Ghee. What is it and why does it have a funny name? Ghee is essentially clarified butter with additional cooking time. Ghee is Sanskrit for clarified butter.
So, what is clarified butter?
Simply put, clarified butter and ghee are a result of cooking the water out of the butter which separates the milk solids from the liquid.
To make clarified butter, once the milk solids separate and sink to the bottom of the pan, simply strain the liquid leaving the milk solids behind. When making ghee, allow those milk solids to cook a little longer, essentially caramelizing the milk solids, before straining. This will produce a deeper color and an irresistible nutty flavor. Mmmmmmm.
Does it taste like butter? Yes and no.
Because the milk solids have been removed it tends to be a little gritty and less creamy. The flavor varies depending on the quality of butter, how long you caramelize the milk solids, and whether or not you add any spices or additional flavoring to the ghee.
My preferred way of making chicken, either in the oven or stove top, is to use ghee in place of olive oil or other fat.
Why use ghee?
Since the milk solids have been removed it has a higher smoke point than butter, i.e., where butter scorches or burns, ghee does not. In fact, you can use ghee without scorching at temperatures up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit!
If you are lactose intolerant or have milk allergies, you can still use ghee since it is dairy free.
Not only is it delicious and a dairy free alternative, according to WebMd, “...it contains high concentrations of monounsaturated Omega-3s. These healthful fatty acids support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. Studies show that using ghee as a part of a balanced diet can help reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels.”
So how do you use it?
Most recipes that call for butter or oil can use ghee instead. You can melt it and drizzle it over popcorn, use it on a bagel, anyway you would use butter you can use ghee.
Ready to try it?
You probably have seen it for sale in farmer’s stores and online, but it is super easy to make for a fraction of the cost. The recipe below uses one pound of butter, but you can make a smaller batch by simply using less butter and following the directions below.
Simple Ghee Recipe
1 pound of unsalted butter
Spatula to stir
Fine mesh strainer
Airtight container to store ghee (Pyrex or similar glass container with lid preferred).
Cut the butter into small chunks to help it melt evenly and quickly. Place your butter into a saucepan over medium-high heat until it melts and begins to simmer. Since butter can burn easily, keep stirring until it is completely melted. Once it is simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low to low ensuring it is still simmering. Do not cover, this allows for the water to evaporate out as it cooks.
Set your timer for 20 minutes. This is an estimate on cooking time, so stay close to ensure the ghee does not burn or stops simmering. Foam will start forming on top and you will hear a soft boil, i.e., a simmering sound.
Foam will begin to form on top. Use a spatula to move the foam out of the way to check on the color. As the milk solids begin to separate, they will sink to the bottom of the saucepan and the butter will turn transparent. You can stir the ghee even if there are solids on the bottom as they will not be reabsorbed into the ghee. When the ghee is completely transparent, you will see solids on the bottom of the pan. Begin to listen to the simmering sound as it will change to a slight crackling sound. This means that the ghee is almost ready.
It is important at this stage to watch the ghee closely as the milk solids will begin to darken. It is up to you how long to let it simmer but too long and the milk solids will burn, not long enough and there may still be milk solids in the ghee. I usually watch the solids and when they are close to the color of cardboard is when I consider my ghee is ready.
*Note: if you cook it too quickly, the butter will brown and there may be solids at the bottom. This is probably more likely to be “brown butter” rather than ghee as it didn’t have enough cooking time to remove all of the milk solids and it will still have dairy in the butter.
Quick check to tell if the ghee is done:
Has the simmering slowed or changed? Does it appear transparent? Are the milk solids on the bottom of the pan? Are the milk solids light in color or tan to brown?
Remove the saucepan from the heat.
Allow the ghee to cool somewhat so you can safely transfer it into the container.
When ready to transfer the ghee, line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth (one or two layers). Hold the fine mesh strainer over the container and slowly pour the ghee into the fine mesh strainer.
Be careful not to pour too quickly as the cheesecloth may fold inward allowing some milk solids to end up in your ghee. As the ghee is strained into the container it will be either golden yellow, transparent or something in between. As it cools it typically solidifies but will remain soft. Once it has cooled, cover the ghee and you may leave it in a cool dark place or in the refrigerator. It should keep for several months for you to enjoy...though in our house it doesn’t last that long!
So, what do I do with the leftover milk solids?
The leftover brown residue is called Mava. Mava can be used for making sweets and other things, but that is a topic for another day.
So “to ghee or not to ghee” is a personal choice. In my house when the container is empty or the ghee is running low, it is a crisis (for my partner) and I immediately begin the next delicious batch so he can enjoy his cinnamon raisin bagel with ghee in the morning as he does every morning.