Just to clarify

I've had a few people contact me privately to say that they were unable to comment on a blog post here. That is frustrating for the reader and discouraging for me, because I won't know that you even stopped by. Turns out, I couldn't comment - or reply to comments - either, so I did a bit of Googling and may have a solution. Let me know.

There's something else that needs clarifying around here: butter. For the longest time I wondered why so many videos and tutorials existed on how to make ghee, since I was making it with no trouble. Turns out I wasn't.

Butter contains only minute amounts of lactose, but for those of us who've "gone primal/paleo", are on Whole 30 (phase 2), or are sensitive to milk protein (casein) but not ready to give up butter entirely, clarifying is the answer. The result is golden, semi-solid fat which keeps much longer than its predecessor. And it's not nearly as weird new-agey as you might think. "Potting" in fact is an old English technique of preserving meats in clarified butter. It's the "drawn butter" traditionally served as a dip with lobster and crab. It seals paté so it will keep longer. It has a higher smoke point than butter so it's also commonly used for shallow frying where the butter flavour is desired but the risk of scorching is not.

Theoretically all butter should be made up of minimal solids, 18% water and 80+% fat, but as soon as you start melting it you'll know that theory and practice might have met at a party once but haven't kept in touch. I buy Kerryg0ld butter because it is primarily from grass-fed cows, and because it costs a lot less than my local raw Alpine butter, which turns out to have significantly more milk solids by weight (making the price spread even wider once it's been clarified). The raw versus pasteurized question is also a bit of a non-issue with butter because the concern with heat effects on milk apply to the proteins. In the interests of completeness I'll mention that there is an argument for using cultured butter, and it is the traditional way of making butter, but I can't speak to that personally since - by not eating bread - I really only cook with it and so can't taste a difference.

Once you've got the right product, clarifying butter is very easy.
  • Put your butter in a Pyrex ewer with a spout. 
  • Put it in the oven as it cools down from baking something unrelated. Fan optional, since it cools the oven faster but may aid in evaporation.
  • Wait. If you're doing 2 or more blocks of butter at a time you may need to leave the heat on low for a while, but the point is just to melt the butter and evaporate the water. When you peek through the oven door and see that it's all melted, you'll also see that the solids have sunk to the bottom. 
  • Top a tempered jar with a muslin square and fine sieve, and carefully strain your melted butter off the solids and into the jar. Don't push, or the solids will force their way into the clarified butter. I tend to hang the muslin from an upper cupboard handle to let the last of the butter drip through overnight, and use the buttery cloth to oil a pan or two the next day before rinsing it in very hot water and tossing in the wash. The solids can be used as a spread for bread by those who can handle casein. In fact it makes great herb or garlic butter if you want the herb flavour to dominate rather than the butter taste.

That's it: melt, separate, go.

The process for ghee is similar but involves a little more time, a little more heat, and a lot more supervision. The end result is more flavourful than clarified butter, and lasts even longer. There's a good tutorial on how to make it here which I won't duplicate, but I will point out that the key difference is that with ghee you toast the milk solids before separating them from the oil. As all (most?) fats and oils readily take on flavours, the ghee thus takes on a nutty taste that is responsible for the French term for ghee: beurre noisette. Here's a bit of history, poetry and practicalities about ghee. Yes, there is poetry about fats.

A final note on separating butter into its component parts: the top foam is commonly referred to as impurities. I find very little top foam on my Kerryg0ld clarified butter, but you may want to skim a bit if you're worried.

The topic of impurities brings me back to the problem of blocked comments to my blog posts: it seems that overzealous cookie blockers may be to blame. I found this forum string which told me to "allow third-party cookies" (in Firefox: tools>options>privacy) and found the problem solved. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may open me up to some security problems though - if you can advise, comment!

If this continues to be a problem I may have to alter the way comments are entered here, such as using a pop-up window, but that carries its own complications. Let me know what works for you and I'll do what I can. Your comments are a big part of why I write, so I don't want to lose a single one to a technical glitch!

ps: in keeping with today's theme, here's an article clarifying the difference between parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. I tolerate small amounts of "parma", perhaps because it is some of the lowest lactose cheese available due to its very long aging process, during which the culturing bacteria consume nearly all the milk sugars. Won't help you with the casein though!

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