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Kitchen Notes

Clarified Butter II

by GaryProtein
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  one pound butter

Materials and Utensils:
  sauce pan 1.5-2 quart as preferred by chef
  spoon to stir butter as it melts
  a heavy duty freezer food storage bag 1-2 quart size
  pencil, nail, large fork, pointy object, preferably NOT a knife
  2 feet butcher's twine
  small sharp scissor
  one 16 ounce, or larger mason jar
  one 16 ounce bowl

This method of making clarified butter uses basic utensils found in every kitchen and produces a high yield of very pure clarified butter that can be accomplished even by novice cooks on the first attempt. There is no cheese cloth and no filtering. This method is unorthodox for the kitchen, but is well at home in the organic chemistry laboratory. The key word to remember is "separatory funnel" and the plastic bag will be a disposable sep funnel.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and then allow it to just simmer very lightly for about 5 minutes. Stir while the butter melts to break up the proteinaceous clumps. Simmering lightly will ultra-pasteurize the butter and will thoroughly liquefy the butter and allow the water and white protein components to sink to the bottom, the fluffy protein layer to float to the top and the butter fats to be in the middle.

Next, remove the saucepan from the heat and keep covered to keep out airborne bacteria and allow to cool until it reaches about 120 degrees, or is just a little too hot to comfortably hold. It does not matter if water condenses on the saucepan lid while it is cooling.

When it reaches this temperature, carefully pour it into the plastic heavy duty freezer storage bag and zip it closed.

While holding the bag upright, in a top corner of the bag, about 1.5-in from the side and top, punch about a 1/8-in hole through the bag with a pointy object like a carving fork, not a knife.

Feed a length of butcher's twine though the hole and tie the string to the bag. Do not use a thin monofilament string that might tend to tear the plastic bag. Take the other end of the string and tie it to the handle of a cabinet door so the lowest corner of the bag hangs about 6-12 inches over your kitchen counter where you will place your collection vessels. (You could forego the string and tying it part, but you would have to have everything else very close at hand and would have to hold the liquid butter for the rest or the procedure - boring and not very appealing. The heavy duty freezer bag and butcher's twine will easily support this.) Allow the bag to hang for 10 minutes.

You will see the butter separate into three fairly distinct layers as described above. Once the layers are distinct, have the first bowl positioned beneath the lowest corner of the bag. Then use the scissors (not a knife-you need a clean cut) to cut off the corner 1/8-in of the bag and allow the watery component to slowly drain into the bowl. If the flow is too slow, and it is clogging, snip off a tiny bit more. It is ok for the corner tip of the bag to fall in because this is refuse.

Once the watery part is emptied, have your mason jar ready and just slide the bowl over and place the mason jar under the flow and catch your clarified butter.

Watch as the golden fatty component drains out, and, when the foamy white top layer is about to drain, slide the first bowl back under to collect the remainder of the fluid in the bag. That's it. You have one bowl of refuse and one mason jar of clarified butter. If you want to make it even purer, you can pour the clarified butter back into a clean pan and repeat, but unless you misjudge the flow as you collect it, this should not be necessary.

If anything goes wrong on your first attempt, just collect the butter, re-heat and do it again.

Additional notes
Start by cutting a small drain hole in the corner of the bag. If the flow is too slow, you can always cut the hole slightly larger.

It may be necessary to light tap the side of the bag as the butter is draining to unstick the material from the sides of the bag.

I have used this method for over twenty years.

GaryProtein is an avid contributor to discussions throughout Cooking For Engineers.

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Written by GaryProtein
Published on December 16, 2006 at 04:05 PM
47 comments on Clarified Butter II:(Post a comment)

On December 17, 2006 at 08:14 PM, Gary (guest) said...
Subject: re: Clarified Butter
This looks like a very simple method. My Indian recipes always call for ghee (or clarified butter), so now I'll have to make up a jar using this method to keep on hand. Thanks!

On December 17, 2006 at 10:04 PM, Dominic (guest) said...
Subject: Ghee vs. Clarified Butter
If I am not mistaken, ghee is traditionally made from clarified browned butter (beurre noisette), while "clarified butter" usually hasn't been browned. The flavors produced by browning the butter solids (proteins) are quite different (almost nutty with hints of a vanilla aroma) than plain clarified butter.

On December 17, 2006 at 11:46 PM, Occasus (guest) said...
Subject: Unsalted vs salted butter
Most recipes I see on the internet say to use unsalted butter. Is there any reason to use salted butter?

