Clarified butter (also known as drawn butter) is butter from which milk solids and moisture have been removed, so the result is pure butterfat. Making clarified butter is really easy – typically, regular (unsalted) butter is heated to boiling point (so components separate), after which the water and milk solids are removed.
Clarified butter is made all over the world and people have used it since ancient times. In India and Pakistan cooks use Ghee, which is basically the same thing, except for it is cooked for longer to decrease the moisture and deepen the flavour, and often seasoned with various spices. An interesting fact to me was that some rural families in the Maghreb region of North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania), where clarified butter is referred to as Smen or D’haan, used to bury a sealed vessel of smen on the day of a daughter’s birth. They then would age it until the day of daughter’s wedding and use to season the food served for the celebration.
Among the advantages are longer keeping quality (it can keep for several months refrigerated) and higher smoke point (so you can use it for frying, without burning). Clarified butter is also preferred for making of some sauces (such as roux), the reason being is that the water in regular butter can cause a sauce to separate. In other words clarified butter can be used for frying, sautéing, or just about anything you would use oil for. So why make the effort, you might ask. Because clarified butter smells and tastes great, somewhat different but no less appealing than whole butter.
How to make clarified butter
Make sure you use unsalted butter. You can clarify any amount of butter and if you wish to know what you’ll end up with, take off 25% of what you put in – this is approximately what’s lost of the original butter’s total volume when clarifying.
Place the butter in a heavy saucepan and over low heat melt it gently. As the butter melts, it will separate into three layers. Try to skim off all the froth from the surface. You will then see a clear yellow layer on top (this is the clarified butter) and milky layer (milky solids & water) at the bottom.
At this point, there are two possible methods for removing the butterfat from the water on the bottom of the pan. The method we prefer is to decant the fat from the water. The other method for separating the fat from the water is to use a ladle and skim the fat up and out of the pan.
When you have skimmed all the white foam from the surface of the clarified butter, and it has stopped bubbling, remove the saucepan from the heat.
Let it sit a few minutes so the milk solids settle to the bottom. Line strainer with cheesecloth and carefully pour the clear fat into a bowl or jug, leaving the milky residue in the pan.
If some particles pass through, or you wish a clearer result with less moisture, that has a nutty flavour re-decant the butterfat into the pan and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Remove whatever impurities that might still be in the butter before transferring it into the storage container.
We were truly surprised how much difference clarified butter makes in the taste, compared to the same dishes cooked with oils.