The recipe for Ghee
My grandmother told us this story often, about the first meal she ever cooked for her mother-in-law, my great grandmother. A tall woman of few words and a stickler for rules and tradition, it was my great grandmothers first visit to the city, to see her son and new bride. My grandmother was raised in the city, and wasn’t much of a cook then. After my grandfather left for work, the two women had nothing to talk about. So, when it was time to make lunch, my grandmother took the chance to impress her mother-in-law with her skills.
She chose to prepare Lapsi, a hearty dessert made from cracked wheat, a traditional Rajasthani dish. She made it with care, tasted it to make sure it tasted just right. A household of modest means, this was an expensive dish to make, especially when garnished with almonds and raisins. She presented her the dish with anticipation; this was her litmus test as my grandfather was a Rajasthani man.
To her horror, my great grandmother took one look at the dish and shoved the brass bowl across the floor with a emphatic declaration:
Either my son is poor or you city folk are not taught how to cook.
Thank goodness .... he knows how to cook; so no one will perish of hunger.
My tearful grandmother retreated to the kitchen and spent the rest of the day trying to understand what was wrong, wondering how anyone could make such a statement without even tasting the dish!
My grandfather returned to find his bride huddled on the floor in the kitchen and his mother waiting at the door with her bags packed, ready to promptly return to the village where 'they knew how to respect their elders'.
When he managed to break her silence, he figured out the problem, again without tasting the dish. He educated my grandmother with these words:
Lapsi made in a well stocked kitchen must be served with at least one-inch layer of home-made ghee floating above it, as a mark of respect to the guest. Dry lapsi comes from a kitchen that is wanting for food, is made by a poor cook, an inhospitable host or all of the above!
No one knows how that evening ended, but each time Lapsi was made in the Chauhan household since – this story has been repeated.
Ghee (clarified butter) and butter have been part of folklore, religious rituals, diets, served as a gauge of material wealth, culinary skills and of hospitality for the people of India for thousands of years. An important component of Ayurveda, in addition to dietary uses, it is included in medicine and personal care. Home-made ghee is considered to be the best first-aid remedy for burns even before one goes to a doctor! So ubiquitous in application, that it is nearly impossible to imagine an Indian household without ghee.
Ghee is traditionally made from cream that is churned into butter, which is then clarified over heat and strained to separate the milk solids from the pale golden clear liquid - ghee. Butter obtained from cow’s milk, water-buffalo milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk may be used to create ghee. Butter made from cow’s milk is considered the best of all, for its nutritional value.
I have spent many hours manually churning the cream in a large pot using a traditional whisk in my youth (much like the adjoining picture). When electrical whisks entered our kitchen, I was happiest of all because the process is so much simpler. I have stopped purchasing ghee because it is actually incredibly simple to make. Ghee can be stored at room temperature in a cool place.
Well made or home-made ghee is typically clear and pale golden in color, and sweet to taste and aromatic. There are no milk solids at the bottom of the jar. Week-old, freshly made ghee will solidify slowly around the edges with a grainy texture (see above photo). Ghee that has been refrigerated becomes opaque and ivory in color. Ghee that has been reheated will have no grainy texture to it. If the butter has cooked too quickly in the making of the ghee, it will have yield a tan brown ghee, take on a burnt taste and is not ideal for use as a flavor component of a dish. Do not discard it unless the taste is utterly unpalatable; use it for making daal or applying it in small quantities as a winter skin cream for intensely dry skin. Ghee made from butter with added ingredients, such as food dyes, even if it is a pinch, will be bright yellow in color.
