Clarified butter just might be the single most important food I added to my healing diet, and it's also in the running for most delicious. I can't seem to handle dairy too well, but clarified butter is all of the fat with none of the milk solids--no milk protein, no problem.
As Dad loves to say, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to clarify butter and he eats fried fish for a lifetime." Alright, I might have taken a liberty there, but I think you get his point. Grab yourself a slow-cooker, and let's get started.
Butter is a healing and nourishing food but, like many people with autoimmune conditions, I don't do well on dairy. Enter, clarified butter. Clarified butter, or ghee--although technically different things, these terms are often used interchangeably in the US--is just pure butterfat. The pastured cow butter I typically buy is 84 percent butterfat, meaning that the other 16 percent of the stick is water, salt, milk proteins, lactose, etc. If you experience digestive distress from dairy products, give ghee a chance; it just might rock your world.
You can make clarified butter on the stove-top or with a slow-cooker. A large batch requires some time to do right, but clarified butter keeps well so you won't have to make it again for weeks or months, depending on how much you eat. I recently started favoring the slow-cooker method because it requires less direct attention, especially for large batches, and is less likely to resemble a volcanic event when you neglect to turn the burner down low enough. If you're doing a small batch (2 lb. or so) you may find the pot and burner to be a little quicker. Try both methods and see which works best for you.
As you go along, keep in mind that these instructions are for a large batch (14 bricks, or 7 lb.) and that my butter starts out frozen. You may want to tweak the process, depending on your batch size, starting conditions, and particular equipment.
Acquire high-quality butter from grass-fed cows.
Hopefully you can do this using lawful means. If not, godspeed
It doesn't really matter whether or not your butter starts out salted--when you clarify, the salt stays with the water and milk solids, leaving you with an unsalted end result. I do have a slight preference for cultured butter, however, as the culturing process (think yogurt) produces a more flavorful butter and might also boost the vitamin K content. (Note that the big, easy-to-find, Irish brand butter is only cultured in its unsalted form.)
Hour Zero: Melt the butter.
Unwrap your butter and add it to the slow-cooker (I'm doing fourteen 8 oz. bricks here--that's 7 lb.). Cover and set heat to high if your butter is frozen (like mine) or low if your butter is just refrigerated. Set a timer for one hour and go do something fun.
(My butter is frozen because I stock up when the grass is green on my continent. It's just a silly theory that butter from grass-fed cows is healthier when the cows are eating actual live grass from pasture, rather than hay and supplemental grain.)
Hour One: Check the pot.
Come back in an hour to check on your melting golden bricks. If they are melted, reduce heat to low. If they are not, leave the heat on high. Either way, set the timer for another hour and resume doing something fun.
Hour Two: Check the pot again.
Like mine, your butter is probably melted by now. Turn the heat to low, reset your timer for an hour and resume doing something fun. Leave the cover off from this point onward as this will let more water evaporate from the pot and make things easier later.
You could skim some foam here, but what's the rush? If you decide to do so, look ahead to the next step.
Hour Three: Start skimming.
By this point, there should be plenty of foamy milk solids on the surface. Use a spoon or skimmer to gently remove them. I usually skim and discard the floating solids into a glass bowl. After every few scoops, I rinse the skimmer in hot water because skimming the foam is easier when the utensil is clean. You'll see what I mean.
Skim a few more times.
From this point onward, you probably want to stay near the kitchen. Keep the lid off the slow-cooker and skim every 15 minutes or so. You'll notice that each time you repeat this operation, there is less to skim. After a few skimmings, turn the cooker off (or alternately to "warm"). You want the milky solids at the bottom to stop bubbling so that everything settles.
Prepare your strainer(s), coffee filters, bowl(s), and storage containers for straining and storing the butter. Once the pot stops simmering, do a final gentle skimming of the surface.
Ladle the butter into your filter or cheesecloth-lined strainer(s) making sure not to disturb the milky muck at the bottom of the pot. At some point, it may be helpful to slowly and gently prop the pot at an angle to make the final few scoops easier to ladle out.
As your temporary ghee storage containers (in my case, glass measuring bowls) fill up, pour the clean butterfat into your final storage containers. I like mason jars or other recycled glass containers. If using jars with sealing lids, tighten loosely and, when they cool, they will create a slight vacuum seal.
You can store your clarified butter in the fridge or at room temperature. Because it is a saturated fat, clarified butter is rather heat and shelf stable. If you store your ghee for weeks at room temperature, you might notice a change in the flavor--this is what store-bought ghee tastes like as it is typically not refrigerated.
I prefer to keep my stash in the fridge and leave only the currently-used jar on the counter at room temperature-- refrigerated ghee is much harder than butter and can be difficult to scoop.
There's a lot to love about butter, unless you have autoimmune digestive issues, lactose intolerance, or a general disdain for casein protein. For those of us who can't forgive its shortcomings, there's the seemingly magical clarified butter. It tastes amazing, improves the texture and flavor of almost any recipe, helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and provides its own unique nourishment to help soothe a damaged gut. Clarified butter helped restore a balance to my diet and my body that I was sorely missing for years. If it helps you as it helped me, you'll be a ghee wizard yourself in no time...and, when you are, let me know what tricks you find to make the process easier.
In good health,
I'm Ethan, a guy whose life used to be controlled by ulcerative colitis. As I systematically tested diets, treatments, and all types of health advice to heal my colon, I learned a lot about my own biology and also how to cook without compromise. I'm here to share the best (and sometimes worst) of that journey with you.