Ghee (pronounced like the thing karate guys wear, not like gee-whiz) is basically liquid gold in my house. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you’ve experienced it in all its glory. Maybe you’re still trying to figure out how to pronounce it. Whatever you’re current state, I’m about to give you the low-down on what it is, how to make it, and why you should totally add this to your culinary repertoire on a regular basis.
What is ghee?
For me, it started as a curiosity about some seemingly fancy, exotic cooking fat source from some far off land that I spotted amongst the coconut oils and duck fats and other such wonderfulness in my local natural food store. Basically, it is a seemingly fancy cooking fat source, and it is originally from some far off land (India and the Middle East), and it can usually be found pre-made in jars in the cooking oil section of most grocery stores these days.
But in very simple terms, it’s butter, only better.
Maybe you’ve heard of clarified butter. Clarified butter is very literally butter that’s been clarified, i.e. had all the milk solids and water separated and removed from the butter, leaving just the fat.
Ghee is very similar. The milk solids and water are separated and removed from the butter, leaving just the fat. However, with clarified butter, the milk solids are removed as soon as they separate. With ghee, the milk solids are allowed to brown and toast a bit before removing, adding a richer, nuttier flavor to the butter fat that is left over.
As one of the new, trendy superfoods out there, there is plenty of information on all the nutritional goodness of ghee if you’d care to look for it. Personally, I think anyone could probably find an equal amount of for and against nutritional information on pretty much any substance on the planet, so I’ll spare you the repeat of all that and let you make your own decisions. There is lots of good for you stuff about ghee, but in the end, I love butter. I love the taste of butter. I use copious amounts of butter whenever possible, and so ghee isn’t a far stretch for my health decisions. But you can decide for yourself.
There are a couple non-nutritive reasons for using ghee though:
- It’s delicious. It’s buttery, but less on the creamy, sweeter side, and more of a nutty, full flavor.
- It’s basically lactose free. Since all the milk solids are removed, you’re left with all the fat and flavor, none of dairy qualities that are problematic for some people.
- It is shelf stable, meaning it doesn’t need refrigeration. Because it is only fat, it doesn’t have any of the milk proteins that butter and other dairy products have which make them spoil when left out. However, like all fats and oils, it will go rancid over time. How much time, I’m not sure. But I’ve had mine in the cupboard with my spices for up to 6 months without issue. I always do a sniff test before using any cooking oil though to ensure it hasn’t gone off yet.
- It is a naturally produced, very minimally processed, animal based fat. No expeller pressing, no complicated machinery, no factory needed. If you had a cow, or access to fresh cream, you could go from cow to ghee in no time, with minimal effort and nothing but a pan and some heat. (If you’ve never turned cream in to butter yourself, I highly recommend it. Best. butter. ever. Also a great workout.)
But the number one, most awesomest reason to use ghee is the high smoke point.
What’s a smoke point? Well, a smoke point is the point when a fat or oil starts to smoke and burn and break down when heated. Some fats, like regular butter and unrefined olive, coconut, or sesame oil, have a relatively low smoke point (around 350 degrees F). Most of the vegetable and refined plant-based oils, like canola, corn, or soybean oil, have a much higher smoke point upwards of 425-475 degrees F. Refining (i.e. extra processing) of the oil allows for a higher temperature before smoking, however it also removes a lot of the nutrients. Refining may also include chemical processing and/or added preservatives. But most of all, “refined” oils lose a lot of the color, richness. and taste of their more natural predecessors (think extra virgin olive oil vs. regular olive oil).
So the smoke point of butter is around 350F, which is fine for baking or sautéing, or making eggs. But if you want a good deep fry, or stir fry, 350 degrees just won’t do it. But ghee, well ghee has a smoke point of around 450 degrees F (I found a couple sources that said as high as 485 degrees F), which is up there with those refined plant-based oils we turn to for high temp cooking. And you know what that means?
You could deep fry stuff in butter-ish!
Yes! You could make buttery fried chicken! Or buttery french fries! Or deep fried buttery oreos! Ah! The possibilities are endless!
In all honesty, I haven’t tried deep frying yet, mostly because I only make a pound at a time, and use it so quickly for everything else (like, seriously, it goes in everything in place of whatever fat I would normally use until it’s gone) that I never have enough to fill a fryer. But it will happen. Oh, yes. One day, it will happen. But stir fry, yes. Searing meat, yes. It works beautifully at high heat, and tastes phenomenal, which is what really matters.
And the how?
What you need:
High quality butter. I really Kerrygold, but I’ve been experimenting with other European-style butters, organic when I can, and have been pleased with the results. Just make sure butter is the only ingredient (and salt if you get salted).Most recipes call for unsalted. I have tried both salted and unsalted, and even half and half. When I use salted for cooking, I’m just cognizant of how much additional salt I use in the dish (reducing a bit, tasting a lot).
A ladle or spoon
A lidded jar, or other non-plastic container
A fine mesh, non-plastic strainer or cheesecloth
What you do:
Put the butter in a pan on your stove at a medium heat. The butter will melt, then start to bubble a bit. You want to adjust your heat (all stoves are different) to get about this amount of bubble constantly:
As the water cooks off, and the milk solids start to separate, you’ll start to get foam on the surface. As it builds, skim it off.
I like to skim this off as it forms and save it for biscuits or pancakes, or anything else that can benefit from this creamy, buttery yumminess. It is made up of some of the milk solids, so if you are avoiding the lactose, or have no use for it, you can discard it.
After a few minutes, the butter will calm down, and won’t create that thick foam. At this point, keep an eye on the milk solids that are collecting at the bottom.
The milk solids will toast and brown, adding the lovely depth and nuttiness to the, at this point, clarified butter, transforming it into ghee.
Once they are good and brown, turn off the heat and strain the ghee through your fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth. **The liquid is HOT! Nylon strainers will warp and melt a bit!** Don’t ask me how I know this, but just trust. 🙂
The strained milk solids can probably be used for something…they have a kind of toasty, nutty flavor. (Let me know in the comments if you come up with something…I hate to waste anything!)
Cover loosely and let the ghee cool a bit before sealing completely. (Did I mention it is HOT!)
The whole process takes about 20 minutes. 1 lb of butter (4 sticks) makes enough to almost fill a pint jar. Try it out, let me know how it goes, and of course, how much you love it!
As a side note, it will solid up in cooler temperatures, which is kinda nice when you want something a little more spreadable.