Clarified butter, also known as drawn butter or ghee, is a form of “clean” butter where certain solids are removed and only the pure butterfat remains. Unsalted butter is slowly melted, allowing the milk solids to separate from the transparent golden liquid and for any water to evaporate. Cooking with clarified butter has several benefits, particularly when frying. Milk solids are what cause butter to smoke and burn in cooking, so by omitting them, you are able to cook with butter at a much higher temperature and for a longer period of time. Milk solids also cause the butter to spoil, or become rancid. Clarifying the butter ensures that when you use it to cook certain things they will have a longer shelf life.
The taste of clarified butter, though different and less rich than regular butter, is great for frying certain foods, like breaded eggplant, pancakes or blintzes. It has a nice, subtle flavor that you won’t get when frying in animal fats or other types of oil. If you’re learning to cook kosher, clarified butter is useful in dairy and vegetarian dishes, but should not be used to cook meat.
Clarified butter does not become grainy when refrigerated and re-melted. It is a popular choice with certain baked goods. It’s also helpful when creating a smooth hollandaise sauce. Because most of the milk solids are removed, clarified butter is also a good choice for people with lactose intolerance. Those who have milk allergies, however, should steer clear because of the small amount of milk solids that may remain.
Making your own clarified butter is very simple. I will walk you through the process here. I’ve written the tutorial for 1 cup of butter, which produces between 2/3 cup and 3/4 cup clarified butter. You can easily double or triple the recipe to make more at a time. I like to make 2 or 3 cups and store in the refrigerator, so I always have some on hand. It will last you several months.
Next week, I’ll share a recipe where you’ll need to know this process… so study up!
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You will need
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- Small saucepan
- Mesh strainer
- Several layers of cheesecloth
- Heat-safe bowl
- Sealed container for storing the clarified butter (I use a small mason jar)
- Place butter into a small, heavy bottomed pan. Turn heat to medium low. Let the butter melt slowly. This will take a few minutes-- don't rush it by raising the heat. Low and slow is the way to go! Don't stir the butter as it melts, just let it be.
- Once the butter is completely melted, you'll notice a foamy white layer has formed on the top. Use a spoon to skim that foam from the surface of the butter, being careful to leave behind the golden butterfat.
- Skim as much of the foam as possible from the surface. Don't worry if a few specks are left behind, you will strain those away later. If you'd like, you can use the solids you have skimmed in another dish to add flavor-- it can be tossed with warm pasta, on rice, or on fresh hot popcorn.
- Remove the butter from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place a wire mesh strainer over a heat-safe bowl. Line the strainer with several layers of cheesecloth. If you don't have cheesecloth on hand, use a coffee filter-- it will take longer to strain through, but it's just as effective.
- Tilt the pan gently and slowly pour the melted butter through the cheesecloth. You only want to pour the golden fat through the cheesecloth, skimming away the leftover bits of foam.
- When you get to the bottom of the pan, you'll notice more milk solids. Do not pour those through the cheesecloth-- stop when you run out of butterfat and only the solids remain.
- Pour clarified butter into a container and seal. Store in the refrigerator. Butter will solidify at cooler temperatures, but can easily be returned to liquid by warming.