Friday, February 17, 2012

Butter - let's make it perfectly clear

One of the ingredients called for in Sautéed Maine Scallops on Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Parsley Nage in "Terra: Cooking from the Heart of Napa Valley" (Ten Speed Press, 2000, 256 pages) by Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani is clarified butter. You could go out and buy it as ghee, a common ingredient in Indian food. But clarified butter, also known as draw butter, isn't that hard to make at home.

Why bother? Well, if you don't clarify butter, the solids in it will burn at a rather low temperature. And the milky part of it will cause it to go rancid in a few weeks. Clarified butter will keep for months in the refrigerator (maybe even next to the stove, but I'm not that confident it would meet food safety standards, so I refrigerate).

Besides, it's not that hard to do. You start with unsalted butter, cut into cubes. Melt it on the stove over low heat. Skim off the foam (this is optional; if you don't skim it, it will eventually drop to the bottom with the other solids). Keep cooking it until the moisture boils off and the solids begin to brown; this may take up to 30 minutes. (The higher the butterfat content of the butter, the faster this step will go.) Strain it through a mesh strainer lined with damp muslin, a hemp coffee filter or cheesecloth (you could use dry cheesecloth, but it will absorb some of the butter oil, and you should expect only about 75 percent of what you started with to end up as clarified butter). Regular coffee filters clog too quickly and absorb too much of the oil. You can either discard the cheesecloth with the solids, or spread them on toast or use them in soups or oatmeal.

It's possible to clarify butter in the microwave. Melt the butter in a Pyrex measuring cup that's at least twice the volume as the amount of butter you have. A frozen stick, cut in half, takes about 90 seconds, with another 30 seconds of swirling. Put the measure into the refrigerator and cool until completely solid. Skim any foam from the top, then loosen the fat and remove to a plate. Scrape any solids off the bottom and the solid that is left will be clarified butter.

If you don't have cheesecloth, try you can try using a gravy separator. Most of the solids will sink to the bottom. Pour them off, skim off any foam at the top and the rest should be clarified butter.

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