One of the biggest revelations I had during my course was the impact having a few basic items in your kitchen, such as curry pastes and spice mixes, made in putting a meal together in a hurry. This year I want to pass that knowledge on to you through an occasional series called ‘Kitchen Basics’. The aim of this series is to give you an arsenal that you can draw on when the idea of putting a meal together seems too much like hard work.
In a simple meal, flavour is paramount. Flavour is primarily carried by fat. Stay with me. Despite being browbeaten over many decades with the message that saturated fat will kill you, there has been a slight shift in this attitude of late. Evidence is beginning to emerge that there may be some value in saturated fats after all.
Ghee is a type of clarified butter. Butter, a saturated fat, is made up of butterfat, milk solids and water. It is the milk solids and water in the butter that makes it prone to rancidity. Clarified butter is heated for a short period to drive off the moisture, then strained to remove the milk solids. Ghee is cooked slowly over a longer period. This longer cooking time not only drives off the water in the butter, but also caramelises the milk solids, resulting in a nutty flavour and aroma in the fat. It is the milk solids in butter that cause it to burn at low temperatures. Removing the milk solids makes ghee much more suitable for higher heat applications such as frying
The saturated fat component of butter predominantly comprises short and medium chain fatty acids, which are quickly utilised by the body rather than being stored as fat. Many of the fatty acids found in butter have other health benefits: lauric and butyric acids help boost the immune system, whilst stearic and palmitic acids assist in lowering LDL cholesterol. Butter also contains the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as copper, zinc, chromium, selenium, and iodine. The process of caramelising the milk solids creates antioxidants that help delay rancidity of the fat.1 Butter, and by extension ghee, may not be be so bad after all.
There are as many ways to make ghee as there are people who make it. I have been taught three different methods by three different people. The method I now use does take some time, but it doesn’t require you to hover over the pot constantly. I just set it going and check it from time to time whilst I am doing other things.
I encourage you to set aside your fat prejudices and give this a try. I know you can buy ghee in a green tin from your local supermarket, but the difference between that product and homemade ghee is incomparable. The Princess once asked me why I had cooked schnitzel in maple syrup. The sweet, caramel notes she tasted came from the inclusion of ghee in my frying pan. It is now a staple in my kitchen. I hope it will become so in yours.
1: McLagan, Jennifer. 2008. Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes. Ten Speed Press
Kitchen Basics: How to Make Ghee
- 200 g unsalted organic butter
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium low heat.
- Once the butter begins to spit and foam, reduce the heat as low as possible. If the butter continues to spit, you may need to use a heat diffuser under the pan.
- Slowly cook the butter until the milk solids have turned light brown and no more bubbles are produced from the bottom of the pan. A crust will form on top of the ghee during the cooking process.
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow to sit for approximately 5 minutes.
- Pour the ghee into a clean glass jar through a fine strainer,holding back the solid crust with a spoon.
- Allow the ghee to cool then store in the fridge.
The long cooking time allows the milk solids to slowly caramelise, developing flavour in the ghee. I usually set a pot going when I have other things to do in the kitchen and check it occasionally. You can shorten the cooking time by not using a diffuser, but you will need to keep a close eye on the pot as the ghee can go from dark brown to black in the blink of an eye.