I remember when I was a kid and I thought the height of butter sophistication was having it served molded into special shapes.
No longer. Notwithstanding the crime of cold, unspreadable butter so often perpetuated on American diners, I have found a new favorite variation of the spread: sorghum butter.
Stomping Ground, a biscuit house in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood, deserves both the credit and blame for getting me hooked on this Southern condiment, which I also ate in embarrassing quantities with the corn bread at Edward Lee's new Succotash in National Harbor ($10 to share, $3 as a side).
At Stomping Ground, chef Nicole Jones whips sweet cream butter in a heavy-duty mixer until it's glossy, before adding sea salt and sorghum syrup. The end product is a pale beige spread -- equal parts butter and sorghum -- with hints of toffee that's just about perfect slathered on one of Stomping Ground's fluffy, crumbly biscuits ($3.25).
Sorghum is actually a cereal grass, whose stalks provide a juice similar to sugarcane that is boiled to create the syrup.
Jones recalls that when she was growing up in the South, "sorghum was just like something your grandparents ate." Now, she attributes its resurgence in part to chefs such as Charleston-based Sean Brock, who has helped popularize a regional, heritage-driven approach to Southern fare.
"It's a pretty distinct flavor. It's not all that sweet," Jones said of sorghum, comparing its complex nuances to Coca-Cola or root beer. The richness of the butter helps mellow out the sorghum, she said.
Andy Clark, executive chef at Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency and Mockingbird Hill, also appreciates the way butter can mask the bitterness of sorghum. But he takes a slightly different approach to sorghum butter at Eat the Rich in Shaw, where it's served with Parker House rolls ($5).
Rather than blending the two ingredients, Clark pours sorghum into a ramekin and then adds a scoop of room temperature high-fat European butter, along with some smoked sea salt.
"I want people to taste the sorghum," he said, which he thinks many people haven't. The presentation allows for diners to swipe pieces of the rolls through the butter, sorghum or both, customizing the balance to their liking.
For his part, Clark said he thinks the flavor of sorghum starts sweet, more like molasses, and ends with a bitter note.
Both Jones and Clark said they carefully source their sorghum, as some syrups sold are blends that may contain molasses or even corn syrup.
"Sorghum is not inexpensive," Jones said. But "a little goes a long way."
Stomping Ground sells quarts of the Muddy Pond sorghum Jones uses for $25. And, yes, you can also buy her butter ($5.50 for 3 ounces), which she said would go just as well on fried chicken or corn as it does on biscuits.
"It has a little bit of a following, I'm not going to lie," Jones said.
Stomping Ground, 2309 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria. stompdelray.com.
Eat the Rich, 1839 Seventh St. NW. www.etrbar.com.
Succotash, 186 Waterfront St., National Harbor. succotashrestaurant.com.