Why Ghee is Not Really Clarified Butter
Ghee is a type of clarified butter, but much confusion arises from equating ghee with clarified butter.
Clarified butter is a term used particularly in French cooking. It is a product where butter is melted to drive off a little of the moisture and alter the flavour slightly.
Ghee is a product where all moisture and all impure products such as salt, are eliminated from the butter and a pure oil remains. This oil has great cooking properties, superb taste and many health giving properties as well as mystical Hindu properties.
Please don’t equate ghee with clarified butter, for it is confusing for readers and cooks. Call it Ghee, and advise that they look for a good quality ghee in their supermarket or Indian grocery and not use anything labeled simply as clarified butter. Better still, advise them to make it themselves, using a good recipe that takes the butter or cream all the way to ghee.
Technically, ghee is a type of clarified butter. But it’s not just any old type of clarified butter: all milk solids (including lactose) and moisture must be removed before it can become ghee (clarified butter that still retains some moisture and milk solids is not ghee).
It is good to understand that before using or making your own ghee, and if you are writing recipes using ghee, please don’t call it clarified butter.
Make your own Ghee
I have been making ghee for myself and others for about 7 years. Yes, it does take a few practice attempts to perfect, but once you have done it you will never buy ghee again. It is quite different.
Really, it is a very simple thing. All it requires is butter and mindfulness – it does need to be watched. No leaving the kitchen while this one is cooking. And I found the end point tricky to judge the first 2 times that I made it. But after that, you are a pro. It takes about 30 minutes all up. The amount of time that it takes depends on the amount of water in the butter.
What is surprising is the amount of Junk that comes out of the butter – and we normally eat it.
Ghee is one of the most valuable foods and medicines around. It can be used in place of butter and oil. It adds a very special flavour of its own. It is the best cooking oil – it heats to high heats without burning – and keeps indefinitely without refrigeration. In fact it is better kept out of the fridge.
Ghee is said to be the essence of a cow – first the cow produces milk, then cream is made from the milk. The best of the milk is extracted to make butter and then the best of the butter extracted to make ghee. How close to “essence of cow” is that!
And as the cow is sacred to Hindus, the eating of Ghee is a very special thing. This is a great read on Ghee and Ayurveda.
The making of Ghee in my kitchen
Having said all of that, I messed it up a little this time, just when I wanted to take some photos to show you. A the ghee was bubbling on the stove, I broke a glass jar and there was glass all over the floor. My feet were bare.
So, in the fascination of that event, I ever so slightly overcooked the ghee. Actually I don’t mind, I do love the extra caramelisation that it gives the ghee, but strictly speaking it is cooked a little too far. How can I tell? Instead of being a wonderful golden colour it is darker than it should be.
How to use Ghee
- When cooking any Indian dish, use instead of oil or butter for sautéing or making the tadka at the end. If you cook Indian regularly, you will use it a lot.
- Drizzle one tsp of ghee on hot cooked rice. Anything with rice tastes so much better with ghee. Try cooking rice, then stirring through a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice and a tablespoon of ghee. Yum.
- Use it when preparing different types of fried rice.
- Sauté spices in ghee. Many spices only release their true flavour in oil, not water.
- On toast!
- And on boiled potatoes.
- Garlic roasted in ghee, spread on the bread is garlic-bread at its best.
- In Hindu temples, ghee is burned in fire ceremonies and used to anoint the devotees.
- Ghee is used as an internal and external remedy and also as a massage oil.
Anything with ghee is ghee-licious. You can’t go wrong.
So have a go – here is the recipe. Practice and mindfulness makes perfect.
It smells so good while it is cooking. Buttery and sweet.
Ghee – nature’s fabulous food.
500g – 1 kg butter, unsalted organic if possible.
Optional: fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, fresh curry leaves or sea salt
Heavy bottomed and deep saucepan.
Jug that can withstand high temperatures.
Sieve / Strainer
Piece of muslin
Butters will vary in content, especially water content. The amount of froth and the times it takes to make your ghee may vary. Be mindful. Watch it carefully until you are used to making it.
Unsalted butter has fewer impurities, so use it if you can. However, you can make this with your normal brand of butter too – the impurities will be expelled in the process.
Place the butter into a heavy bottomed and deep stainless steel saucepan. Over a gentle heat, melt the butter, then continue to cook it over moderate heat so that it boils gently. It will seem a bit volcanic at first as the water boils off.
Foam will rise to the surface as the milk solids separate. This can be skimmed off, but will turn brown and settle to the bottom if you don’t, anyway. I don’t bother. Continue cooking for 20 – 30 minutes or more, and you will notice a coating forming on the bottom of the pan (you may not see it through the bubbles, but trust me, it is there).
More importantly, the foaming will die down considerably. This occurs after around 20 – 25 minutes, maybe even 30 minutes. Careful attention is needed here otherwise it will burn and ruin the taste.
Watch for all foaming to cease. The ghee will boil silently with only a trace of bubbles. The colour will be pure gold, and just as it is done, a rich aroma arises. Remove from the heat. Don’t miss that aroma – a beautiful buttery, almost brown-sugary smell.
You can allow to cool slightly and then pour the ghee carefully into a clean jar or pot through a fine sieve or muslin cloth, making sure that the sticky sediment on the bottom of the pan – the cooked milk solids – remains on the bottom of the pan. This sediment is discarded.
I generally strain the ghee immediately it is ready through a muslin lined strainer into a huge and temperature-proof measuring jug. I let it cool here a little and then pour into a container. You may find that if you leave the ghee on the stove to cool, it will continue to cook in its own heat. The bottom of the pan is fairly yucky – I rinse it later and stick it in the dishwasher. The muslin gets shaken out to remove some of the solids and then gets thrown in the washing machine.
Add a couple of fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, a pinch of sea salt or some fresh curry leaves at the end for great flavour (optional).
Nourishing Indian Food says the following:
“In ancient days, betel leaves and curry leaves were usually added to the butter during the clarification process. But it is now recognized that these substances indeed possess antioxidant properties, which will not only improve the shelf life and taste of the product but also they are safe to consume. The resultant ghee has a wonderful aroma and grainy texture. Ghee implies a certain flavor profile, that continues to develop as it is stored for more than a year. So do not refrigerate ghee.”
Please be careful. The ghee is very very hot when you make it. Make sure that the container that you pour it into can take the high temperatures. Also – DO NOT leave it alone while it is cooking. It is an oil, after all.