Fat Week, continued.

November 17, 2011 · 2 comments


(I didn’t really set out to talk about rendering two different types of fat this week. But such is my current life in the kitchen.)

Today we cover ghee, which is a clarified butter that has been cooked slightly longer so that more moisture evaporates and the milk solids caramelize a bit to provide a rich, nuttier flavor — it’s used a lot in Indian cooking. Straight-up butter is made up of three things: butterfat, milk solids, and water. When you heat the butter slowly, and let it sit, the water evaporates and the milk solids sink to the bottom of the container. You are left with butterfat, which can be skimmed as-is for clarified butter, or cooked a bit longer for ghee.

You might wonder what’s the point? It’s not like I’m cooking Indian food every night, and when I do, why not just use butter and save myself a little time in the kitchen (if you do wonder this, you can join the likes of my husband, who often wonders why I go through the trouble of doing about half the stuff I do, out of sweet concern for his wife, who has a perpetual list of things to do that she cannot possibly overcome — but at the same time, he never complains while eating dinner).

The answer is three-fold: First, ghee has a higher smoke point than butter — so while butter will burn in your pan if the heat is too high (one reason recipes often call for a mixture of butter and olive oil, to increase the smoke point), ghee has a smoke point of 375º. Second, ghee is often tolerated by those who cannot have dairy (the allergy-causing milk solids are strained, leaving just the fat) — and still lends that lovely buttery flavor. Third, it has a longer shelf-life, and can be stored for very long periods at room temperature.

Once you fall in love with ghee, there is a fourth reason to make it at home: cost. I have in the past purchased jars of ghee at the natural foods store — a small half-pound jar can run upwards of $10. If I make it at home, I can make 3/4 pound for the price of a box of organic butter — on sale, about $4.

And, it’s easy. I used the oven method, which requires nothing more than an oven-proof dish. If you skim your ghee rather than strain it, you need nothing else but a jar.

I recommend using only organic butter — and for this, it must be unsalted. There are multiple ways to separate the butterfat from the milk solids — read more here — I tried it once with cheesecloth and it wasn’t dense enough to catch the milk solids (see pic below). So the next time I used a coffee filter — and while it worked like a charm, took a little patience. Also, I noticed that my homemade ghee, while creamy, had a gritty consistency that was different from store-bought. After some online reading, it seems this is typical, and does not mean that milk solids were left in the fat.

Come on. It’s the week before Thanksgiving. What could you possibly have to do in your kitchen besides render fat?


(The jar on the left is the ghee after it was strained into the jar. On the right is the jar into which the milk solids slipped through cheesecloth — but never fear, it was re-melted and skimmed to clarify.)


(My second-attempt setup for straining through a coffee filter, worked great.)


Recipe: How to make ghee

: instructions adapted slightly from a recipe in Internal Bliss

makes about 12 ounces ghee


  • 1 pound (4 sticks) organic unsalted butter


  1. Preheat oven to 200º. Place butter in a small oven-proof dish.
  2. Place butter in the oven. After it melts, it will eventually separate and the milk solids will sink to the bottom, leaving a clear golden liquid on top.
  3. After 30 minutes, check it every 15 minutes. Once the foam has dissipated from the surface, and the liquid on top is clear and quite golden, carefully remove from oven. This can take 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Either skim the golden liquid (butterfat) from the surface into a clean jar, or pour the liquid through very dense cheesecloth or a coffee filter placed over a fine sieve. Discard the milk solids.
  5. Leave on a counter until cool, then cover. Once cool, it will thicken to a room-temperature-butter consistency. Ghee will keep in a sealed jar at room temperature for several months.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.

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Stefanii Ferenczi November 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Ummmm…where do you store all your fat? Doesn’t rendered animal fat (chicken, bacon, etc) have to be refrigerated? I only have so much space for all of my assorted jars of things (which I often forget to label, of course)…

katy November 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm

So the chicken fat mostly gets frozen, in 1-Tbsp measures, in old ice cube trays (the popped into bags once solid). Same with a lot of bacon fat. But I’ve been keeping a little bacon fat (just what I pour off the pan after cooking 1/2 pound or so) in a very small jar in the fridge.

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