Macheesmo

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hardened butter
Ingredients 101

How To Make Clarified Butter

by Nick

When I used to bartend, I worked for a long time in the same restaurant and got to know the cooks pretty solidly. It was a Southern style restaurant with really good comfort food – fried chicken, shrimp and grits, etc. As I got more comfortable with the place, I would occasionally ask questions about the mystical goings-ons in the kitchen.

One thing I never got around to asking about, but always noticed, was the huge vat of clarified butter that they kept near the stove. It had to be at least a gallon, if not more. Step one in probably 80% of the dishes at the restaurant would be to spoon some of the liquid into a hot pan.

I never really understood why it was important. All I knew was that it made great pancakes!

Then during my spanakopita fail (I later made two versions of spanakopita) of last week, I had to make some of the stuff and now it’s very clear to me what all the fuss is about.

You see… the solid stuff looks like this:

yum.

Before we actually make clarified butter, it’s worth taking a few sentences to go over what exactly is going on in the delicious yellow sticks above.

What’s With Butter?

In it’s most basic form it’s three things: Fat, Water, Proteins. It’s nothing more than an emulsion between these. Based on the quality and brand, the percentages of each varies quite a bit, but most butter is about 75%-80% fat.

The problem is that those proteins (milk solids) burn at about 250 degrees. This is why butter smokes way faster than olive oil or vegetable oil. It’s got stuff in it!

This emulsion makes it really great for baking, but not always great for frying and cooking because the stuff just can’t take the heat. That is, of course, unless we could find a way to remove those solids and most of the water from the equation. Then we’d be left with pure delicious butter fat.

And that’s exactly what you do when you clarify butter. So let’s make it happen!

What you’ll need.

You’ll need the following to make this happen: Unsalted Butter. (Salted butter will burn even faster and is no good.) You can do this with as little or as much butter as you want. For the home cook, about a pound is probably good.

You’ll also want a sauce pan, a very clean bowl, a mesh strainer, and some coffee filters.

The First Foaming

There’s a lot of online stuff for clarified butter and all of it was a bit confusing. I went with Alton Brown’s technique and it worked pretty well. Hopefully, this will make sense to everyone. The first step is to heat your butter in a pot over medium heat until it starts to slightly boil. After one or two minutes it’ll begin to foam.

It’ll look like this:

First Foam

The first foaming.

The Next Phase

Now turn your heat down to low and start stirring your butter slowly but consistently. Almost immediately, the foam will fall apart and your butter will start to gently bubble (that’s the water!). Next, you want to wait about 8 minutes (but keep stirring) until your butter begins to foam again.

Eventually you’ll start to notice small white particles floating on the surface (the solids) and they’ll start to form a skin as more water evaporates and the bubbles get smaller and smaller.

This was about 30 seconds before that step:

The second foaming

Almost foaming!

Done!

Once you see that second foaming, you’ll all done. Keep in mind that your stirring every 30 seconds or so throughout this time or else your solids will just sink to the bottom and burn immediately.

Anyway, once that second foam starts forming kill the heat and let your butter cool slightly – just a minute or two.

Then very slowly pour the butter through your straining set-up which should be: A bowl under a strainer with a coffee filter in it. It’s important to pour slowly because a lot of your solids will fall to the bottom of your pan and you want to keep them there.

The setup

Slow going...

The straining will go pretty slowly and I even decided to replace my coffee filter once (pour butter back into pan, replace filter, slowly re-pour butter). Eventually though all of it should strain through and you should be left with some tan/white muck at the bottom of your pan.

solids

Tangy!

That’s the solids in the butter! It’s actually not too bad to eat. Kind of tangy. I just threw mine out though.

This was what I was really going for: the clarified stuff!

clarified butter

Golden elixir!

Ideally, if you do it 100% correctly, you don’t need to refrigerate this stuff. It’s all fat and it would keep at room temperature for awhile just like any other oil. The problem is that you probably won’t get it perfect. I’m sure I didn’t. So to be safe, just store it in your fridge. If you leave at room temperature and let it cool, it’ll eventually start to re-solidify, but it won’t become quite as solid as it was before.

It’ll be soft and very spreadable. Like this:

hardened butter

Spreadable!

If you put it in the fridge, it’ll become pretty solid, but turn into crystal clear, golden butter very quickly in a hot pan or even a few seconds in a microwave. The good news is that this stuff will keep for months in the fridge, so once you make it, you can use it for all kinds of stuff.

My first experiment with it? Grilled cheese of course! It created a perfectly browned crust and didn’t burn quite as quickly as normal butter would.

grilled cheese

Put to good use!

Other uses for it are endless. Pancakes? Omelets? Seafood? What can’t you put clarified butter on?

I wouldn’t being doing my job as a food blogger if I didn’t note that there are a ton of listed methods for making clarified butter. This is just the way that worked for me. Some other methods include:

Traditional Method: Similar to what I did except more skimming and watching. Probably results in a slightly cleaner final product, but my method worked just fine I think.
The Careful Pour Method: Theoretically, if you let the butter cool for a few minutes, you could pour very carefully and pour off most of the clarified butter and leave the milk solids at the bottom of the pan. This probably won’t produce perfect clarified butter, but it’d be a lot faster and the results would probably be usable for the home cook.
The Bag Method: This method lets gravity do the work, but I was just worried that gravity would work too fast and I’d lose a lot of precious butter. Also, it has as elaborate of a setup as the strain method.

At the end of the day, I was very happy with my clarified butter though and I think you can expect to see more of it on Macheesmo – including tomorrow!