Clarified butter is butter from which the milk solids have been removed. Commercial operations may use a centrifuge or decantation to do this.
The traditional ghee method involves melting and heating the butter so that its water evaporates and some milk solids rise to the top of the melted fat (to be skimmed off) and others sink to the bottom (to be filtered out later). If the butter is cooked long enough the milk solids caramelize and give a nutty flavor to the butter fat.
Advantages of clarified butter over fresh:
- Clarifying butter preserves it. As the water and milk solids in the butter are removed, butter prepared this way can last indefinitely without refrigeration in an airtight container.
- Clarified butter’s smoking point is higher than that of fresh butter, which makes it useful for sauteeing and frying.
- Since you’ve removed the milk solids the clarified butter is low in lactose and so can be tolerated by many people who are lactose intolerant.
Here titlinihaan in the UK shows us how she makes ghee on the stovetop. Using 500 grams (so, about one pound) of butter the process takes her about an hour and a half:
Titli didn’t mention this, but you want to be careful that you don’t burn the solids on the bottom of the pan, because that can ruin the taste of the whole batch.
Here David Bruce Hughes in Santiago, Chile shows us how he makes large batches of ghee. “The time that you spend to make a large quantity of ghee is not going to be much more than to make a small quantity, so you might as well stock up, ” he says. He mentions a lot of the technical aspects of the process.
A hands-free method of making ghee is to use the oven. In “The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking”, Yamuna Devi writes “This is the best method for making a stockpile of ghee. Because the heat surrounds the ghee, rather than contacting only the bottom of the pan, the cooking is slower but almost effortless. More of a crust will harden on the surface, and the solids at the bottom of the pan will remain soft and somewhat gelatinous.”
Yamuna uses a baking pan deep enough to allow about three inches (approx. 7.5 cm) of pan above the surface of the melting butter and bakes her ghee at 300 F (150 C).
If you are processing a pound of butter you may need to leave your pan in the oven for an hour before you can skim and filter.
Instead of skimming off the solids as the butter cooks, as Titli did, you skim after you’ve removed the pan from the oven. Then you filter the mixture – either with a clean tight-woven cloth, layers of cheesecloth or with a coffee filter as Titli suggested.
Yamuna writes that you can save the milk solids for use in dishes or to spread on bread.
For flavored ghee, you add herbs and/or spices (added by themselves to the butter or you can put them into a sachet you’ve made with cheesecloth and add that to the butter) to the ghee as it cooks.
Other terms for clarified butter: brown butter, beurre noisette (French), samna/samneh (Arabic), ghee (Hindi-Urdu), butterschmalz (German), manteiga da tierra (Portuguese), manteiga de garrafa. Spiced clarified butter is known as niter kibbeh. Smen(North Africa) is spiced, cultured clarified butter.