On December 18, 2006 at 11:11 AM, yatesmachine said...
Subject: What is the normal method of clarifying butter?
How is clarifying butter normally done? Is it really so very difficult?

Props for posting reader generated articles!

On December 18, 2006 at 01:53 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: How Long
How long will clarified butter last in the fridge?

On December 18, 2006 at 03:49 PM, GUEST (guest) said...
Subject: Ghee vs. Clarified Butter
Dominic is right. Ghee and clarified butter are not the same thing. To make ghee, the butter is cooked longer til it is a little brown and smells nutty. It makes a big difference in flavour when you use real ghee instead of just clarified butter.

On December 18, 2006 at 08:32 PM, GaryProtein said...
If you start out with very clean vessels, clarified butter could last months in the refrigerator, but if you tend to use it, you won't have to worry about it being around very long. The length of time it lasts is more dependent on how clean everything starts out than the actual clarified butter spoiling.

On December 18, 2006 at 10:59 PM, DanW (guest) said...
Subject: RE: Unsalted vs salted butter
Most recipes I see on the internet say to use unsalted butter. Is there any reason to use salted butter?

The salt will be almost exclusively in the water/protein layer, so from a chemistry perspective, it will not make any difference with your end product.

In laboratory separations, I often find it helpful to add NaCl to the aqueous layer to increase polarity; it helps reduce an emulsion at the interface between two layers. By this token, using salted butter should hasten the separating process.

On December 19, 2006 at 06:02 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: chem lab + kitchen
I am a chemical engineering student, and always thought it would be wonderful to use lab equipment for cooking purposes --> I was very excited to see this article. Thanks!!

On December 19, 2006 at 08:10 PM, GaryProtein said...
Subject: Re: chem lab + kitchen
Anonymous wrote:
I am a chemical engineering student, and always thought it would be wonderful to use lab equipment for cooking purposes --> I was very excited to see this article. Thanks!!

I'm glad you liked the technique, but DON'T use a laboratory sep funnel unless you have a large one with a large hole in the stopcock. That was my first attempt over 20 years ago, and it didn't work because my sep funnel had too small a hole for the proteinacious matter to pass through-it just clogged up. I would also add, the sep funnel was VERY difficult and time consuming to clean. Just use the plastic bag. I've been there!

On December 20, 2006 at 09:51 AM, Angel Elf (guest) said...
Subject: Unsalted vs Salted Butter
On Dec 17, 2006 at 11:46 PM, Occasus said...
Subject: Unsalted vs Salted Butter
Most recipes I see on the internet say to use unsalted butter. Is there any reason to use salted butter?

The reason for using unsalted butter in most recipes is because one doesn't know how much salt the butter contains. By using unsalted butter one can control the amount of salt in the dish. Originally salt was added to butter as a preservative not as a flavoring agent.

Someone once said, "All ghee is a type of clarified butter, but not all clarified butter is ghee."

On December 20, 2006 at 01:47 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: In the refridgerator
Is clarified butter solid or liquid refridgerated?

On December 21, 2006 at 07:07 AM, GaryProtein said...
Subject: Re: In the refridgerator
Anonymous wrote:
Is clarified butter solid or liquid refridgerated?

Clarified butter is solid, even if just allowed to cool to room temperature, and is a little harder than regular butter at the same temperature. This is especially noticeable from the refrigerator.

On December 21, 2006 at 10:57 PM, Melodious (guest) said...
Subject: Fun stuff
i stumbled upon your site. What fun! Love the ideas

On December 24, 2006 at 12:55 PM, Sęculorum said...
Subject: Lazy way of clarifying butter
Whenever I've needed clarified butter that doesn't need to be perfectly clarified (mostly for high, but not too high, temperature pan-frying), I just melt a stick of butter in the microwave and then refridgerate the result. The butter will still seperate and the refridgeration will make it quite easy to seperate the milk solids from the fat. If one uses a narrow bowl (or a small cup), the layers are sufficiently thick to make the process very quick and nearly as thorough as traditional processes.

On December 24, 2006 at 02:58 PM, kayenne (guest) said...
Subject: milk solids
hmmm... i tend to use that melt and refrigerate method myself. but what i'm really interested in is where can we use the "refuse" or the milky solids leftover from clarifying butter? seems like such a waste to throw out. i'm considering its use for mashed potatoes and for enriching cream soups. what do you think?

