Clarified Butter is made by heating butter. Heat breaks the emulsion holding together the elements in the butter: butterfat, water and milk solids. As water is heavier than fat, it will sink to the bottom. Some of the milk solids will also sink to the bottom; some will rise to the surface as foam. The purified butterfat, which is the point of all this, will be in the middle layer. You skim off the milk solid foam at the top, and then pour or spoon out the liquified butterfat.
Removing milk solids from butter makes the butter taste purer and cleaner. The trade-off is, though, that these milk solids do have a good deal of the taste that adds to the overall complexity of the butter taste, which Clarified Butter won’t have.
Clarified butter was preferred by many cooks because in theory it is supposed to have a somewhat higher smoke point than regular butter (regular butter will smoke at 160 C /.320 F) In practice, however, the smoke point for clarified butter varies wildly, depending on how exacting the person was who made it, how old it is, etc. In many instances when made at home, when it’s impossible to achieve laboratory-like precision in removing all the milk solids, its smoke point can be just about the same as if you hadn’t bothered at all. Most everyday people in France no longer bother clarifying butter; just chefs and a few particular people there.
Clarified butter is not the same as ghee: you make ghee by gently heating clarified butter past the point of clarified butter, so that the water evaporates. No matter how gently it’s done, though, the longer heating also changes the taste somewhat owing to the carmelization of sugars and proteins that occurs, developing the characteristic ghee flavour that is referred to as “nutty.”
The butter solids that remain behind after making Clarified Butter are still good to use for something else, such as pouring over freshly-cooked vegetables.
One advantage clarified butter does have is that the heat, in removing the water and destroying bacteria, does improve somewhat the storage life of the butter. This is perhaps less a consideration, though, when reliable refrigeration is available. It will, however, go rancid none-the-less if left at room temperature uncovered and in the light.
In Switzerland, it’s quite easy to buy ready-to-use clarified butter in stores. The Swiss call it “beurre à rôtir.”
Clarified butter is sometimes referred to as “drawn butter.” Drawn butter is not the same as drawn butter sauce, which is often served, for instance, with lobster. Nor is it the same as just “melted” butter, despite the fact that many North American restaurants serving melted butter call it “drawn butter sauce.”
If anything is added to drawn butter, even a squirt of lemon, then technically the drawn butter becomes drawn butter sauce.
Use unsalted butter to make clarified butter. The heating temperature should be between 40 to 45 C (105 to 115 F). When the butter is all melted, remove it from the heat, and skim off the top foam (this is milk solids.) Let the butter cool somewhat, to allow more milk solids still suspended in the liquified butterfat to sink to the bottom. Then carefully pour out or spoon out the liquified butterfat in such a way as to leave behind the milk solids at the bottom.
In a saucepan, the melting process will be a slow one. Don’t speed it up by cranking up the heat; no good will come of it. You can, however, speed up the melting process by not dropping one whole slab of butter in the saucepan; cut it into smaller chunks instead.
You can make clarified butter in a microwave. Nuke the butter for 3 minutes, check, then nuke a further 1 minute at a time checking carefully to see when it is all melted.
Clarified butter has 33 mg cholesterol per tablespoon. Fat breakdown: 62% saturated, 29% mono-unsaturated, 4% polyunsaturated.
You can store clarified butter for several months in the refrigerator in a covered container. You can also freeze for longer storage.
“Clarified” comes from the French word, “Clarifier”, meaning “to clear something up, to make clear.”