Ghee (Clarified Butter)

I've been loving my new Indian cookbook, and a lot of the recipes call for Ghee. I've never made it before, so I decided now would be the perfect time. The recipe says it only takes 15-20 minutes, but it took me more like an hour for it to fully melt and foam. It's definitely something good to have around the house if you want to make a lot of Indian food. Make sure to read the author's tips at the bottom of the recipe before you start - there are some really helpful items in there.

Ghee (Clarified Butter)
660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking - Raghaven Iyer

Makes about 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups)

1. Line a fine-mesh tea strainer with a piece of cheesecloth, set it over a clean, dry glass measuring cup or pint-size canning jar, and set it aside.

2. Melt the butter in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat, stirring it occasionally to ensure an even melt (otherwise, the bottom part of the block melts and starts to bubble while the top half remains firm). Once it melts, you will notice a lot of foam is gathering on the surface. Scoop the foam out with a spoon or just let it be; the melted butter will eventually stop foaming and start to subside. Now you can start to carefully skim off the foam. Some of the milk solids will settle at the bottom and start to brown lightly. This light browning is what gives Indian ghee its characteristic nutty flavor. This process will take 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Once the liquid appears quite clear (like oil) with a light amber hue, pour it through the cheesecloth-lined strainer, leaving the browned milk solids behind, and set it aside to cool.

4. When the ghee is cool, pour it into a storage jar (if it isn't already in one) and shut it. Keep it at room temperature, right next to your other bottled oils; it will solidify, even at room temperature. (I don't find it necessary to refrigerate ghee, but if you wish, by all means do so. I have kept mine at room temperature for many months, without any any concern for rancidity or spoilage. Because ghee has no milk solids in it, and that's what can turn butter rancid, I do as millions in India do, and leave it out.)

-A few do's and don'ts. First, don't use margarine or any butter substitutes that want you to think they're just like the real deal. Do use a heavy-bottomed pan to prevent the butter from scorching. Cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel, and ceramic-coated cast iron are all fair game. In fact, I use a cast-iron or carbon steel wok if I happen to be making a large batch, as the fat seasons the pan. Don't turn up the heat beyond the low setting, as much as you may be tempted to do so; if you do, the milk solids will start to burn. Do make sure the glass jar is clean and dry before pouring in the ghee. Moisture will promote the growth of mold, which is the same reason why you should let the ghee cool completely before screwing on that jar's lid.

-Here's a Cliff Claven-style tidbit for all of you Cheers fans who adored the mailman's life, filled with inane banalities: You cannot deep-fry in butter because it has a low smoke point (that's the temperature at which oil starts to smoke). However, remove the milk solids and moisture, and you have elevated butter's smoke point, making it safe for deep-frying (of course, we are not talking about measuring fat calories when you do decide to splurge on fried foods this way).

-Ghee is widely available in stores. It is not easy on the pocketbook, so be prepared to plunk down your hard-earned money for the convenience, should you not have 15 to 20 minutes of free time to spend in the kitchen. I often splurge and buy ghee that is imported from India, only because the cows (or water buffalo, depending on where the milk came from) graze on a different diet and the ghee has a unique flavor not found in America's dairy land.

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