On December 24, 2006 at 04:12 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Clarified butter
In India, the butter used is generally prepared at home, accumulated over time (week or two) by converting whole milk to butter milk. While heating the butter a small twig of turmeric is added to impart a golden yellow colour.

On January 08, 2007 at 12:13 AM, Mike H (guest) said...
This is a nice technique. I haven't come across too many recipes calling for ghee, but I will use this method the next time.

On January 14, 2007 at 03:36 PM, ulterior epicure (guest) said...
Subject: Thanks for that novel tip
Enjoyed learning out to simplify the process of clarifying butter!


On January 21, 2007 at 12:51 AM, Tom in Aberdeen (guest) said...
Subject: Easy way to Clarify butter.
Wow all that work to clarify butter. Here's another way that has worked for me. 1, Melt the butter in microwave oven in a 1 quart pyrex measuring pitcher. 2. Pour the melted butter into a plastic container that has a good sealable lid. I favor cottage cheese tubs. 3. Put the liquid into the freezer chamber of your refrigerator for about an hour. 4. Remove the frozen mass from the container by running warm water over the out side of the tub. Note that the three layers of milk solids, clarified butter and protein glop are distinct. 5, Rinse the upper and lower layers with luke warm water. The clarified butter will not melt, but the mike solkds and the protein glop will just wash away with the salt, 6. Put the butter back in the tub, seal the tub with it's lid and the tub back into the freezer. Use it whenever needed; I have kept the frozen block up to 4 months.
Calrified butter is used because regular butter burns when heated.

On March 05, 2007 at 12:38 AM, Mobo (guest) said...
Subject: great recipe! question about plastic
psyched by the idea of being able to separate the layers in this way. i'm only concerned that some toxic hydrocarbon chains from the plastic might be attracted to the warm lipids in the butter. what do you think? is there anyway a similar sep-funnel-inspired separation could be done with glass?

On March 06, 2007 at 01:32 PM, GaryProtein said...
The plastic bags are polyethylene, and the butter shouldn't be poured in until it cools. Besides, hot foods with fats are generally poured into plastic food storage bags. You are not subjecting the bags to the same heat as when you microwave a fatty beef stew leftover in a plastic container, which you shouldn't do anyway.

If you can hold the food in your hand (or mouth) that you are placing in the bags, there is no problem.

DON'T use a real sep funnel. I've been there and they are very hard to clean, and they clog at the stopcock. It isn't worth the appearance of finesse they can demonstrate when it comes time to clean them.

On July 14, 2007 at 06:01 PM, gue0 said...
Subject: Separating fats from everything else
Clarifying butter is essentially the same as removing fat from stock, just pour the heated mixture into a container and let it cool. Place it in the freezer until the liquid is frozen. The resultant layers can be separated then with a knife. Using salted butter and/or adding salt will end up in the stock portion, so be careful if it is the stock you wish to remove the fat from. When making stock from roasted bones, I often wish to save both the stock (for soups and gravies) and the fat (for the roux).

On August 27, 2007 at 03:00 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Cleaning plugged sep funnels
DON'T use a real sep funnel. I've been there and they are very hard to clean, and they clog at the stopcock. It isn't worth the appearance of finesse they can demonstrate when it comes time to clean them.

A little perchloric acid (70%) will take care of that problem. :shock:

Old Chem Major

On August 28, 2007 at 09:37 PM, GaryProtein said...
Subject: Re: Cleaning plugged sep funnels
Anonymous wrote:
DON'T use a real sep funnel. I've been there and they are very hard to clean, and they clog at the stopcock. It isn't worth the appearance of finesse they can demonstrate when it comes time to clean them.

A little perchloric acid (70%) will take care of that problem. :shock:

Old Chem Major

Let me know when perchloric acid becomes a standard ktichen item. :lol: I'll concede, you never know what a person who owns a separatory funnel and ring stand may also have in their house!

On October 10, 2007 at 10:48 AM, an anonymous reader said...
this is ridiculous. clarified butter is simple: just melt it, wait a minute or two (it will still be liquid if hot enough) then pour onto whatever you're making, stopping before reaching the impurities/proteins.

On November 06, 2007 at 10:25 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: The solid silver Sauce Separator
Hyacinth Bucket was reported to favor the usage of a solid silver Sauce Separator... alas, another article to polish and store.

