Since the subject has come up, and even though I don’t have good photos of making it, and even though I can’t get any right now because I don’t need to make any, we’ll do ghee anyway.
Ghee is clarified butter.
Butter is a type of fat. Pork fat is another. Beef fat is another. So is chicken fat.
But if you take a slab of pork fat and leave it sitting out on your counter for a few days, it will be horrible. It goes bad. It stinks to high heaven.
It isn’t the fat that goes bad.
It’s the muscle protein that is in the piece of fat. As it comes from the pig, you simply can’t cut it clean.
So, long ago, people figured out that if they “rendered” it, or “clarified” it, they could get rid of that protein that goes bad and the result would be a product that is pretty much shelf stable. It’s pure fat.
Another issue is that if you take a spoonful of butter and put it in a pan and heat it, it will brown. Keep doing that and it will burn. What if you don’t want that?
What is browning and burning is that same protein (in butter, it’s milk) that is in the butter and there is no way to remove it completely without rendering the butter.
So here’s how I make ghee.
We store milk in gallon-sized glass jars. This is the milk from the morning’s milking, what is left after the calves are fed. That’s quite a bit, and means that at the time that photo was taken, we needed to get a couple of new calves.
That goes in a frig in the basement. I can put nine gallon jars in there. After a couple of days, the cream rises to the surface. It’s easy to see the cream line, so I dip out the cream and store it in separate jars.
See the cream line near the bottom of those jars?
When I want to churn butter, I take out the jars of cream and let them come to room temperature, or slightly cooler. Cream right out of the frig won’t churn well, and it also won’t churn well if it’s too warm. It’s fiddly if you’re using a manual churn; much less so if you’re using a food processor.
And you can do this two different ways, with shades of gray all in between. You can let the cream sit overnight or even 24 hours and sour a bit, which produces a tangier butter. We like it. Some people do not. Or you can churn it as soon as the temp is right, and the butter will be sweeter. Or anything in between. Most of the time, our butter is whatever I got around to doing.
This is cream, in the food processor. I also have a manual butter churn (glass with a handle), but life is too short if the electricity works. With the manual churn, it takes ten to fifteen minutes of cranking that handle. With the food processor, it takes about three minutes with no effort on my part.
When the cream is churning in the processor, you can hear the change when the butter precipitates out. Open the food processor and you’ll see the clumps of yellow butter floating about in the skim milk.
Here’s the butter in the strainer. You can see the skim milk in the jar below. We feed that to the pig and/or chickens. After letting it strain for a few minutes, I then put it under the cold water tap and wash it well, right in the strainer.
Mark this point. Here’s where I diverge from making butter to making ghee.
But first let’s finish the butter. That butter still has a good bit of milk in it. Even washing it won’t get it all out.
So then I dump the butter onto any available flat thing, in this case, an upside down casserole lid. If you look closely, you can see the skim milk around the edges of the blob of butter. You’ve gotta get as much of that out as possible.
So I wash it. I knead it, run it under the cold water tap (gently), and then knead some more.
See the milky water? That gets clearer and clearer as you go.
You never get it all out, but I try to get as much as possible. And then I salt it.
I have a very scientific method of salting butter. I get the salt shaker and shake it. And then I knead it some more to mix it and then I taste it.
Here is the butter being wrapped for freezing. I shape it that way because that’s what fits in my butter dish.
And there we are, all done. That represents around two gallons of cream.
But let’s go back to ghee. That butter, above, cannot be used to make ghee, or rather, cannot be made into ghee that I like. The divergent point is the salt.
I don’t like ghee made from salted butter. I want to salt food myself. I don’t want the salt in the ghee.
If I’m making ghee, after I wash as much milk off the butter as possible, I dump the butter in a crock pot. Then I churn some more and repeat until I’ve done all I want/have, or the crock pot is full.
I set the crock pot on low, adding just a little bit of water to keep it from scorching while the butter melts, and put the lid on temporarily. Once the butter has melted, I tilt the lid so that moisture can escape. You don’t want any water in ghee. Just the fat.
