Learn how to make clarified butter with this simple step-by-step guide. Removing the water and milk solids increases the smoke point, making it better for cooking. Plus, the clarification process gives a longer shelf life in the refrigerator.
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Do you want to learn the secret trick that some restaurant chefs use for sauteing and pan-frying foods? They use clarified butter! Using pure butterfat gives a higher smoke point, so you don’t have to worry about when the milk solids start to burn. You can cook vegetables, seafood, and meats with higher heat while adding a richer taste.
The clarification process is straightforward! Melt the butter and skim the white foam that rises to the surface. Let it cool to make the fat easily separate from any residual water. Make a big batch to store in the refrigerator to use as needed. It’s great for searing steaks, roasting, and making hollandaise sauce for eggs benedict.
What is clarified butter?
Clarified butter is the translucent butterfat separated from the water and milk solids in regular types of butter. It’s liquid gold! By removing the milk solids that brown when cooked, like the proteins whey and casein, and a trace amount of lactose, there is no more risk of them adding a burnt flavor to your dishes.
Clarified butter also prolongs the shelf life since no water and proteins are available to break down the fat and cause lipid oxidation, causing faster rancidity.
How to clarify butter
The goal is to extract as much butterfat as possible from the solid butter. The remaining water and milk solids are distributed in the fat emulsion. To break the emulsion, gently melt the butter over low heat. High heat increases the chances of burning.
The heat will separate the components into their phases based on density. Typically the water and solid will be at the bottom of the pan, with the fat on the top. During the clarification process, you’ll see white foam caused by the water bubbling and evaporating at 212ºF (100ºC).
Skim off the foam
The heat pushes the milk solids to the surface, mostly whey proteins, which is what you want to remove. Skim the visible foam and discard or add to dishes for extra flavor.
Once the bubbling stops, the fat will heat up and brown any remaining milk solids that sunk to the bottom of the pan. Stop before this happens to get a neutral-tasting clarified butter. Alternatively, you can continue to heat to make ghee with a nutty aroma and taste.
Use stainless steel or a light-colored pan to clarify the butter so you can see the color change of the milk solids on the bottom of the pan. Dark-colored cast iron or nonstick pans make it hard to see any color change in the butter, especially the browning of the milk solids.
Salted vs. unsalted butter
I use unsalted butter because I will season my dishes later. Salt also increases the oxidation of the fatty acids in the butter fat, which speeds up the breakdown when heated and causes eventual off flavors.
Clarified butter vs. ghee
Ghee is a type of clarified butter made using the same clarification process. However, the milk solids on the pan’s bottom are heated further until golden in color. The process is similar to creating browned butter, but the foamy milk solids on top and the ones lingering on the bottom of the pan are removed.
The browning adds a nutty, toffee-like flavor to the ghee. The butterfat is then strained through layers of cheesecloth to ensure that only the richly flavored butterfat remains. Ghee is a staple in Indian cuisine.
Pure butterfat is more shelf stable than whole butter. It can be left tightly covered at room temperature for up to 3 months or refrigerated for up to 1 year. I find clarified butter more spreadable, so I recommend refrigerating instead of leaving it out unless it’s a small amount you’ll use within the week. The refrigerator will ensure the freshest taste and reduce the chance of the milk fat becoming rancid in flavor.
Clarified butter is made from solidified regular butter that has been melted to separate the fat from the water and milk solids. Clarified butter is just pure butterfat. It’s also called drawn butter.
Ghee is a type of clarified butter. It has a more nutty flavor because the milk solids are browned before it’s strained out from the pure butterfat.
Both contain a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. It also contains fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K12. Clarified butter is all butterfat, with the water, proteins, lactose, and any other milk solids removed. This makes for a better keto, paleo, and whole-30-friendly option.
Why does the smoke point increase when butter is clarified?
Butter is a water-in-oil emulsion composed of at least 80% butterfat. The remaining is about 16 to 17% water, 1 to 2% milk proteins, carbohydrates, and a small number of vitamins and minerals. The milk solids will start to brown and burn, resulting in a lower smoke point between 300 to 350ºF (149 to 177ºC). Clarified butter increases the smoke point to 450ºF (232ºC), making it much more versatile for cooking.
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- 1 pound unsalted butter
- Cut Butter – Slice the butter into 1-inch thick pieces.
- Melt Butter – Place sliced butter in a single layer in a large heavy-bottomed skillet or dutch oven. Turn the heat to medium, and allow the butter to melt.
- Remove Foam – Once the butter has melted, reduce heat to medium-low. Gently simmer the butter for about 10 to 15 minutes, do not go above 230ºF (110ºC), or the milk solids will start to brown, reduce heat if needed. During this time, use a slotted spoon to skim off the white frothy milk solids and discard or save them for other recipes. This process can be done as soon as you see the solids rising to the top. Once the surface solids are removed, only yellow butterfat and white milk solids that have sunk to the bottom will remain. If desired, see notes for making ghee.
- Strain – Set a fine-mesh strainer over a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup—Line the strainer with a triple layer of cheesecloth that hangs over the edges. Carefully pour the liquid through the lined sieve into the measuring cup. Any solids should collect in the cheesecloth.
- Store – Transfer the clarified butter to a clean glass jar with a lid and store for up to 1 year in the refrigerator.
- Recipe Yield: 1 ½ cups (12 ounces)
- Serving Size: 1 tablespoon (15g)
- To Make Ghee: Once the foam is removed, continue to simmer the clarified butter until milk solids on the bottom are light amber in color, butterfat is a deep yellow color, and ghee smells nutty. Time will vary depending on your stove. Turn off heat, remove from the stove, and slightly cool for 5 minutes, then strain. See ghee step-by-step instructions.
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