Making ghee is not rocket science. If you can melt butter, you can make ghee.
Although 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 of ready made. I admit I occasionally splurge and buy ghee that is imported from India, only because the cows (or water buffaloes, depending on where the milk came from) graze on a different diet and the resulting ghee has a unique fl avor not found in America’s dairy land. Ghee’s nutty fl avor, the result of gentle browning, is the key taste in many of our dishes, and often even a mere tablespoon is enough to provide succulence.
Since the Vedic times of the Indo-Aryan culture (more than six thousand years ago), ghee has played a role in many facets of Hinduism, including fueling the eternal fl ame associated with birth, marriage, and death. Ghee evolved when there was no refrigeration (actually, many Indians still don’t have refrigerators today). Milk solids and water promote rancidity in butter, and when they are removed, gone is the need for a refrigerator. Middle Eastern and Arabic samneh is made the same way as ghee, as is smen from North Africa.
Makes about 12 ounces (1 1⁄2 cups)
1 pound unsalted butter
1. Line a fi ne-mesh strainer with a piece of cheesecloth, set it over a clean, dry 2-cup 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, stir- ring it occasionally to ensure that it melts evenly (otherwise, the bottom part of the block of butter melts and starts to bubble while the top half remains fi rm). Once the butter has melted, you will notice that a lot of white foam gathers on the surface.
Scoop the foam out with a spoon or just let it be; the melted butter will eventually stop foaming. Now you can start to care- fully 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 fl avor. The whole process will take 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Once the liquid appears quite clear (like oil) with a light amber hue, pour the butter through the cheesecloth-lined strainer, leaving the browned milk sol- ids behind. Discard the solids and set the melted butter aside to cool.
4. When the ghee is cool, pour it into a stor- age jar (if you haven’t already strained it into one) and screw the lid tightly shut.
Keep the ghee at room temperature, right next to your other bottled oils; it will solid- ify, even at room temperature. (I don’t fi nd it necessary to refrigerate ghee, but if you wish to, by all means do so. I have kept mine at room temperature for many months, without any concern for rancidity or spoilage. Because ghee has no milk sol- ids in it, and that’s what can turn butter rancid, I do as millions in India do, and leave it out of the fridge.)
• A few dos 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; 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 in the butter will start to burn. Do make sure the glass jar for storing the ghee is clean and dry before pouring in the ghee. Moisture will promote the growth of mold. This is the same reason you should let the ghee cool completely before screwing on that jar’s lid.
• 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 foods fried this way).