. For a stronger parsley flavor, use flat leaf or Italian parsley instead of curly-leafed varieties. You can also adjust the amount of lemon juice for greater or lesser lemon flavor depending upon your personal taste. If you are using unsalted butter, you should add salt and pepper to taste.

Some people begin recipes for fish or chicken by cooking them in butter. Dishes like scallops, sole, or prawns can easily be sautéed in about 7-10 minutes. They are removed from the pan and then lemon sauce is made in the pan. Note this type doesn’t typically use ghee, just plain melted butter. You can make your own ghee and substitute it. To lend more flavor to the finished dish, the fish may be added back to the completed lemon butter and briefly sautéed in it. Alternately, the sauce can simply be poured over the fish, poultry, or shellfish.

Sometimes lemon butter is served on the side of certain shellfish, like lobster or crab. People can then dip pieces of the shellfish into the butter. This can be a nice change from serving the traditional ghee as a dipping sauce with lobster, and lemon pairs very well with most shellfish.

If you’d like to encourage your children to eat more vegetables, you might consider adding this sauce to cauliflower, green beans, broccoli or even mixed veggies. The child in the house who simply won’t eat veggies may be tempted by this savory sauce to eat and dip their way to more vitamins. Of course, they’re also consuming more fat, but this may be a fair trade off if the determined broccoli hater suddenly becomes a fan due to lemon butter.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Planch — On Jan 21, 2011

Does anybody have a good recipe for lemon butter icing? I tried a cake with lemon butter icing recently and loved it, but I can't seem to find a good recipe.

Can anybody help me out?

By galen84basc — On Jan 20, 2011

Lemon butter is great, but you do have to be a little careful when you make it because if you don't do it right, then you can end up curdling your butter and giving it a sour taste.

However, as long as you follow the instructions it's quite easy. Here's what you do to make two cups of lemon butter.

Take four eggs, three fourths a cup of sugar, a half a cup of lemon juice, two teaspoons of grated lemon rind and about 5 ounces of butter.

Put your eggs and sugar into a heatproof bowl, and then put the bowl in a pan of simmering water. Alternatively, you can can use a double boiler. Whisk the mixture smoothly, but constantly until the sugar dissolves.

Then add in all your lemon juice, rind, and butter, still whisking constantly for about 20 minutes or until the butter is melted to where it can coat the spoon.

Now, you have to be very careful not to let the mixture boil, or your butter will curdle because of the interaction with the acid from the lemon and the butter.

As soon as your butter has melted and been mixed appropriately, then immediately pour it into sterilized containers, seal it, and put it in the fridge.

There you go -- homemade lemon butter! And if you want lemon parsley butter or even a lemon butter garlic sauce, all you have to do is mix in the herbs.

Enjoy, bon appetite!

By closerfan12 — On Jan 19, 2011

Lemon butter is one of those things that sounds kind of gross when you first think about it, but is actually a really lovely combination when done properly.

For instance, I hardly ever cook fish without a lemon butter garlic sauce -- it is ideal for every kind of white fish, or any fish at all, but I wouldn't recommend it for haddock or salmon. It's not bad with them, just not the best combination in the world.

You may also want to try cooking asparagus with lemon butter. It adds a whole new dimension to the asparagus, and offsets the often salty dish nicely.

Really, though, you can find the best combinations if you just experiment a little bit. And with something as easy to make as a lemon butter sauce, it's not hard to do.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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