Clarifying butter, revisited for Spoonies…

And if you don’t know what a Spoonie is, especially if you are chronically sick and disabled, then read The Spoon Theory now.


Yesterday, I renewed my stock of clarified butter by, erm, clarifying a kilo of French President-brand butter. A lot of people don’t like French butter’s often pronounced cheesy taste and smell, but I do, especially as so much British and New Zealand butter is so bland. President isn’t as good as artisanal Normandy butter but for a mass-produced product it’s pretty good, widely available and, as I say, I like it.

I like using butter in cooking, but it burns easily, then makes the whole dish acrid (adding oil, e-v olive, in my case, can reduce the risk but not eliminate it). Clarified, though, you’re left with pure butter, which has a very high smoke point, with the liquid and the milk solids removed. It’s not hard at all, though the instructions I found online make it look hard, and dangerous (and it probably is, involving boiling the potentially hazardous mix of liquid milk and melted butter, until the former has evaporated and solidified), but I found an easier and safer way some time ago and posted it here. This is a slightly revised version. And as the butter and milk are not heated excessively, undesirable off-flavours are avoided.

When you heat the butter, gently, the liquid (milk) settles to the bottom, and if you boil it the milk solids float and can be skimmed off easily, but some will sink and have to be strained through wet muslin. Avoiding the boiling step, and buggering about with very hot substances, especially for potentially clumsy spoonies, is much safer and, once the liquid milk has separated from the melted butter, that’s the hot part done with.

The tricky bit is getting every drop of melted butter without getting the milk. I use a measuring cup, followed by a tablespoon as the level dropped, to bail out most of it into an appropriately-sized container (a kilo of butter yields roughly a litre of clarified butter). Last time I put it in a food-grade plastic jar – big mistake as the deeper into the jar I went, the harder it was to extract the butter, so this time I poured it into a flat, shallow, 1-litre plastic box, with a tight-fitting lid, so getting it out again will be easy. I also added a little olive oil which stops it going quite so rock-hard in the fridge (vegetable oil would be more effective, but why add something that tastes of almost nothing?).

Anyway, you’ll soon get to the stage at which it’s impossible to remove any more melted butter without picking up milk, too, so at this point I just poured it into a small bowl, chilled it in the fridge then, later, just pried off the hard disk of butter, blotted the underside dry on kitchen paper. The plastic box was full by this point, so I added it to the small amount left in the jar I used last time.

This left me with rather a lot (193g, almost 20% of the original weight), of liquid, and I was just about to pour it down the sink when I thought “Ooh! Buttermilk…” . So I stuck a finger in and tasted it – and was I glad I didn’t use a spoon? – the stuff was almost pure salt! A little more and it would surely have spontaneously crystallised. So down the sink it went, and a made a mental note to buy unsalted butter next time.

And that’s it. No boiling, no smoke, no mess – just a very safe, and easy, spoonie-friendly, way of clarifying butter.

So easy, it gets just one spoon.

spoonie spoon

Oh, and if you don’t do much cooking, don’t worry, clarified butter keeps very well as long as the container is glass or food-grade plastic, and has a tight-fitting lid. It freezes well, too – just remember to remove it from the freezer a couple of hours before you need it.

And you can, of course, buy clarified butter (usually as Ghee), but it’s not as easily available as you might expect, and supplies, when it is available, tend to be erratic. Tesco currently have the East End brand. The often do but it tends to go quickly and they never seem in a hurry to restock so, if you use a lot, making your own is much more reliable. Much more satisfying, too.

In fact it was the unreliability of East End ghee supplies at Tesco that prompted me to make my own originally.

One last thought. The first time I clarified butter using this method, 250g of Anchor yielded about a tablespoon of liquid milk. Now it has 2 or 3 times as much, as does President. If you look at the nutritional info on the pack, you’ll see most butter is 80% or 82% fat. The rest is salt and liquid milk. The milk is there partly as a carrier for the salt (it doesn’t dissolve in oil or fat), but I suspect its main function is as a profit-enhancer. It’s also why butter makes your toast soggy (if butter was pure fat, that wouldn’t happen – I must see what clarified butter is like on toast – watch this space).