On February 23, 2008 at 02:49 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Engineers . . . .! Just melt the butter, let cool in a gravy seperator and drain the solids. Simple solution from a CFO (we like numbers, but for different reasons!). This takes about 5 minutes and involves 2 pieces of equipment - great from a productivity standpoint.

On April 04, 2008 at 05:59 PM, noahzark (guest) said...
Subject: clarified butter
Gary Protien really nailed it. I cut the drain hole a ting bit too big. Water drained away so fast I lost some of the butter before I got the mason jar in place. I will always use this method. It rocks.

On August 30, 2008 at 04:21 PM, Bob (guest) said...
Subject: Tom in Aberdeen's method is easier,cleaner+needs less equip.
This is a funny site, though! Even the captcha is over-engineered!

How many engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Depends -- where are we building the bulb plant? :)

On May 23, 2009 at 06:01 PM, richardrebel (guest) said...
Subject: Alternate smaller batches and tips.
Hi everyone.

Some things of note:

If you make one stick in a small stainless steel sauce pan, then let it cool to perhaps about 100 degrees, nearly all of the milk solids will stick to the bottom of the pan. I can only think of a handful of recipes that require more clarification. Simply pour it off. This will *not* work for non-stick teflon pans well. For a bit more refinement, use a standard fine mesh stainless skimmer or sieve when you our it off. Easy to clean. This works for larger amounts in bigger pans as well. Think about 1/4 to 5/8" deep when melted. No wasted plastic bag, string, nor hassle.

Another good tip: Get a silicone ice cube trays that have cavities measured in Tbsp and Tsps. Pour your warm clarified goodness into these and cover with plastic wrap (mostly to keep from spilling). Transfer to freezer. Once hard, put into freezer bag and store nearly indefinitely if you keep moisture out. This makes it easy to use as often you don't need very much and taking it out of the fridge, heating it up, measuring what you need, then returning it shortens the life of the product and is a time waster.

You can also "wash" clarified butter like you would lard to clean it up, but I think the method is kind of messy and wasteful unless you are making bunches of it. I have seen seafood restaurant kitchen staff do this, but they are working with gallons of the stuff.


On November 23, 2009 at 10:05 PM, valtice said...
Subject: Gravy
Great idea and I'm sure the same technique will work with meat juices. I've always hated the idea of simply 'spooning off' the fat from the top of the juices when making gravy. I either leave too much fat there or I start to spoon away the good juices.

Many thanks...

On December 16, 2009 at 02:46 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Yum, gravy missed gravy at thanksgiving, good trick for most like separations.

On December 20, 2009 at 09:16 AM, Accidental Design (guest) said...
Subject: Clarified Butter
If you want excellent cookies, always use clarified butter in your recipe instead. You will have to plan ahead as this needs to be done and refrigerated before you can use this for most recipes.

On January 12, 2010 at 12:32 AM, Joe Tho (guest) said...
Subject: Why salted/unsalted butter?
The story *I* got is severalfold:

-since salt is a preservative, unsalted butter needs to be a higher grade to start with. So you are buying a better product.

-easier to manage the saltiness if you add it yourself.

-it "cooks better" whatever THAT means.

-"it's better because I say it's better." (I didn't argue)

On February 10, 2010 at 02:30 PM, Guest for now (guest) said...
Subject: Mmmm, Butter!
First time visiting this site!
I have made clarified butter for years, but never came up with this bag trick- ah, the benefits of sharing knowledge.
I make it for our fishing trips in Canada- no worries about spoilage, and nothing, well, almost nothing tastes better than just-caught walleye fried in butter!
The solids etc. are saved, and used on sweet corn, baked potatoes, and anything else that cries out for butter.

On February 11, 2010 at 02:25 PM, Guest (guest) said...
Subject: Clarifying butter / ghee
first time visiting this site.. i really liked the way everything is explained just wanted to tell every1 that there is another process(south asian way) to make it which not only has longer shelf life and more easy i guess...
1.Take Unsalted Butter and put it in a heavy-bottomed pan on medium heat.
2. Allow it to melt and come to a boil.
3. Once it starts boiling, reduce the flame to a low and allow it to froth/foam.
4. Keep stirring to make sure it does not burn at the bottom.
5. Once there is a golden brown layer at the bottom, turn off the flame.
6. Tip: take a tablespoon of water and pour it into the pan on the ghee. It will bubble and all the foam will dissapear.
7. Allow it to cool down.
8. Sieve it into a clean, dry jar or container.
9. Allow it to come down to room-temperature and store.


