So far, I
have been too lazy to had never seen the need make clarified butter. I mostly used a mixture of olive oil and butter when I wanted to brown something. The butter did burn once in a while when I wasn’t being careful with the heat, but I didn’t really know how to clarify and just didn’t bother. I finally did give it a try, and it turned out to be quite easy and make a huge difference: both easier and better browning! So from now on I will be clarifying butter, and I urge you to not make the same mistake I did and start using it straight away if you aren’t using it already!
So what is clarified butter? Well, butter consists of three parts: milk fat, water, and other stuff usually referred to as ‘milk solids’ (mostly proteins). It’s the butter fat (about 80% of butter) that you want for sauteing. And that is exactly what clarified butter is: butter from which the water and the milk solids have been removed. The water will spatter and the milk solids burn very easily. The smoke point of butter is 160-190C/325-375F, while the smoke point of clarified butter is 250C/480F. Since the Maillard reaction you want for good browning needs at least 150C/300F, it requires precise temperature control to get good browning in butter without burning the butter. With clarified butter it is easy to get good browning.
Clarified butter is closely related to, but not the same as, ghee. Ghee is used in Indian cooking and although sometimes treated as synonyms, ghee has been simmered more than clarified butter and therefore has a darker color and a nutty flavor. In French it is therefore called beurre noisette.
Making clarified butter turned out to be quite easy as long as you make a sizeable batch of at least 500 grams / 4 sticks of butter at once. The three components are separated by density, so you need to be able to separate the layers. It helps a lot if the layers are not extremely thin, so the amount of butter needs to be large relative to the diameter of the pot. So apart from making enough at once, it also helps to use a narrow pot rather than a wide one. The yield is about 75%, i.e. you will yield about 3/4 cup clarified butter from 1 cup butter.
Here’s how to do it.
After 10 minutes or so, the butter will have melted and you will see three layers. On top is some foam, that is part of the milk solids. On the bottom will be water with more of the milk solids. In between will be the butter fat that you are after. (To make ghee, simmer until all the water has evaporated.)
Carefully ladle off the butter fat. You can take out some more milk solids by straining through a fine sieve or cheese cloth. Pouring carefully is also an option to consider. Discard what’s left on the bottom of the pan.
Store in an airtight container (to slow down oxidation). You can keep it in a cool dark place out of the fridge, but in the fridge works great. It keeps for quite a while. You can use it for sauteing and browning in all recipes that specify butter or a mixture of oil and butter for this.
Do you have any techniques you wished you had started to use earlier?