Clarified butter is one of those things that sounds much more intimidating than it actually is. I tried it for the first time a year or two ago when I was making a potato rosti that called for it and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was!
All you're doing is separating out the milk solids and water in the butter from the fat so that only the butterfat remains. Clarified butter has two main advantages over regular butter:
- It has a longer shelf life
- It has a higher smoke point
Therefore, it won't burn as quickly as un-clarified butter will, making it easier to cook with, particularly if you're sauteeing. It also makes it a good choice for countries where refrigeration is not widespread since it will last a while unrefrigerated.
In India, the butter is cooked a bit longer until all the liquids have evaporated and the milk solids caramelize a bit, giving the butterfat a nuttier flavor -- the resulting butterfat is called "ghee." They use the same process in the middle east where they call it "samnah." Both ghee and samnah can last longer than clarified butter does unrefrigerated (a good thing in hot countries). You can buy it in either jars or tubs in Indian or middle eastern markets here in the U.S.
But enough background, here's how you make regular old clarified butter.
Making Clarified Butter
* Unsalted organic butter
* You will also need a small saucepan, a spoon, a fine sieve or cheesecloth lined strainer, and a clean glass jar with tight fitting lid to store the clarified butter in.
1. Gently melt unsalted butter over low heat (you can use a double boiler if you have one) until the butter breaks down and three layers form. The top layer will be a white foam or froth (the whey proteins) and should be skimmed off with a spoon. The milk solids will drop to the bottom of the saucepan and form a milky layer of sediment. What's left in the middle is a pure golden-yellow liquid - this is the clarified butterfat.
2. Once you've skimmed all the white foam from the surface of the clarified butter, and it has stopped bubbling, remove the saucepan from the heat. Let the butter sit a few minutes to allow the milk solids to settle to the bottom even further then strain the mixture through a fine sieve or a cheesecloth-lined strainer. The liquid you collect is the clarified butter (butterfat.)
3. If you've made more than you need to use right then, just pour it into a glass jar, cover it and store it in the fridge (it may turn a bit grainy but should be fine.) Just scoop out a spoonful whenever you need it and melt it in a frying pan to get cooking.