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Clarifying Butter

Clarifying Butter

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Manufacturers know how to stretch products to increase profits. One way is to add water. When I was a child, butter was so pure that it was hard-solid when removed from the refrigerator. We couldn’t put it on a ceramic dish because when we tried to cut it, the butter knife would sometimes break through the hard butter and crack the dish, if we were using enough force. Today a knife glides through cold butter fairly easily. This is because butter producers add water. For a while there was so much water whipped into the butter that the government stepped in and told the creameries they couldn't label the product “butter” unless it contained a minimum percentage of butterfat. Today butter is made up of about 80% butterfat, 15% water, and 5% milk solids, salt, and other stuff like hot dog waste products. Okay, that last bit about hot dogs isn't true.

The reasons to clarify butter are many. Pure butterfat has a higher smoke point—it can be heated in a skillet to a higher temperature before it starts to burn. Regular butter burns at a lower temperature because of the milk solids in it. Clarified butter introduces no water into your recipe. By removing the water, salt, and solids, the butter has a better, cleaner flavor, which is good for your recipes.

Most chefs prefer to work with clarified butter and they insist on using unsalted butter when clarifying butter because they believe they can control the salt content of their recipes. As salt is water soluble and not oil soluble, most of the salt is thrown out with the water. You can prove this to yourself. Your tongue has salt receptors (as well as sweet, sour, and bitter receptors). It is therefore easy to taste for salt. Put a little dab of clarified butter in your mouth and test for salt. Very likely you will detect no salt at all. Therefore, feel free to clarify regular butter bought at the store. I buy my butter at the warehouse store in four-pound boxes. When I clarify butter I use one pound of butter.

Ghee, by the way, is butterfat that is heated to a higher temperature in the separating process, burning it slightly to give it more flavor. It has a higher smoke point (375°F) and is useful for frying.


One pound of butter, either salted or unsalted


Heat the butter in a small saucepan over a medium-low flame. Foam will develop on the surface as the solid butter melts. Skim off and discard the foam. Continue melting and skimming until all the solid butter has melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to a safe temperature—hot to the touch, but not hot enough to burn yourself. Skim off the clear butterfat, leaving behind any water or solids that collect at the bottom of the pan. (I use a basting bulb to suck up the clarified butter and squirt it into a jar.) Store in a jar in the refrigerator for several months.