For most of my life, I have preferred margarine. Those blue rectangular boxes were a fixture when I was growing up. On the rare occasion when I tried real butter, mostly at my grandparent's house (though my grandfather has always tried to steer my grandmother away from it), I thought it was too greasy. During my vegan years I probably ate my body weight in Earth Balance.
Even after I realized that butter is not the devil I hesitated to eat it. But those times are past. Now I look for opportunities to use it. A piece of broccoli? A smidge of pumpkin bread? A broken arm? Smear some butter on that shit!
Sadly, butter isn't so good for cooking. It's not pure fat, you see, so cooking it at a high temperature can turn it bad. And if there's anything sadder than butter gone wrong, I can't think of it.
So what can you do if you must, must, must have butter in your food but you'd rather use a higher temperature? Clarify that baby. During this process the remaining lactose and proteins are cooked and strained away, leaving behind a pure, stable oil behind that is redolent with butter flavor but can be used for frying and sauteing. You can even store it at room temperature. People who cannot digest dairy products generally do fine with butter, but if you are so sensitive that you can't even have butter, you might be able to tolerate ghee.
The terms "ghee" and "clarified butter" are typically used interchangeably, but they're not exactly the same. With clarified butter, the solids foam up to rest on top of the butter oil, and are skimmed away. Ghee is more pure, because all of the solids settle to the bottom of the pot so they are removed entirely. The solids usually caramelize, which gives ghee more of a nutty flavor. Both have a much higher smoking point than butter.
This was my first attempt at clarifying butter. I waited and waited for all of the solids to fall to the bottom of the pot, but it was really taking a while and I worried that stuff would burn. It's a fine line, y'know. So I ended up with a sort of half-ghee, with most of the solids on the bottom and the last bit skimmed away from the top when I got impatient.
When you clarify butter, you can expect to lose roughly half of the volume in processing. Or maybe it's mass. Um... I'm not so good with physics. Wait, is that physics?
Let's move on.
If you start with a pound of butter, you'll end up with roughly 8 ounces of ghee. THERE. I started with six sticks of butter 'cause I just roll like that. If I'm going to the trouble of clarifying butter I figure I might as well make a ton.
Melt the butter in a pot. Hey, use a bigger pot than I did, okay? It foams more than you'd think.
Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the butter continue to foam.
After a few minutes, the solids will begin to fall to the bottom of the pot, but for a good long while, sometimes more than half an hour, you'll continue to have foamy stuff floating on the surface.
If you want to take a shortcut, just skim off that stuff and then strain out the last bits. Or you can keep on going and let everything fall to the bottom before straining.
Strain the butter into clean jars. You can use cheesecloth or muslin to hold back the foam, or just a fine-mesh strainer.
Six sticks of butter made about three cups of liquid gold.