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BUTTER: Clarified, Ghee, and Beyond


Suvir Saran
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Ghee is the next step after clarified butter. It's simmered for a much longer time such that all or nearly all the moisture evaporates, and the remaining product starts moving towards the brown-butter direction. You can usually substitute one for the other, but ghee does have a nuttier taste and a higher smoke point.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I can't add to what FG said, so I won't :)

But-- Beurre noisette (brown butter) is the foundation to many French ala minute pan sauces.IE Amondine, Menuire ETC

Turnip Greens are Better than Nothing. Ask the people who have tried both.

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Since I made the mention originally :smile: In addition to what FG and CC said:

About butter: butter is an emulsion of fat and water, with some milk solids. The water and solids are what causes butter to deteriorate (go rancid), and it is the presence of the milk solids that limits it as a frying medium. The milk solids can burn at relatively low cooking temperatures, giving an off-taste to the fat.

In the progression of hot, plain (that is, not compound) butters:

1. melted butter (beurre fondu). This is just, well, butter that has been melted. It still contains water and milk solids, which can be seen at the bottom of the container.

2. brown butter (beurre noisette) is butter that has been melted and cooked just to the point at which the milk solids are very lightly browned. See what CC said about this, above.

3. black butter (beurre noir) is cooked a little more than brown, but is not really black. If it gets to that point, throw it out and start again, because it will be bitter and inedible. Both brown and black butters are difficult to make because of the speed with which the butter can overcook, i.e., burn.

4. clarified butter, sometimes also called drawn butter, is butterfat and some water, without the milk. To make: melt butter over low heat, skim off the foam that rises to the top, then pour off the liquid fat, leaving the milky residue. Clarified butter is less flavorful, but it's better for frying than whole butter.

5. ghee is butter that has been cooked long enough over low heat for all the water to evaporate; the milk solids are left in during cooking to develop a nutty flavor. The cooked milk solids are discarded, and only the pure butterfat is saved. The absence of water inhibits the formation of butyric acid, a compound formed from fat and water, that is responsible for the smell and taste of rancidity. This is why ghee will keep without refrigeration.

with thanks to Shirley Corriher, Alan Davidson, Chef Frank Lima, and 40 years of cooking experience.

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Since I made the mention originally  :smile:  In addition to what FG and CC said:

About butter:  butter is an emulsion of fat and water, with some milk solids.  The water and solids are what causes butter to deteriorate (go rancid), and it is the presence of the milk solids that limits it as a frying medium.  The milk solids can burn at relatively low cooking temperatures, giving an off-taste to the fat.

In the progression of hot, plain (that is, not compound) butters: 

1.  melted butter (beurre fondu).  This is just, well, butter that has been melted.  It still contains water and milk solids, which can be seen at the bottom of the container.

2.  brown butter (beurre noisette) is butter that has been melted and cooked just to the point at which the milk solids are very lightly browned.  See what CC said about this, above.

3.  black butter (beurre noir) is cooked a little more than brown, but is not really black.  If it gets to that point, throw it out and start again, because it will be bitter and inedible.  Both brown and black butters are difficult to make because of the speed with which the butter can overcook, i.e., burn.

4.  clarified butter, sometimes also called drawn butter, is butterfat and some water, without the milk.  To make: melt butter over low heat, skim off the foam that rises to the top, then pour off the liquid fat, leaving the milky residue.  Clarified butter is less flavorful, but it's better for frying than whole butter.

5.  ghee is butter that has been cooked long enough over low heat for all the water to evaporate; the milk solids are left in during cooking to develop a nutty flavor.  The cooked milk solids are discarded, and only the pure butterfat is saved.  The absence of water inhibits the formation of butyric acid, a compound formed from fat and water, that is responsible for the smell and taste of rancidity.  This is why ghee will keep without refrigeration.

with thanks to Shirley Corriher, Alan Davidson, Chef Frank Lima, and 40 years of cooking experience.

Thanks SuzanneF! That was a very informative and thorough post. :biggrin:

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Yes, that's available commercially, too. I've seen it promoted at food shows in maybe gallon tubs (probably for not much more than WS charges for 12 oz!). Just another "time-and-labor-saver" for restaurants and home cooks who don't know how to make it, or are afraid to try. In other words, a rip-off. (I mean, ANYBODY can learn to make it. I've taught it to people who did not understand a word I was saying; but they watched, they learned, they could do it!) Ah well, American marketing :biggrin::angry::rolleyes:

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Butter is one of the world's most super-delicious substances and is responsible for the great taste of so many recipes, yet when reduced to little rectangular bricks, wrapped in wax paper, and placed on supermarket shelves, it yields up few of its secrets. Many recipes call simply for "butter," and rarely does any recipe specify anything beyond "salted" or "unsalted" butter. Yet butter -- simply as a raw ingredient, without even getting into any issues of how to use it in cooking -- must be divided along three sets of lines in order to be understood and utilized, in addition to the helpful divisions of another kind that Suzanne presented:

1) There are two major styles of butter making: American (sweet) and European (cultured). American-style sweet butter is made from fresh cream and has a clean, straightforward, unobtrusive taste. European-style cultured butter is made from cream that has been allowed to culture -- usually overnight -- and has an assertive, multidimensional, almost sour-cream-like taste to it. The choice of which to use (and most large supermarkets now have at least one cultured butter available) makes a world of difference in the end product.

