How to Make Clarified Butter

When you dip crab or lobster meat in melted butter, you're probably dipping it in clarified butter. Here's how to make it.

"Clarifying" is the process of removing milk solids and water from butterfat, giving you a clear golden fat that can be heated to a higher temperature than regular butter. This, combined with the fact it can be stored without going rancid, has made clarified butter the cooking fat of choice in India and South Asia for millennia.

How to Make Clarified Butter

To make 1 cup of clarified butter you'll need 1¼ cup of unsalted butter. You will lose about 25 percent of the original butter's total volume when clarifying.

Step 1: Melt the Butter

Place butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a very low heat. Let the butter melt slowly, do not stir the butter while it is melting.

Butter in Saucepan

Step 2: Separate Milk Solids From Butterfat

As the butter melts, avoid stirring so that it separates into three layers. The top layer is a thin layer of foam, the middle layer is clear and golden and contains the bulk of the liquid (weighing in at about 80% of the total), and the bottom layer is where the water and most of the milk solids are. This natural separation is what makes clarifying possible.

Step 3: Skim the Foam

Skim the foam off the surface of the butter, discarding the foam. Avoid dipping the ladle into the butterfat while skimming, as the fat should remain intact.

Skimming Butter Foam
Photo by Meredith.

Step 4: Remove the Butterfat

At this point, there are two possible methods for removing the butterfat from the water on the bottom of the pan. The method we chose to illustrate is to decant the fat from the water.

Method 1: Decant the Fat
Carefully and slowly pour the fat into another container. You can see the water underneath the clear yellow butterfat. If you notice any of the water slipping into the fat, you may need to re-decant your new batch of clarified butter. If there is any water in the clarified butter, and you try adding it to a hot pan, the water will immediately boil when it hits the pan, causing the hot clarified butter to splatter out of the pan and potentially burning the cook.

Method 2: Ladle the Fat
An alternate method for separating the fat from the water is to use a ladle and skim the fat up and out of the pan, making sure not to let any of the water get into the ladle.

Pour your newly clarified butter into a separate container, and discard the water and small amount of remaining milk fat.

As your clarified butter sits, you might notice more foam floating to the top; use a spoon or pour your clarified butter through a fine mesh strainer and cheesecloth to remove this last bit of foam.

Pouring Clarified Butter Through Cheesecloth
Photo by Meredith.

How to Store Clarified Butter

You can store both clarified butter and ghee in an airtight jar in your cupboard at room temperature for 3 to 4 months, or place it in your fridge where it will last even longer.

You can also freeze both clarified butter and ghee in an airtight container or freezer bag for 1 year or even longer.

VIDEO: How to Clarify Butter

Clarified Butter FAQs

Q: What is clarified butter?

It's simply regular butter with the milk solids and water removed.

Q: Why clarify butter?

If you've ever tried to cook with butter, you know that high heat can quickly smoke and then burn your butter. Butter is mostly fat but also includes milk solids, which can smoke, scorch, brown, and burn at high temps. Separate and remove those solids, and you have a clear, golden-yellow fat with a higher smoking point than regular butter. With clarified butter (also known as "drawn butter"), you can sauté or fry at a high temperature without burning the butter. In other words, clarified butter gives you all the flavor without the burn.

Q: Is drawn butter the same as clarified butter?

Drawn butter is what is typically served with seafood like lobster and crab. It can be melted clarified butter, but is often just plain melted butter that has not been clarified. It can also be seasoned or served plain.

Q: Is ghee the same thing as clarified butter?

The words are often used interchangeably, but ghee and clarified butter are not exactly the same thing. The difference is that ghee takes the clarified butter concept one step further by cooking away all the moisture. In the process, the milk solids are caramelized in the concentrated fat and then strained away, leaving a nutty cooking fat with an even longer shelf life than clarified butter. It's one reason why ghee has been the cooking fat of choice in India and South Asia since ancient times.

Check out all of our recipes that call for ghee or clarified butter.

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