Servings: 12 Prep: 0 mins Cook: 20 mins Total: 20 mins
Ghee is a fantastic form of cooking fat! It’s got a wonderful, buttery taste and texture, a high smoke point (meaning it won’t impart a bitter, burnt taste like burnt butter can), and it’s incredibly easy to make.
In the United States butter must be at least 80% butterfat. From there, it’s about 16% water and roughly 4% “milk solids” (protein, sugar, and various minerals). If you throw a slice of butter into a scorching hot pan, it’ll quickly melt and simmer. The heat melts and liquifies the butterfat, allowing the water to release, hit the bottom of the pan, boil, convert to water vapor, and escape up your vent. Once the water has evaporated, the remaining milk solids quickly caramelize turning into beurre noisette (brown butter). It will then quickly turn very dark, making beurre noir (black butter). Black butter is the razor thin line between a rich and tasty, deeply caramelized butter and genuinely burnt butter. Another moment long and it’s bitter, unappetizing, denatured rubbish (beurre d’ordures).
It’s because of these milk solids that whole butter will burn at roughly 350°F (177°C). Once the water and milk solids are removed, the remaining pure butterfat will not burn (the smoke point) until 450°F (232°C). This makes for a fantastic cooking fat!
Clarified butter is butter that has had the milk fats and water removed. This is generally done through one of two ways…
- The butter is melted. Any foam that floats to the top is skimmed off. Fat is less dense than water, so it floats to the top. The water and milk solids sink to the bottom, forming a cloudy white liquid. At this point, the butter is carefully and gently ladled or poured off the top. As you pour or ladle, you can see the water through the clear yellow butterfat. Be very careful not to any water in it and you’ll be good!
- Using the same process as above, but rather than ladling or pouring the butterfat from the top, instead refrigerate the entire pot of melted, separated butter. The butterfat will solidify above the water, making it very easy to simply scoop out. This is much easier to do but requires a bit of a wait and some of the water may cling to the bottom of your clarified butter scoops. Again, be careful not to get any water in there.
Difference between clarified butter and ghee
The biggest difference between clarified butter and ghee is the method.
Clarified butter is a bit more delicate, while ghee takes a bit longer and is intended to boil the water from the butter, while also browning the milk solids, imparting a light toasted taste into the butterfat.
Because the water has all evaporated, there’s no need to pour, ladle, or refrigerate. Once the hot butter has stopped simmering (because all the water has been removed), and the little bits at the bottom are a light brown color, it’s ready! Now, just strain the butterfat through a paper towel, cheesecloth, or coffee filter… and that’s it!
Both ghee and clarified butter can be used for frying, roasting, sautéing, baking, etc. It’s fat, perfect for most all cooking needs. It’s particularly useful for high-heat cooking. Makes for a wonderful pancake! I’m never unhappy when I’ve got some lying around.
Some people will infuse flavors into their butterfat while melting or simmering. A very common addition (and one I love) is garlic. When the garlic is lightly browned, it can be strained off and used in sauces or as a lovely sandwich spread. The remaining butterfat will have an incredible roasted garlic taste! Various herbs and spices are common additions. I very rarely do this unless it’s for a specific purpose. I’d rather just have a big vat of neutral clarified butter, then build flavors and season anything I’m cooking, from there.
Many folks with dairy issues are usually having an allergic reaction to either the lactose or one of the proteins, usually casein. While clearly clarified butter is a dairy product, all of the lactose and proteins have been removed. As a result, many-to-most of the people with intolerances to dairy do just fine with ghee. Your miles may vary, but it may be worth a tiny test to see if you can get butter back, in some form!
Note: The following recipe is more method than quantity. I’m using 1 lb. (454g) as a base, but you could do 5 lbs. or more. The limit is the size of your pot, as well as your need. I’ll buy giant blocks of butter from a restaurant distributor for a great deal, melt it all down, brown the bits, strain it, bottle it, then use the little bits of browned goodies at the bottom in ice cream (https://djfoodie.com/maple-brown-butter-ice-cream/). SOOO GOOD!!
