Monday, March 3, 2014

Eating Omily: We Are the Locavores Who Say...GHEE!

You might recall a blogpost a few months back in which I sang the praises of butter as a healthy fat, in fact a superfood, that you should be eating regularly. Of course, the caveat there was that the butter in question come from cows that have been eating grass when the weather allows, and hay (dried grass) when the weather does not: no corn, no soy, no chicken feathers, blood, or used chicken bedding full of chicken poop (yes, your conventionally farmed dairy cows are fed this stuff, along with tons of antibiotics, growth hormones, and other fun stuff). When a cow eats what it's supposed to eat, the meat and dairy it produces are super nutritious. Of course they have a perfect balance of omega 3's and omega 6's, but they also have special compounds that everyone is going head over heels for right now, which are getting better press within the context of coconut oil. Coconut oil is the shit. Everyone loves it. We're taking it by the tablespoon daily, we're cooking everything in it, we're spreading it on toast, etc. etc. etc.

But if we just ate grass-fed butter, we'd get all the same benefits! So why was I, too, a coconut oil devotee for a while? Because butter is excellent for cooking with at low heat, but it burns terribly at high heat, whereas coconut oil is stable at high temperatures, making it great for stir frying, roasting, and  searing.

BUT, here's the thing I hadn't thought of until a dear reader pointed it out to me. There is a magical alchemy butter is capable of that turns it into the high-heat stable, yet still local and uber nutritious, cooking oil I crave...and because magic is contrary like that, the way to turn butter from a low-heat cooking oil to a high-heat cooking oil is to add...heat.

If you're a yogi, you've almost certainly heard of ghee: the Ayervedic powerhouse for balancing and healing, especially during the colder months. You probably already know it is related to butter in some way. Specifically, ghee is what's left when you cook butter till the water in it evaporates out, and the milk solids get brown and crispy so you can strain them out. What's left is pure saturated fat: nothing to burn, and what's even better, it's fat that's been caramelized to a delicate, delicious, golden color. It tastes, to me, a bit like a perfect pie crust.

Making ghee is simple, and for that very reason, it's not easy. All you're doing is cooking butter till it gets to a certain point, but since the changes are subtle, it's easy to under do it and be left with a greasy mess all over your counter, or over do it and end up with a disgusting inedible pool of grease, and a pan you will spend weeks trying to scrub clean. I know, because during my first attempt, I managed to do both! The second time I tried, I was more patient, so surprise, surprise, it came out much better, and I had a chance to observe the different stages it goes through on the way to perfection.

I captured these stages for you via Vine. Are you following me on vine yet? Get on that. You don't even have to have vine; you can just follow me on twitter! Watching the vines I made will be a big help in knowing when your ghee is done, so I really encourage you to check out the links if you want to give this a try. Here's the recipe:

You'll need:

one heavy-bottomed medium saucepan

100% grass-fed butter, preferably local, and preferably unsalted, but I made mine with salted butter, and it came out fine, so don't worry if all the local butter is salted.

I made my batch with half a pound of butter. The more butter you use, the slower the proccess will be, so you may not want to do more than a pound at a time, or for that matter less than a quarter of a pound. Less than that will go so fast that your window of perfect doneness will be tricky to catch.

Put the butter in the pan, and melt it. I did this over fairly low heat, and I just dropped in my hunk of butter whole. Some recipes suggest cutting the butter up into small pieces, putting the heat on high, and stirring the butter, to get it melted as quickly as possible.

Once the butter is melted, crank the heat up to medium high, and wait. The butter is going to start boiling profusely, which is good. Turn the heat down to medium or medium low: basically as low as you can get it without the boiling slowing down.

Over time, the bubbles are going to get bigger, and the noises coming from the pan are going to evolve from the hissing of boiling water to a funny crackly-pattering. It's said to sound like it's raining. You'll hear it. The water is boiling out of the butter. Keep watching!

Here's the vine of these stages.

It's going to get easier to look down into the butter as the foam that was at the top when you first started slowly disapates, probably not all the way, but substantially. The butter will start to look more distinctly yellow, and if you tilt the pan, you'll see solids stuck to the bottom. At first, they will be white. Over time, they will cook, and turn brown.

As soon as they turn brown, turn off the heat. If only a few are looking toasty golden, give it a little longer, but don't wait too long; there is little that is sadder than a batch of burned ghee! Pour the ghee out of the pan into something with a pour spout, like a liquid measuring cup, to make your life easier.

Let the ghee cool for a little while, and while it does, set up a strainer with a clean towel, or a couple of layers of cheese cloth in it, over a jar, or a bowl if you want to be sure of avoiding a greasy counter. Once the ghee is warm to the touch (but not too cool; it will solidify on you!) pour it through your strainer.

Here's the vine of these final steps.

Transfer your ghee to a jar if that's not what you strained it into. Let it cool all the way with the lid off so it solidifies, then put the lid on, and put it away. You can keep it in your fridge to be extra safe, but it should be fine at room temperature for a matter of weeks or months. If you aren't sure you were successful in solidifying and removing the milk solids, keep it in the fridge.

Bonus treat: put your milk solids back in the pan, sprinkle on some sugar, and cook a little longer in the ghee left in the pan. Let cool, and nom nom nom...
 As you can see I've been using mine. It is awesome! On extra cold days I eat a spoonful for its warming, soothing properties...doesn't hurt that it tastes like, well, caramelized butter!
You can see that mine has a grainy texture. That's because of the salt in the butter. If you use unsalted butter, it will be smoother. The funny thing is, one of the 'authentic' recipes I read on making ghee said to add salt and stir it in at the end, because the grainier texture is preferred in some parts of India!

Will you make ghee? Don't let it intimidate you! As long as you stay close by and pay attention, and don't try to rush it, it will come out perfectly, and you will love it!

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