The Science Of Clarified Butter and Ghee

"I always give my bird a generous butter massage before I put it in the oven. Why? Because I think the chicken likes it, and, more important, I like to give it." Julia Child

All my life I have sought clarity. Here is how I found it.

Butter is made by churning milk fat. It is a mix of oil, water, and milk solids. Many butters have salt added and are labeled "salted".

Sometimes, when cooking, one wants the flavor of butter, but not the water, especially when frying or sautéing. That water will keep the temperature of the oil down until the water bubbles, foams, and boils off, not good for frying. Then the milk solids turn brown and eventually black. Butter burns at about 250°F.

But if you clarify the butter, if you remove the water and milk solids, you raise the smoke point to about 400°F, so you can cook with it over higher heat before it breaks down and turns brown. Clarified butter, also called drawn butter, can be kept in a tight jar at room temp and you can buy it in some stores. I have never seen it go rancid.

Ghee is a form of clarified butter that has had the water evaporated but it is cooked a bit longer with the milk solids so they caramelize and develop a nutty flavor. Simetimes it is even flavored with spices. Ghee easily found in Indian groceries.

Above, we see steaks warming in clarified butter at Stripsteak in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. For more about their unique method of preparing incredible steaks, read my article Extreme Steak.

Preparation time. 5 minutes

Chill. 1 hour

Makes. 3/4 cup

Ingredients

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter

Method

1) Cut the butter into cubes and put it into a bowl. Hit it with microwaves for 2 to 3 minutes until melted, or put it in a pan over low and melt it completely.

2) Put it into the freezer for about 30 minutes or the fridge for about an hour until it solidifies again.

3) It will separate into three layers, a thin layer of white milk solids at the top, a lemon colored layer of clarified butter, and a thin bottom layer of more solids and water. Scrape off the top layer and save it in plastic wrap or wax paper. You can use this top layer on popcorn or bread. Mark Bittman of the New York Times says "I sometimes add it to pancake batters or pasta-like doughs such as wrappers for pierogi."

4) Now run a butter knife around the sides of the bowl and loosen the waxy disk of clarified butter. There will probably be a little water at the bottom. Discard it, and pat the water off the bottom of the butter with a paper towel. Melt it again in the microwave and pour it into a very clean jar.

steaks in clarified butter

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