1. Make Ghee in bulk and pour into small containers. Keep one in use out and rest in the refrigerator for longer shelf-life.

On February 13, 2010 at 03:04 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: don't toss the other parts!
mix them together and put into rice pudding or oatmeal! tastes great! esp. if you're making ghee instead of regular clarified butter!

On February 13, 2010 at 03:05 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: forgot to mention...
if you use the liquid and solid "extras" you need to have made this with unsalted butter!

On March 03, 2010 at 01:54 PM, sm (guest) said...
Subject: how about less wasteful practices?
Looks like a foolproof method, but it's so unnecessary to waste a plastic bag like that. What's wrong with using re-usable cheesecloth or muslin? Or just skimming the clarified butter off the top? Let's come up with more environmentally-friendly kitchen techniques! And the milk solids at the bottom are very tasty (especially if you keep cooking the butter to make ghee), add them to breads or whatever else needs some milky/buttery goodness.

On April 03, 2011 at 03:59 PM, tennessee_pusher (guest) said...
Subject: Clarified Butter vs. Ghee
According to "On Cooking" 5th Edition by Labensky, Haus, and Martel, ghee is a form of clarified butter in which the milk solids remain with the butterfat and are allowed to brown

On August 31, 2011 at 08:41 PM, Grunchy (guest) said...
Subject: Clarified butter
Don't stir it but keep it on very low it tends to work better for separating the solids. If left undisturbed at a very low heat the protein on the top tends to conglomerate and is easier to then remove or at the least will stay together during your pour phase and not taint the finished product. The bottom will stick to almost any sauce pan without burning, non-stick or otherwise if heated and poured gently. The butter clarified slowly will clear not cloudy and bright golden colored.

On September 01, 2011 at 08:53 PM, Jim Cooley said...
What Grunchy said.

On October 27, 2011 at 03:30 PM, ruthie (guest) said...
Subject: separating clarified butter
I don't know if anyone else has mentioned this, but my aunt had one of those "gravy separator" pitchers, where the spout attaches at the very bottom of the container. The idea being that you pour off the gravy, which is heavier than the fat and has sunk to the bottom, then stop when you get to the fat.

Seems like that would do for separating clarified butter, too.

Also, using the milk solids on popcorn? Yes! I've never understood why recipes always say to discard them. They are so flavorful! I mix them in sauces, like tomato sauce*, and add them on garlic bread for an extra hit of butter flavor.

*Yes, tomato sauce. I discovered, purely by accident or serendipity or instinct, when I was in my teens that adding a pat of butter to my plate of spaghetti softened the acid edge of the tomato sauce while leaving all the tomato flavor.

So, you (chemical) engineers, why does this work?

Someone conjectured to me once that the calcium in the butter binds with the acid. However it works, it lets someone like me, who breaks out in a rash from too much acid food, eat tomato sauce without dermal disasters.

Thanks again for great info and ideas.

On July 16, 2014 at 06:15 PM, DaveK (guest) said...
Subject: Making Ghee/Clarified Butter
I do my ghee with about 2 lb of butter at a time. I use salted butter because it's usually a little cheaper and I haven't noticed any end-result differences between salted and unsalted (other than the solids that retain all the salt).

At low heat, melt butter in a pan that's a few inches higher than the melted butter.

Continue heating at low heat until it starts to bubble, just a bit. Keep the heat pretty low so it stays at that slow bubble. Gently stir from time to time to encourage some of the water in the foam to evaporate off.

If you're making ghee, heat until the solids on the bottom begin to turn a golden brown. If just clarified butter, just until you think you've driven off enough moisture.

With a fine-mesh skimmer, pull off the floating solids that remain. Discard those solids, or use them as you wish.

Set up a jelly strainer over the container that will hold your clarified butter/Ghee, then gently pour the melted butter through the jelly strainer cloth. You will end up with nearly perfectly clarified butterfat, and very little loss. If you try to strain it without first skimming, the jelly-cloth will blind and it will take hours to filter.

On January 22, 2017 at 10:21 AM, Chef719 (guest) said...
Subject: Clarified butter 2
There are several things wrong with you steps. First to making it to difficult and to many items. All you need it unsalted butter sauce pan and spoon. Because the more you transfer the melted butter the more chance of it mixing back or other contimations

On October 17, 2021 at 02:51 PM, nobodyspecial (guest) said...
Subject: wow
Almost 15 years. Doing things the engineering way really makes them outlast the test of time.

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