05 November 2011

How to Clarify Butter

To paraphrase Clarence from True Romance, it's better to have clarified butter and not need it than need clarified butter and not have it.

A quick primer on butter that one can learn in culinary school (or on Wikipedia): butter consists of butter fat, milk solids, and water. When you cook with butter and it starts to burn in the pan – like by the time you get to the third pancake – it's actually the milk solids burning. Clarified butter is butter sans milk solids and water.

In other words, unadulterated buttery goodness. And because it's a fat, it'll keep for eons. Pour it into a jar and throw it in the fridge for a rainy day. As a cooking oil, it has a really high smoke point. I find it easier to make hollandaise with it. Or use it simply as a dip for steamed shellfish like the Red Lobsters of the world do.


  • 1 lb. unsalted butter 
*Of course you can make more, but I wouldn't bother making less.


  • small saucepot
  • ladle
  • strainer
  • cheesecloth (or coffee filter or paper towel)
  • bowl to dump milk solids into
  • jar or plastic container with tight-fitting lid


Plop the butter into the saucepot. Well done, chef.


Melt the butter over medium heat.

Almost immediately, the butter will separate into its component parts. Skim the white milk solids off with a ladle. Try not to take any fat with it. After a certain point, it helps to let the milk solids bubble up and drift to the sides of the pot before skimming. If you're using this immediately, now's a good time to multitask.

Adjust the heat accordingly so the butter isn't at a rapid boil, lest the milk solids burn. You'll probably get most of them out before all the water evaporates. If the butter is still bubbling, then there's still water in the pot. Eventually, it'll look something like this…

It will smell warm and nutty and buttery. Refrain from bathing in it. If only because it's super hot.

Some of the milk solids will have stuck to the bottom of the pot and browned a bit. Try not to scrape them up. Ladle the clarified butter through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. 

Different butter producers may vary in their ratios, but (at least here in the US) you should have something in the vicinity of 12 oz. of clarified butter. Pour into your food storage container of choice (you may want to let it cool if using plastic).

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