Clarifying Butter

Clarified butter is simply butter with all of the milk solids, water, and impurities removed, leaving only the fat. It retains its rich flavor, but has a higher smoke point than whole butter when used in stovetop cooking. Its close relative, ghee (or brown butter) is used in a lot of Indian recipes.

Already a preserved form of milk, butter can be further preserved by freezing or clarifying (and then freezing.)

Buying ghee or clarified butter in the store is a waste of money; it costs around $7 for a small 8 oz jar. Buying good butter on sale and then clarifying it yourself is much more economical. Depending on the quality of the butter you buy, 1 lb of whole butter yields about 10 oz of clarified, thus saving you at least $5 and using a mere 15 minutes of your time.

To make clarified butter, you need:

  • 1 lb good quality butter, preferably unsalted
  • medium sized saucepan
  • spoon
  • heat resistant glass vessel such as a Pyrex measuring cup (optional)
  • fine strainer (optional)

Put the butter in the pan and place it over high heat. Wait patiently while it melts completely. It will bubble and fizz wildly but resist stirring it. When it has melted, turn the heat down to medium. Watch as large bubbles rise and burst (water escaping) and see small bits of solid gather on the bottom of the pan.

After a few minutes, if any scum rises and stays at the top, skim it off with your spoon. Continue simmering for a while and see your butter take on a clear, golden color. When the bubbles start to come small and fast, that means you are near the end. Pay close attention that the solids on the bottom do not start to brown (unless you want ghee). Turn the heat down further and cook until the bubbles have pretty much stopped (it’s a fine balance between boiling off all the water and starting to brown the solids.)

Remove from the heat and strain into a measuring cup to cool. Use some right away, or transfer it to a freezer safe container. Clarified butter will last at least six months frozen, and three months in the fridge.


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