Servings: You will lose roughly 20% of the volume, due to evaporation and the removal of milk solids. This suggests 1 lb. (454g) of butter will result in about 363g of clarified butter (roughly 1 1/2 cups or 363mL). Recipe is calculated for 2 Tbsp (30mL) servings.
Photo and Storage Note: The bright yellow mason jar in the front is room temperature ghee. The lighter yellow jars in the back have been refrigerated. Ghee is shelf stable for about 3 months, while refrigerated or frozen, ghee will last more than a year.
Random Story with a Razor Thin Connection
I remember back in my restaurant days. I was hired to help open a brand new, celebrity hot spot restaurant in Santa Monica, CA. I’ve opened a few restaurants. It’s always intense, like a real-world version of Survivor.
In every restaurant I’ve ever worked in, we “try out” potential hires, rather than bringing them on, blind. They voluntarily join the ranks for a full shift. We put them to work peeling, dicing, and sautéing. Seeing them actually work is the only way to really know how they move, how they organize, and how well they can put their knowledge to use. Without being able to actually see them function in a real environment, there’s no way to know if they’re solid.
In new restaurants, this isn’t possible. There’s no kitchen, food, or staff. The opening crew for most new restaurants and hotels is hired, largely blind. Because of this, these places tend to over hire, knowing they’ll likely lose half the staff in the first month of the opening.
This first month is always intense. No one knows what’s happening, the menu is new, the kitchen is new, no one knows where the ingredients or equipment is stored, no one knows one another, the stakes are high, etc. It’s total pandemonium. Every day someone new gets fired, until the remaining crew is pruned down to the best… to the survivors.
I was always very fast, organized, and skilled in restaurants. I can cook like the wind, but I’ve never been all that great with culinary terms. Frankly, I’m the kind of person who is great with faces, but lousy with names. Sometimes, I forget my own name. Thankfully, I have a website where I can look it up!
There was another young contestant vying for survival. Everyone needs to harmoniously work together. However, everyone is also competition, the enemy. Everyone is trying to show off, to show their skills and show up the others, but they also have to get the job done. This loquacious individual was a walking encyclopedia of culinary terms and techniques. He was endlessly rattling off his profoundly studied terminology, so much so that I had no clue what he was ever saying. He may as well have been speaking French; a smug, well-versed knucklehead.
The first day we met to actually cook, the day before opening day, this arrogant nincompoop took it upon himself to make about 30 gallons of clarified butter, for a Japanese fusion restaurant (butter isn’t terribly common in Japan). He put about 60 lbs. of butter into a giant pot, then placed the pot on top of a massive industrial wok burner (think “rocket engine”). He cranked the heat, walked away, then promptly forgot about it. Just a few short minutes later, the pot brimmed, then overflowed with scalding hot, stinky black foam, which ignited and caused a big fire. Thankfully the fire extinguisher was close by.
Let’s just say that… I survived that day. In fact, a year later, I was running that kitchen!
- 1 lb. unsalted butter
- Place the butter in a medium sized saucepan.
- Place the butter on the stove, over medium heat. Allow it to melt, then bring it to a simmer.
- Some funky foam may float and form on the surface. Skim this off the top and discard. Periodically stir the butter.
- Allow the butter to continue simmering, until the simmering stops. Boiling and simmering is the evaporation of water. The simmering will naturally stop, because there is no more water to evaporate. At this point, the butter is ready! This likely occurs at around 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the amount of butter used and the heat applied.
- Pay attention to the color and aroma. Darker color means deeper caramel flavor. It’s not bad, but it will become more pronounced in anything you choose to use the butter for. This is a personal judgement call. I tend to keep it fairly light, shooting for a tan or light-brown color. Go darker, if you’d like, but DO NOT BURN IT.
- Once the desired color has been achieved, place a very tight-knit straining device over another pot. This can be a paper towel lined colander, cheesecloth, nut-milk bag, or coffee filters. I personally tend to use a strainer lined with coffee filters.
- CAREFULLY pour the hot fat through your strainer. The yellow liquid in the pot is the ghee. Save the lovely, browned milk solids and toss it into a muffin batter, for a special treat!
- Once the butterfat has cooled to room temperature, package it and store it away. You now have homemade ghee!
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