How and when to use ghee in cooking:
Ghee is best used as a medium for cooking because it helps create a base in which all spices cook. It cannot withstand heat and burns quickly, but on a slow heat, alongside other ingredients – it manages to coax flavors out of some of the hardiest spices. Most dishes that use ghee require another liquid or medium to carry the dish forward. For example Varan uses ghee to begin the dish, but water and cooked daal to disperse the flavors. Ghee is also used to ‘finish’ a dish, where the aroma and flavor of an added dollop improves the dish. Because of its high fat content, ghee is best used in moderation, a tablespoon or two used to make a large pot of daal is fine, but a tablespoon per serving can tip the scales quickly.
Ghee in Ayurveda:
Ayurveda talks at length about the benefits of including ghee in ones’ daily consumption. While pairing with spices, ghee has the ability to slowly draw out their flavors and beneficial qualities and disperse them evenly into the food. It is considered cooling, calms both Vata Dosha and Pitta Dosha and has a sweet vipak effect. Although it sounds contradictory, it is known to warm the body enough to negate ill-effects of a dosha imbalance, fuel the appetite, allows food to be digested and absorbed well and also aids in expulsion. Ghee that is neither absorbed nor expelled from a system makes the digestive system sluggish, and therefore can add the pounds.
Although an entire generation before me will find it ridiculous to even HAVE a recipe for ghee, I will share this age old simple technique for making ghee anyway.
Use store bought unsalted butter for this exercise, the best brand you can get. I have found the cheaper brands of butter have higher water content, tend to burn and splatter easily in the making process, do not perform as well in the process and the ghee has an inferior taste. Amish butter is expensive but good, as is organic butter. Choose what suits your pocketbook, taste buds and experimental eagerness.
If you have young adults or are curious begin making ghee by using heavy cream. Churn it using an electrical whisk over an ice bath until the cream coagulates. Use this in the same way as described below and you will see the marked difference between the different kinds of ghee.
The making time and yield really depends on the quantity and kind of butter you use. In my kitchen, 1 lb butter unsalted butter yields about 1 cup of ghee, in 15 minutes.
Ingredient (notice - it is just one ingredient)
1 lb. Unsalted butter
Large heavy bottom saucepan Large metal spoon Splatter guard, if you have one Fine metal sieve Dry, heat proof canning jars (or clean jam or pasta bottles)
Remove the butter in a cool heavy bottom saucepan. Set it to melt over medium high heat on a back burner. Use the farthest possible burner, in case the hot butter splatters out of the pan during the cooking process. Cover with a splatter guard if desired. The butter will first melt and then foam and then bubble as the foam subsides. If it foams too quickly, or the foam begins to rise, turn the heat to low and stir until the foam settles. If you are using an electric stove, remove the pan from the heat completely and stir, because the pot will continue to stay warm if placed on the burner. If the foam does not subside at all, remove it from the heat and stir vigorously until the mixture cools a little.
Keep this liquid on a low heat. Once all the foam has settled, the butter will melt into a clear liquid. The milk solids will begin to settle at the bottom of the pot. Do not disturb them, as they will make the ghee cloudy. They are also a great gauge of when the ghee is ready. The milk solids will go from being white to being ivory or a very light shade of tan. The sizzling and bubbling should have stopped or reduced significantly. When this happens, remove from the heat.
Set the hot saucepan of ghee aside on a trivet for 4-6 minutes until the liquid stops steaming. Pouring the liquid too quickly into the jars may cause the jars to crack and break.
While the liquid is still hot, strain the ghee directly into the jars using the strainer in a slow steady stream. Allow about 1/2” of space at the top of the jar. Do not cover until the jars have completely cooled at room temperature. If desired, place a kitchen towel loosely over the top to allow the steam to escape but prevent anything from falling in. Store at room temperature, in a cool spot or if storing for longer periods, store in the fridge.
The residual milk solids are edible. Try them with a dash of sugar. Nothing like it in the world. It is my favorite treat in the entire world!
Caution: Keep young people away from the stove when the ghee is being made. Although cooling in itself, and used in burn treatments, burns caused by hot ghee take much longer to heal. Please use caution until you’ve mastered this process. Keep all ‘butter fingers’ out.