The idea here is to heat the butter, melt it and then cook the hell out of all the protein in the milk. It will brown and separate from the fat. And foam will form on the top. You will think that it’s ruined, but all that foam and the browned particles will strain out.
You can do this in a pot on the stove, but the crock pot is so much easier it’s not even funny. I typically make ghee in the evening, set the crock pot and go to bed. In the morning, it’s done. It won’t burn. I cannot mess it up. I don’t have to watch it. I’ve tried this both ways and the crock pot wins, hands down.
In the morning, I strain the fat out of the pot into mason jars and immediately put lids on them. The heat will cause them to seal. This is an extra step I take which might not really be necessary, but it’s easy so I do it.
So, how do you use ghee?
It’s fat. It’s just like oil, only it’s a solid at room temperature. I make lard the exact same way. I cut up the pork fat, put it in the crock pot, let it heat. Identical. There are more solids to strain out of lard. Lard is white, not yellow.
Beef fat? Identical. The result is called tallow. It is very hard, even at room temperature. I use it in French fries. (So did McDonald’s until the vegetarians threw a fit and they quit. That’s why McDonald’s fries used to taste so good.)
Chicken fat? You guessed it. Identical. It’s called schmaltz. I use it to fry chicken.
But ghee is hands down our favorite. We use it every day. Dave had no idea what in the world I was making and no idea how to use it, but is a convert now. He fries eggs with it. He pops popcorn with it.
Ghee has a slightly buttery taste. It’s not pronounced, like butter. But it’s there. It does not brown. It’s fat. You can get it to a much higher temperature than butter, which means you can fry with it.
You can also bake with both ghee and lard. I have made cakes with both. I use either in biscuits, or pie crusts. Schmaltz is good in baking too, but I typically don’t have a lot of it and I’m sort of stingy with it.
In fact, the only use I have for oil is in mayonnaise and salad dressings.
We typically store these fats in mason jars, just like the jar in the photo. They are on the shelf in the basement. Our basement stays at about 55 degrees year round. And they are sealed with mason jar lids (although I’m not certain that’s necessary.)
This drove me a little crazy in the beginning. I worried about the lard/ghee/tallow/schmaltz spoiling. I still generally store schmaltz in the frig just because, well, it’s chicken. None of it has ever gone rancid or spoiled, and I have stored it for more than two years.
Once the jar is open, we generally keep it in the frig for no reason at all except that is where Dave inevitably hunts for it.
So, now, what do you do if you don’t have a cow?
You wait for butter to go on sale and buy some. Unsalted. Render it. That’s certainly what I would do. I’m sure that’s way cheaper than hunting for and buying commercially made ghee.
Inevitably, somebody asks me if this is not a terrible, awful thing to do. You know to use, gasp, animal fats instead of lovely extra-virgin olive oil.
The answer is pretty much no.
Dave is soon going to be 78. He just recently went off his blood pressure medicine. We’re monitoring his blood pressure now pretty closely so he can report back to his doctor, but we all think (doc included) that he can come off it safely. He takes cholesterol medication, but even the necessity of that is debatable. At his last checkup, his doctor told him that he’s in a cohort of a very tiny percentage of men his age who take almost no medications.
I am on no medications of any kind and never have been.
Neither of those things means that our very good fortune at having good health up to this point is a result of our lifestyle. It’s much more likely a result of our genes. We both have parents who lived into their nineties. But my point is that we don’t just drown in these fats. We use them reasonably.
Harvard weighed in on this debate, and takes a sort of middle position.
Remember, we eat very small portions of meat. We eat lots of vegetables and whole grains and beans. We also raise the pork and the beef and the chicken and we milk the cow. The sheer work of doing all that makes a difference, I suspect.
It makes no sense at all to me to toss away all these lovely fats that are by-products of animal husbandry and go buy olive oil that is not in any way sustainable.
This is one of my favorite cookbooks in the whole world. It’s not just that the recipes are good. It’s that it is so beautiful.
So get some butter and try it. If you already have a crock pot, you’re in business.