As part of my commitment to the Dark Days Challenge this winter, I’ve vowed to reduce my dependence on olive oil and other non-local cooking oils. For a locavore living in the Northeast this is not the easiest task; almost every winter dish seems to start with sautéing onions and garlic, or searing meat. You need some portion of liquid fat to make most quick-breads and granola. And while we all know how much I love bacon grease, and that bacon makes everything better, sometimes my cooking fat needs outpace our bacon consumption (have to work on that).
Enter clarified butter. As many of you know, clarified butter is butter with the milk fats removed, yielding a clear, room-temperature-stable, liquid fat that can be cooked to a much higher temperature than regular butter without scorching. It can be used in many recipes in place of olive oil (unless the flavor of the olive oil is key to the recipe). Clarified butter instructions abound on the internet (“So, hey, why not add another one?” she says) but it is a relatively simple process that involves melting the butter, boiling off the water, and skimming or filtering out the milk fats. I’ve made it before, but in a sort of quick-n-dirty way; simply melting a tablespoon or two of butter, skimming off some foam, and using as is. This is the first time that I have made a dedicated batch, and I’m hoping that having it conveniently to hand will make me reach for the non-local olive oil less and the delicious local butter more.
- cheesecloth or butter muslin
- glass jar for storage
- 1 lb local unsalted butter
- In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat until gently bubbling. Lower heat and allow butter to simmer; milk foam will rise to the top and solid milk fats will begin to sink to the bottom of the pan.
- Allow butter to simmer over low heat while the water cooks off and the milk fats separate. I’ve heard that the foam on the top will eventually cook off, but after 20 minutes of cooking, that wasn’t happening for me, so I started skimming. Skim foam with a skimmer or wooden spoon; transfer to a small bowl (use to top popcorn as a special I-made-clarified-butter-today treat!).
- Eventually the butter will darken in color, become clear, and the solid milk fats will turn a deep golden brown (difficult to see in my black enameled pans, but you can just see the solid fats at in the open spot of the below photo). Skim off as much foam as you can, then pour the butter through several layers of dampened cheesecloth set over a glass or porcelain bowl. If the clarified butter looks a bit cloudy, you can strain it a second time into a glass storage jar. (I’m a clutz, so to prevent losing any of the precious butter I used a funnel to transfer to a pint-sized Ball jar).
- Transfer the cheesecloth-lined colander to a separate bowl or saucepan and pour in the skimmed milk foam; any clarified butter that has separated from the foam will pass through. Add this to your jar, or use to make a batch of popcorn.
Yield of clarified butter is reported to be 6 tbsp for every 8 tbsp (1 stick) of butter. I got about 1 and 2/3 cups from a pound of butter.
- There are a few options for separation of the milk fats from the butter: you can perfom the procedure as detailed above, or simply melt without skimming and pour the melted butter into a fat separator or glass bowl, then skim as the butter cools; or refrigerate the melted butter, allow to harden, and scrape the foam off the top (milk fat solids will remain at the bottom, so this must be stored refrigerated).
Clarified butter may be stored at room temperature indefinitely. If you are unsure, however, whether or not you have sufficiently removed all of the milk fats, it may be best to store it refrigerated, as the milk fat will turn rancid.