Contrary to popular belief, ghee is not clarified butter. Let me clarify. Bad puns aside, here’s what I’ve learned about this: butter, unlike oils, is not 100% fat. It is—in an approximate sense since you would have to factor in the quality of your butter—about 80 – 90% fat and 10 – 20% water.
Butter with no water content = clarified butter. To make clarified butter, butter is cooked on a low heat until it reduces slightly and the water from it evaporates. Since it is more concentrated, clarified butter provides better flavour to dishes and has a longer shelf life. It is also a preferred medium for deep-frying as it has a higher smoke point than regular butter.
Ghee is basically clarified butter that’s been cooked out for even longer until the milk solids caramelize and sink to the bottom. These caramelized bits are strained out before decanting. The caramelization is what gives ghee its distinctive nuttiness, aroma and deep hue. And here’s a fun fact – since the milk solids are removed in this process, ghee only has minute amounts of lactose present in it. Amounts, they say, that are so negligible that it is unlikely to be enough to have an effect on those who are lactose intolerant.
I make a fresh vat of ghee every 2-3 weeks. You could do them in bigger batches as ghee will keep, unrefrigerated, even in this Chennai heat, for up to two months. Feel free to double or triple the quantities based on your requirement.
It is a common practice to add a sprig of curry leaves or moringa leaves to the pot of ghee once it is taken off the heat. I’ve tried making batches with and without this addition. Throwing a sprig of curry leaves not only intensifies its aroma, it also takes the flavour up a few notches. I also learned recently that this is done especially in hotter climates to prevent spoilage. The antioxidant properties in the moringa or curry leaves help the ghee from going rancid in the heat.
The process is simple enough and you need just one ingredient. But here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you get the best results every time: use the best quality butter (unsalted) that you can find (channeling my inner Ina as you can see). I’m all for money-saving tactics and frugality in the kitchen, but this really does make a difference here. I mean, it’s one ingredient cooking so it’s definitely going to matter.
Also, use a heavy-bottomed pot. You want to cook this low and slow and make sure the butter melts evenly. The time that it takes to make ghee is variable. It would depend on the water content in the butter, intensity of the flame as well as the type of pot used. I like to take it right to the edge (but not to the browned butter colour stage), just before that – an almost deep amber. More than following a recipe, just use your best judgement here.
- 500 grams unsalted butter
- 1 sprig of curry leaves
- Add the butter to a heavy-bottomed pot and set it over a medium heat. Stir occasionally until all the butter has melted.
- Turn the heat down to low and let the butter simmer gently. You will start to see a lot of foam rising to the surface at this stage. Just stir it through and let it continue simmering.
- About 10-15 minutes in, you will see the milk solids at the bottom of the pot. This will get strained out later. For now, just continue simmering until it turns a deep golden colour. This will take anywhere between 20 - 30 minutes depending on the intensity of the flame and the type of pot used.
- Once it starts to darken slightly, keep an eye on it. If there is too much foam on the surface, stir to see the colour underneath. Take it off the heat when it turns a deep golden colour. It will continue to darken slightly as it sits, so use your best judgement here. It will start to take on a different aroma at this stage too.
- As soon as you take the ghee off the heat, add the curry leaves, sprig and all. Let it sit uncovered until it comes to room temperature.
- Strain through a fine sieve or a sieve lined with muslin. Store in a jar for up to 2 months or in the fridge for up to 4 months.