Thursday, March 17, 2011

Seasoning A Skillet With Clarified Butter


I've been infatuated with my new cast iron combo cooker lately. It does so many things so well that I'm starting to question the wisdom of using anything else to cook with. I suppose it would be difficult to make salted caramel in it, though, and since there are no Puritans around here, I guess I'd better hold onto the other cookware.

The cast iron is also teaching me a degree of responsibility. Every time I use it, I clean it immediately, dry it, and rub it with canola oil. But yesterday J and I decided to make a big batch of clarified butter for all the Indian cooking we hope to do in the near future (just got the gigantic new Phaidon Press cookbook--India the Cookbook), and we immediately thought of the cast iron. Not only is cast iron heavy and thick enough to promote even melting and rendering of the butter, but we would be seasoning it simultaneously.

Clarifying butter gives it a toasty, nutty flavor, and if you do any amount of Indian cooking (and don't just limit it to Indian cooking--clarified butter can be used in any cuisine), doing a big batch at once is the way to go. It also preserves the butter indefinitely, which is the original reason for clarifying butter at all--just think: the heat of India combined with dairy products? A conundrum indeed. Thus, clarified butter was born, and a propitious birth it was.

The process is easy. Take a pound (you can do less than this, but it just makes sense to do a lot at once) of butter and melt it slowly over low heat in a heavy bottomed pan. The pan can be cast iron or enameled cast iron or something like All-Clad, just as long as it is thick and heavy so you don't burn the milk solids in the butter. Let the butter heat over low (never raise the temperature), and it will begin to foam. When the foam subsides, you can start skimming the white milk solids that precipitate out of the butter. Feel free to leave it alone for half an hour at a time, coming back every now and then to skim it. Keep skimming until all the milk solids are gone. This may take one hour or three hours, but be patient. This is definitely a Sunday afternoon sort of project. After skimming, strain the butter through a fine sieve or cheesecloth or a single layer of paper towel. Allow to come to room temperature and refrigerate. You may also wish to freeze the clarified butter in ice cube trays so that you have individual portions already prepared for use. Keeps indefinitely.

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