How to Clarify Butter—and Why You'd Want to
All the great things about butter, but in a more stable form.
It's no secret: Butter makes everything better. And no butter is more versatile than clarified butter. If you have ever wondered exactly what makes butter "clarified," all it means is that the butter has the milk solid removed. It's sort of the opposite of brown butter where the milk solids are cooked and browned. Instead, you take them out altogether, yielding a product that keeps longer and has a higher smoke point.
Why? Because it is the milk solids that burn. So clarified butter gives you clean buttery flavor, but in a form that can be used for cooking at much higher temps. It can go places that usually only oil can go. Indian cooks have been making a form of it for decades: Ghee is a variation of clarified butter, and essential to the foodways of that vast country and its myriad cultures.
The great thing about clarified butter is that it is both easy to make and easy to store, and once you do, you’ll find all sorts of applications for it. If you have ever had a recipe for a baked item like rolls or cinnamon buns, for example, that call for buttering the baking tin, only to find that they burn on the bottom? Replace the regular butter with clarified butter for bottoms that are browned but not blackened. Clarified butter can swap in for oil in your favorite sauté, and you can even pop popcorn in it.
To make clarified butter is super easy. I use European-style butter, like Plugra, since it has a higher butterfat percentage, so you get more clarified bang for your buck, but any unsalted butter will do. I often do a pound at a time since it stores so well.
How do you make clarified butter? Put your butter into a heavy-bottomed small saucepan over medium-low heat and let it melt, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat until it is gently boiling but not threatening to boil over, and you can see a white foam rising to the top. Skim this foam as you go and let the butter boil for about eight to ten minutes until no more foam is rising and the boiling starts to slow down, which indicates that the water has boiled off. You should have a layer of milk solids that will be slightly golden at the bottom of the pan, and very clear butterfat above. Pour the butter through a fine mesh strainer lined with either paper towel, a quadruple layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter to remove the rest of the milk solids. Cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to six months.