If you find yourself wondering whether clarifying butter is really necessary, you're not alone. But if a recipe calls for clarified butter, it's usually a necessary step. A recipe will usually call for clarified butter if it needs to be cooked at higher temperatures.
Clarifying the butter removes milk solids and impurities that cause the butter to burn when it goes past its smoke point of about 350 degrees F. While there are plenty of oils that can go well beyond butter's smoke point (e.g., peanut oil, which is a great frying oil because of its high smoke point), clarified butter, also called "drawn butter," allows you to cook at a higher temperature (at least 450 degrees F) without sacrificing flavor.
How to clarify butter
Generally, clarified butter is made from unsalted butter. This is because the clarification process causes milk solids (which you remove) to come to the top, but there's no science behind how much salt they draw with them. It could be different every time, even with the same stick cut in half for two clarification sessions. That's not to say you can't use salted butter, but just be careful of how you salt your dish as you cook and never add salt without tasting first.
- Unsalted butter
- Heavy-bottomed saucepan
- Ladle or large spoon
- Small, refrigerator-safe bowl with lid
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, melt the butter, stirring frequently.
- Eventually, you'll notice a foam begin to form on the butter's surface. That's the result of the water evaporating off and the milk solid that causes the butter to solidify in its normal state rising to the top.
- Use a ladle or large spoon to carefully skim the foam and milk solid from the surface of the butter, leaving behind only a clear, golden liquid. As you remove the foam, pour it into a small bowl. There's no reason to throw this away. It can be used later on top of popcorn or steamed veggies. Keep skimming until you're left with a mixture that's clear and golden. There may still be a few bits of milk solid in the liquid, but get as much as you can without simply starting to remove the liquid. That liquid is pure butter fat. Store both the clarified butter and the skimmed milk solid in the refrigerator until you're ready to use them (the milk solid won't last as long).
Clarified butter is served as a side with lobster, crab and other meats or vegetables because it stays in liquid form the entire time you're eating, making it perfect for dunking. It's also the best butter to use in sauces like Hollandaise, which may tend to break easily as it resists emulsification.
Because clarified butter doesn't go bad as quickly as regular butter, you can keep it for quite some time. This is because the removal of the milk solids leaves just pure butterfat, which is more stable.