If you like Indian food or have wondered what the heck clarified butter is, today’s your lucky day.

Ghee–clarified butter–is a staple of Indian food.  You can buy prepared ghee at a lot of Asian markets but there’s not much point in doing that since making your own clarified butter is so flippin’ easy.

When you melt butter, the milk solids sink to the bottom of pan.  The relatively clear, yellow liquid on top is–guess what–clarified butter.  That’s as simple, and as complicated, as it gets.  It doesn’t burn or brown as easily as whole butter, so it’s handy for sautéeing and is why it’s a key player in Indian food (a lot of Indian recipes call for sautéeing whole herbs and spices).  Clarified butter is also the basis for sauces like hollandaise, béarnaise, and choron.

Jacques Pépin–with whom I am not about to argue–says that clarified butter loses the flavor of whole butter.  It makes sense in a scientific way–you are, after all, leaving the solids behind; there has to be some difference in how it tickles your taste-buds.  But personally, I find it hard to tell the difference.  It’s probable that  my palate isn’t as discriminating as Chef Pépin’s and I’m just an uncivilized nincompoop.

Here’s what Sharon Tyler Herbst has to say about clarified butter, taken from the third edition of the  Food Lover’s Companion:

Also called drawn butter, this is unsalted butter that has been slowly melted, thereby evaporating most of the water and separating the milk solids (which sink to the bottom of the pan) from the golden liquid on the surface.  After any foam is skimmed off the top, the clear (clarified) butter is poured or skimmed off the milky residue and used in cooking.  Because the milk solids (which make butter burn when used for frying) have been removed, clarified butter has a higher smoke point than regular butter and therefore may be used at higher temperatures.  Additionally, the lack of milk solids prevents clarified butter from becoming rancid as quickly as regular butter.  It also means that the butter won’t have as rich a flavor.  Ghee is an East Indian form of highly clarified butter.

All right, I’ve cribbed from Pépin and Herbst, which ought to be enough authority for anyone.  Ghee and clarified butter have now been demystified.

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