WTF is Ghee?
Ghee is a type of clarified butter. What is clarified butter? It’s regular unsalted butter that’s had all the milk solids and water removed. The butter you buy at the store is around 15% water, and you need to store it in the fridge because it will go rancid (it’s fridge-life is several months). Ghee is almost pure butterfat (no water, no milk proteins). The thing in butter that actually goes rancid are the milk solids and since they have been removed from the ghee, ghee can be stored safely for over half a year outside of the fridge (storing it in the fridge makes little or no difference depending who you ask). At room temperature it will be yellow and very soft. When heated, it’s clear. In the fridge it will be a lighter yellow and very solid (like cold butter but a bit more brittle).
Ghee is used for a lot of things, but all you need to know is that it functions like most other cooking fats and oils. You can put some in a frying pan and fry onions. You can brush it on oven breads. You can add it to rice, and so on.
A lot of Western recipes for Indian food that may have originally called for ghee to be used will ask for vegetable oil instead. I think this is because in most places, ghee is simply not available. In Toronto, however, this is not the case. Ghee can be found somewhat easily if you know where to look. For one thing, it won’t be stored in the dairy aisle. It will be with the cooking oils, or in the “international” sections of the store. I have found it in Loblaws, Metro, St. Lawrence Market and hey, there’s ghee in one of these photos from House of Spices in Kensington Market. You can also, obviously, find it just about everywhere in Gerrard St’s Little India (I love you BJ Supermarket). In short, it’s pretty easy to find, and it costs roughly the same, by weight, as butter does.
You can even make ghee yourself by slowly heating a pile of unsalted butter to about 250 F, cooking off all the water (into steam) and browning the milk solids. The solids will separate from the oil and settle on the bottom. Then you can spoon off the pure butterfat ghee into a jar, leaving the solids at the bottom of the pan. Let the ghee cool in the jar uncovered (so all steam has had a chance to escape / no water or condensation is trapped with the ghee, which will speed rancidity) then add the lid and store with your oils.
It’s not all good news, though. Ghee is basically solid saturated fat. So, if you care about things like that (you only live once, come on) you may want to space out the ghee-drenched cooking sessions a little bit.