Clarified butter isn’t just melted butter. Normally, butter is composed of butterfat, milk solids, and water. Clarified butter is essentially just the butterfat. It has had the milk solids and water removed. This gives it a more robust, earthy taste, but also makes it more suitable for cooking at high temperatures. It will also prolong the butter’s shelf life.
Many recipes call for clarified butter. It also works well as a condiment for certain dishes. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy to find in supermarkets. So how do you clarify butter yourself? It’s not that difficult. Just follow these easy steps.
When you clarify butter, you’re essentially just melting it in order to separate its three components: butterfat, milk solids, and water. Be careful though. If you allow the butter to boil, the milk solids will spread through the fat and you won’t be able to remove them.
Melt your butter slowly in a pan over a low heat.
Resist the urge to stir the butter as it bubbles up. This doesn’t mean the butter is boiling, just that the water is evaporating. Use a spoon to skim this foam off the top. Do this carefully so as not to stir the milk solids into the butterfat.
Once the butter is melted and the foam removed from the top, take the pan off the heat. (This should have taken between 5 to 10 minutes.) You’ll notice the heavy milk solids will be sitting at the bottom of the pan, with the transparent golden butterfat on top.
You now need to separate the butterfat from the milk solids. The quick, imperfect way to do this is simply to pour or ladle the golden top layer slowly into a bowl. The more fastidious method is to strain the butter through a fine mesh, such as a cheesecloth or coffee filter. You now have clarified butter.
How long does clarified butter last?
Clarified butter is a chef’s secret weapon and great to have on hand. Of course, if you’re going to the trouble to make it, you might as well make a batch. The good news is it lasts a lot longer than regular butter, so it’s worth making even if you only see yourself making it once in a blue moon.
Clarified butter can last for up to a year in the refrigerator. But by removing the milk solids, rendering it pure fat, refrigeration isn’t even necessary. In fact, this could even be the reason why you can’t find it in the refrigerators at your local supermarket. Try the shelves instead. So long as you prepare it properly, clarified butter should last for up to nine months just on your countertop.
What butter you should use: best butters
The best butter to use for clarified butter is unsalted. This way you will end up with just pure butterfat with no salty flavour.
If you only have salted butter to hand, it will still work. Just be warned, since you are essentially reducing the butter, the salty flavour will be more concentrated. You might want to counteract its intensity by reducing the amount of salt in the recipe you’re using the clarified butter for.
Clarified butter: when to use it
Clarified butter has a rich and complex flavour (think earthy and nutty) that will add another dimension to much of your cooking. It also has a much higher smoke point than regular butter – 485°F/252°C compared to around 350°F to 175°C. This makes it ideal for sautéing, from fish to vegetables.
Clarified butter is a common ingredient in France, where it’s known as beurre noisette (roughly “hazelnut butter”). South Asian cuisine also uses a form of clarified butter – ghee – very often, as it is well suited to cooking at high temperatures and for prolonged periods. This makes it as useful for slow-cooked curries as deep fried samosas and bhajis. You’ll also find regional varieties of clarified butter used in cuisines across the Middle East and North and East Africa.
Clarified butter is also preferable to regular butter for use in sauces such as hollandaise. It even works nicely by itself. Try softening your clarified butter to use as a dip for shrimp, crab and other seafood.
It’s occasionally used in baking, for example, genoise and madeleines. However, this only really works when creaming the butter isn’t necessary and the nutty flavour of clarified butter is desired. Because of this distinctive taste, clarified butter isn’t recommended as a substitute for regular butter in most baking.