2) The choice of salted or unsalted butter is of vital importance because, of course, it affects how much salt needs to be added to the rest of the recipe. However, since there is almost no way to know how much salt really is in salted butter (specimens vary wildly), it is rarely advisable to use salted butter in cooking. Moreover, salted butter, because it keeps better (salt is a natural preservative), is usually held on supermarket shelves longer than sweet butter. Salted butter, however, is the superior condiment for bread -- but it's even better if you start with sweet butter and salt it yourself (not to mention all the other seasonings you can add to create what are called compound butters).

3) Different butters have different percentages of butterfat. Many people assume that, since butter comes from cream, it is 100 percent fat. Actually the number hovers closer to 80 percent, with the rest being water and other compounds. Just a couple of percentage points difference in fat content significantly changes the behavior of butter, as any French or American chef who has traveled to the other country can tell you (French butter usually has 2-3 percent more fat than American, although this gap is closing). Some supermarket butters, finally, are being labeled with their fat contents.

Butter is one of the most wonderful and luscious ingredients imaginable, yet it can turn against you quickly if not handled properly. Many home cooks have tremendous difficulty sautéing with butter, for example, because they either don't get it hot enough or they burn it. A basic understanding of the chemistry of butter and dairy fats in general, however, can help any cook work confidently with butter: By knowing the basics of what is going on at the molecular level, and by knowing what specific visual and auditory signals (you have to listen to butter) to be alert for as butter heats up, a cook can control butter precisely. And then the permutations become possible: Intentionally burning butter in a controlled manner in order to create brown butter and derivative sauces. Clarifying butter to separate it from its solids and therefore make it usable at higher temperatures without burning.

One way to learn about butter is to make some at home -- easily -- from cream purchased at the supermarket. Another way is to work on basic butter sauces (beurre blanc, for example) and build those into full recipes. Yet another way is to manipulate butter into compound butters by adding herbs and seasonings. Yet few cookbooks ever bother to illustrate these techniques, or to talk about butter at all.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Enlightenment is the completion of the day (and this one isn't even over yet).

Thank you, Suzanne!! and Steven!

Just like to add: "The other 'Butter';

like in "Pass the 'Butter', please" and you only visited some friends for dinner.

Or does it not need mention on this board? BTW, why are there people actually calling 'Margarine' "Butter"?? :blink:

Peter
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I just love the delicious irony of the latest nutritional research on margarine and butter, which indicates that there are some strong arguments in favor of butter over margarine (though it does seem the new trans-fat-free margarines address the point). In any event, I think it's fair to say that butter taken in moderation is not harmful.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Don't you want to hear my definition of moderation before you reach any conclusions?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Me too. Butter is definitely my favorite fat. I could get by in life without all the others, but not without butter. That being said there are specific applications in which butter is not the best tasting fat, and there are also applications where butter just doesn't perform. I mean, you can't make a vinaigrette with butter, at least I don't think you can. Duck fat is really superb for deep frying, another thing you can't do all that well with butter (though Charlie Palmer's sea scallop sandwiches from Aureole are deep fried in clarified butter and are lovely). And in many baking applications you do better with shortening, or a mix of shortening and butter. But I love butter most of all.

By the way, for those who have found this butter discussion interesting, I should mention that I'm trying to convince some publisher somewhere to let me write a book that is essentially a series of chapters just like this thread: A guide to the building blocks of cuisine, like butter and salt and eggs and such. It seems to me that most cookbooks ignore these basics, yet most home cooks don't really have the information on how to understand and get the most out of these ingredients, which are after all the foundations of most Western recipes.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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:rolleyes: Yes, you can make brown butter vinagrette, or at least Ming Tsai does. He serves this with "Lomi" Salmon Tartare.

Brown Butter Vinaigrette

4 ounces butter

3 tablespoons passion fruit juice

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon chopped shallots

1 teaspoon chopped ginger

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

To make the vinaigrette, heat the butter in a small skillet over low heat until it browns, 15 to 20 minutes. Watch carefully as the butter can burn quickly. The butter should have a nutty aroma. In a blender, combine the passion fruit juice, orange juice, shallots, ginger, mustard, and sugar and blend until pureed. While the machine is running, slowly add the browned butter to make an emulsion. Be careful, as the mixture may foam up when the hot butter is added. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. The vinaigrette should be served slightly warm.

Recipe from Ming Tsai and Tom Berry

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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Sounds nice. Do us a favor, though, Ruth: Can you post a link to that recipe instead of its full text? We probably don't have permission to reprint it here. Thanks!

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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