You are seated at your usual table in your favorite seafood restaurant. You order some shellfish – perhaps king crab legs or a sweet lobster tail or even a few grilled prawns to accompany a perfectly grilled steak. The waiter brings you a plate of the succulent, sweet morsels of your choice. Your mouth begins to water. On the plate is a small tin of pure, golden Clarified Butter. The meal is superb!
Clarified Butter isn’t just for dipping shellfish, it goes well with vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus or broccoli. In addition, clarified butter it is an excellent choice of “butter” for pan-frying a nice piece of fish to create such simple entrées as Pacific Dover Sole or to pan-sear succulent sea scallops.
While all butters will burn eventually, clarified butter has a higher heat threshold than whole, creamy butter. Most whole butters will begin to break down and burn at 350 degrees, while clarified butter has a smoking point of 450 degrees. The reason? The water, milk solids and other impurities have been removed, leaving behind only pure butterfat.
Clarifying the butter isn’t difficult. It does require time and a great deal of patience. The process below comes to us from Alton Brown. (My favorite “go to guy” when I want to not only know the hows but the whys behind most cooking application. In my opinion, Alton Brown is the science guy of the culinary world). While there are more rapid methods (such as the microwave method or the cornstarch method) this is the purest method if you are looking to maximize the flavor of your Clarified Butter while retaining most of butterfat. Think of the time as an investment in future culinary delights.
Since clarifying the butter takes time, it is a task best done at least a day in advance, or better yet on a lazy Sunday afternoon to have at the ready whenever the need arises. Clarified Butter, when properly stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, can kept for up to four months. Each pound of whole butter will yield about 1 1/2 cups of Clarified Butter, or 24 tablespoons. The beauty of Clarified Butter (besides the obvious – to use as a buttery dip for crab, shrimp or lobster) is that the butter will not char as easily when used in sautéing applications.
1 1/2 lbs Unsalted Butter
Cut the butter into 1″ pieces. Place the butter in a 2-quart saucepan and set over medium heat. Once the butter has liquefied, decrease the heat to lowest setting then gradually adjust upward as needed to maintain a low boil.
Cook for approximately 45 minutes or until the butter reaches 260 degrees, is clear, and the foam on top is slightly browned yet floating on the top. (The browning will add just a hint of flavor to the finished butterfat). The long cooking process will ensure that all the water content of the butter has evaporated, leaving only the milk solids (at the top) and pure butter oil (below) to contend with. (If the milk solids brown to the point of sinking to the bottom, don’t toss it out and start over again. You have just made Ghee – like Clarified Butter with a high smoking point, but with a deeper nutty flavor).
While many recipes for Clarified Butter tell you to use a ladle to skim the milk solids from the butterfat, this takes time and more patients that most of us possess. An easier technique is to strain the remains of the saucepan through four layers of cheesecloth set over a hand strainer above a heat-proof vessel.
Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. (A jar with a tight-fitting lid works well). Place the Clarified Butter into the refrigerator until ready to use.