How to make Ghee
Ghee is a staple in many Indian dishes. It ups the intensity in a buttery curry, deliciously crisps up a potato rosti and brings a new level of indulgence to sauces, pie crusts and bakes. While it can be purchased in most supermarkets and specialist shops, it’s best to spend your money on a quality block of organic, grass-fed butter and make the ghee yourself. And the best thing is if you can melt butter, you can make ghee!
What is ghee?
Ghee is simply butter with the milk solids and water removed to leave behind a rich and concentrated oil. It’s traditionally made from the revered cow’s milk like regular butter, and by separating off the milk solids, ghee contains less lactose than butter, which makes it easier to digest.
The use of ghee originated in India in around 1500 – 500 BC, around the time that cattle were becoming domesticated. With the extreme temperatures and no refrigeration, butter would often turn rancid, so ghee became a popular way of making it last longer.
How to make ghee
Ghee is simply butter that is simmered on the stove to separate rich butterfat from the milk solids and water. The resulting oil is a concentrated butter substitute with fewer dairy proteins and lactose sugar, which makes it popular for people with mild dairy insensitivities or following a Paleo diet. What distinguishes ghee from clarified butter is the final stage of the process, where the milk solids are left to settle slightly longer on the base of the pan to gently caramelise. The ghee takes on this rich, almost nutty, toffee flavour before it is strained to leave an opaque, yet glistening liquid.
Why do people cook with ghee?
The indulgent concentrated buttery-nutty flavour is the main reason ghee is favoured in recipes, adding a rich opulence that can’t be achieved with standard butter or oil. The removal of the milk solids and water also significantly raises the smoke point of the butterfat, making it an excellent choice for extreme-heat cooking such as sautéing, roasting and stir-frying, where butter would burn and become bitter. Its rich flavour makes ghee a popular choice for a rich array of cooking and baking recipes and its talents are by no means limited to Indian food.
What are some great ghee recipes?
The beauty of ghee is in its versatility to add a flourish to sweet and savoury dishes, fried, baked or bubbled on the stove. To really bring out the richness, make it the star of your next butter chicken curry, let it work its magic on the crispiest lamb samosas, pep up your pan of pilau rice, bring a shine and richness to roasted veg and add depth to a plateful of delicious sweet or savoury dosa pancakes.
What’s a good ghee alternative?
There are many ingredients that can be used as a substitute for ghee, but nothing really that achieves quite the same complexity of taste. Peanut oil will replicate the nuttiness and high smoking temperature, or otherwise, you could use coconut oil, olive oil, soya bean or sesame oil.
Clarified butter versus butter versus ghee
The closest alternative would be clarified butter, which is made in exactly the same way as ghee, removing the water to leave the pure butterfat. But the cooking process stops short of the caramelisation stage to give the butter a more neutral flavour. Like ghee, clarified butter has a higher smoke point than normal butter.
If you don’t have time to make clarified butter or ghee, plain butter would give a similar result on the plate, if not the exact taste.
How is it stored and how long does it keep?
Removing the milk solids and moisture from butterfat results in a shelf-stable ingredient that can be kept in the store cupboard for around three-to-six months or refrigerated for up to a year. So it’s common for chefs to use multiple blocks of butter at a time to make a bigger batch of ghee rather than having to make it more regularly.
Stored in a cupboard, your ghee will be thick and smooth, with a consistency similar to peanut butter. If refrigerated, it will be more solid and slightly grainy, but become supple and smooth when heated.
Cooking with ghee
While it’s certainly a staple in Indian cuisine, the concentrated flavour of ghee means less is more when it comes to cooking with it. The oil is more calorific than butter, so make sure you don’t go overboard – you can always add as you go. Be bold with how you cook with it – remember on top of its beautiful and unique flavour, ghee works well under extreme temperatures, so experiment in the wok, on the barbecue and in the roasting pan too.
Ghee, whizz, what else can it do?
Away from the kitchen and as a product of India’s sacred cow, ghee’s been used for centuries to anoint relics of gods and idols in religious ceremonies. It’s also an ingredient for massage and skin moisturisers and in natural medicine as a base for herbal ointments in treatments such as Ayurveda.
How to make ghee
- A deep, sturdy pan
- Metal sieve
- Muslin cloth or strong kitchen paper
- Skimmer spoon
- Heat-resistant bowl
- Airtight jar for storage
- At least one block of good quality unsalted butter; organic and grass fed if possible.
- Cut the butter into cubes and melt in a deep, sturdy pan over a medium-high heat, swirling regularly to avoid burning.
- Once bubbling, reduce the heat and simmer for one-to-two minutes.
- Skim off the white froth as it rises to the surface – these are the milk solids separating from the butterfat.
- Continue simmering until the butterfat is clear and golden. At this point, the liquid is clarified butter.
- As soon as the solids on the bottom of the pan turn a light golden brown, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Line a metal sieve with a muslin cloth or kitchen paper and strain over a heat-resistant bowl to separate the ghee from the caramelised milk solids.
- Leave to cool completely until the ghee is opaque and pale yellow, then pour into an airtight jar and keep in the store cupboard or fridge.