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What Is Clarified Butter?
Clarified butter is shelf-stable butter with the milk solids and water removed, leaving just the milk fat behind. When slowly heated, the melted butter forms three layers: white foamy whey at the top, pure butterfat (aka liquid gold) in the middle, and white milk solids (casein) at the bottom, allowing you to easily separate out the fat. Removing the dairy gives butter a nutty flavor, higher smoke point, and longer shelf life.
What Is the Difference Between Clarified Butter and Ghee?
Ghee was developed in semitropical India as a way to extend the shelf life of butter: regular butter only lasts about a week in warm climates, much shorter than ghee’s six month-plus shelf life. Traditionally, ghee is made from whole milk that has been fermented into dahi, a yogurt-like substance, which is then churned into butter. However, a less flavorful version of ghee can be made from cream. Ghee comes from the Sanskrit word for “bright,” and in India, it’s used not only in cooking, but also religious ceremonies.
Unlike clarified butter, ghee is heated to two different temperatures: first, 190°F, to evaporate the water; then 250°F, to brown the milk solids, which are removed. This second heating produces antioxidants that extend ghee’s shelf life and give it both a deeper flavor and lower water content than clarified butter. Although clarified butter and ghee are slightly different, they can be used interchangeably in most recipes.
How to Use Clarified Butter
Because the milk solids in butter burn easily, clarified butter has a much higher smoke point than regular butter—about 100°F higher, in fact. Use clarified butter anywhere you would use cooking fat or oil: it’s especially great for frying pancakes, meat, or vegetables and popping popcorn. Clarified butter is also ideal for recipes that require a high amount of butterfat, such as rich hollandaise sauce.
Chef Thomas Keller’s Quick Clarified Butter Recipe
- 1 kilogram butter
- Heavy-duty sealable plastic bag
- 12 quart stockpot half-filled with water, at a simmer
- Kitchen shears
- Bowl for trim
- Ice bath or container of water
- Bring a stock pot of water to a simmer over low heat. Place the butter in a heavy-duty kitchen bag and seal. Set bag into stock pot, taking care to keep the bag off the bottom of the pot. When the butter melts completely, transfer the bag to the refrigerator with one corner of the bag at the bottommost position. It is helpful to chill the bag in an ice bath or container of water to help maintain the position.
- Once the clarified butter has solidified, take the bag out of the fridge, hold over a bowl, and snip the bottom corner to let the milk and solids drain into the bowl. Rinse the block of solidified clarified butter under a faucet for a few seconds, then dry to remove any remaining milk solids. Now you have clarified butter that can be cut into pieces for storage in the fridge or freezer, or melted down for immediate use.
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