How to Clarify Butter Two Ways

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If you’ve ever wondered how to clarify butter, or why you’d want to, or what exactly it is, read on. We’re going to answer those questions and more.

What’s so good about clarified butter?

It’s sometimes called liquid gold. Clarifying separates the best, richest, purest part of the butter from the water content and milk solids. The result is a bold liquid with a nutty flavor that’s a bit lighter or cleaner than the flavor of simple melted butter. That’s why it’s so good for dipping lobster, crab and shrimp.

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s worth the trouble compared to simply melting butter, it’s because the flavor is different and delicious. Once you get the hang of making it, you may find you always want to keep some on hand because it’s just so good in so many recipes.

It also has a high smoke point, which means it’s better than regular butters for recipes that need to cook on a high temperature. Use it to make hollandaise sauce or to saute or pan fry anything, including eggs. Use it in place of butter for popcorn. It’s great for baking. 

In fact, you can use it in place of regular butter in any recipe. And that includes compound butter recipes.

Clarified butter in glass jar with spoon

It also keeps longer than ordinary butter. You can store it in the fridge for at least a few weeks. Or you can freeze it for another time. 

What is clarified butter?

Butter has three components. butterfat, water, and milk solids. Clarifying removes the milk solids (which you can save for other uses) and the water. This leaves just the melted butterfat. 

Butterfat without milk solids can be cooked at a higher temperature without burning. That makes it great for recipes where ordinary butter might burn.

It’s recommended that you use European-style unsalted butter because it has more butterfat. You can use salted, but be aware if will retain that salty flavor which may not work with every recipe.

One more thing to know about clarified butter is that because the milk solids are mostly removed, it can work for people with lactose intolerance. If you have an actual milk allergy, however, steer clear: it’s impossible to be sure all the milk proteins are actually out, so you could still end up having a reaction.

Clarified butter v. Ghee v. Drawn Butter v. Brown Butter

Some people and recipes will use some of these terms interchangeably, which isn’t helpful. They are actually four different things.

Ghee

The process of clarifying butter is more or less the first step in creating ghee, but ghee is cooked longer so that the milk fats brown and fall to the bottom. This gives ghee a more toasty flavor, which is especially popular in Indian cooking.

Brown Butter

This absolutely mouth-watering concoction is simply ordinary butter melted until it turns brown. There is no clarifying. It’s rarely found in recipes and mostly used as a condiment. 

Try it ladled over pasta, with or without some mushrooms, garlic, onion, etc. It makes an amazing sauce. It’s also perfect for a crab roll.

Drawn Butter

As for drawn butter, some cooks will tell you it means simple melted butter while others will tell you it means clarified butter. This is unfortunate because it can make a difference in your recipe. Sometimes you might want to read more about the recipe or check other versions to get a sense of what they’re going for.

The process

It may sound complicated, but you’re basically just melting butter in a saucepan and then skimming or straining the milk solids from it. It’s not that hard to do, although you do have to watch it to make sure it doesn’t burn, and it only takes about 15 minutes.

Clarified butter in glass jar with spoon
Yield: 12 ounces

How to Clarify Butter

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

Clarified butter is easier to make than you think, and so delicious. Once you get the hang of it, you may find yourself making some of it to keep on hand all the time.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound European-style unsalted butter

Instructions

  1. Warm the butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Don't let it boil and don't stir it. As it melts, the solid milk fats rise to the top and water sinks to the bottom. 
  2. Once it's starting to bubble, it's melted. Reduce heat to the lowest setting.
  3. Skim the milk solids (they look like foam) off the top with a spoon until they stop rising to the top. This may take up to 15 minutes. Keep them - you can use them over vegetables, in rice, or in baking.
  4. Move the butter fat to a clean saucepan or other vessel. Use a slotted spoon to skim it off or pour it through layers of cheesecloth on a strainer. Either way, leave behind the water in the bottom of the melting pan.

Notes

You can use other types of butter, but European butter contains more milk fat than American butter. Unsalted American will work too. Salted will also work, but keep in mind it will have a little of that salty flavor.

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Can you make clarified butter in the microwave?

Yes you can. It’s trickier, but you can do it. You put the butter in small pieces in a tall, microwave-safe container so the butter won’t boil over. 

Generally, it takes about two minutes for four sticks of butter to melt in a microwave on high. Allow the butter to cool and rest for a minute to two minutes, then spoon off the foamy top layer or run it through a strainer with cheesecloth.

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