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March 21, 2023
Compound Ghee Makes Things Interesting

If you can melt butter in a saucepan, you can make your own ghee—and flavor it too.

Compound butters are undeniably delicious, and they’re all over the food internet. But I stick to infusing spices and aromatics into homemade ghee instead. The result? A complex fat that’s perfect for making quick pan sauces, frying pancakes, searing steaks, and preparing pretty much any dish that typically calls for butter—only shelf-stable and with a higher smoke point. 

Ghee, or clarified butter, is what you get after straining the milk solids out of freshly browned butter. For centuries, South Asian cuisine has harnessed the full effect of ghee and its tantalizing nutty notes on top of dals, in pots of rice, and in countless desserts. But its 465°F smoke point (55 degrees higher than olive oil) and its buttery flavor have popularized ghee around the globe. I’ve always drooled over the spiced ghee tadkas in my mom’s cooking, but my obsession with compound ghee began after I double-dipped grilled prawns in a vanilla chile ghee at Masala y Maiz in Mexico City. The fragrant vanilla and sharp chile mellowed and melted into each other, thanks to ghee’s slow-simmer and straining process. The formula for developing elaborate flavor suddenly seemed all too simple; the otherwise plain prawns didn’t need any seasoning after swimming in an all-in-one compound ghee Jacuzzi.

After coming back from Mexico City, I began infusing ghee with anything and everything. Whole garlic cloves, peppercorns, citrus peels—nothing is safe from a pot of boiling butter.

Ghee, in its purest form, already asserts a deeply nutty aroma, but infusing it with alliums, warm spices, or herbs welcomes a world of complexity to the simplest dishes and snacks. Switch up at-home brunch by frying up blueberry pancakes in cardamom-spiced ghee. Not only will the pancakes benefit from ghee’s ability to withstand the heat (no burned butter here), but they’ll also be laced with the most delicate aroma of cardamom that neither falls flat nor overwhelms your taste buds. For a quick snack, down a steamed sweet potato drizzled with some sage and shallot ghee. Or consider adding a few tablespoons of garam masala ghee to a bowl of creamy risotto. 

Ghee is your canvas, and it’s ready to be painted with whatever flavors your heart desires. Here’s how to make it: Add a selection of aromatics and butter in a saucepan over medium heat and allow everything to infuse. After the butter has melted completely, begin to stir the mixture with a whisk or wooden spoon while the butter foams and browns. While stirring, keep an eye on the milk solids as they sink to the bottom of the pot and begin to toast. When they turn a smidge golden brown, resembling fine bread crumbs in a pot of butter, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. Continue stirring your compound ghee through a fine mesh sieve and into a jar for safekeeping. 

Smoky Vanilla Chile Ghee

1 Fresno chile, sliced in half
1 whole vanilla bean, seeds and pod
2 sticks salted butter, cold
¼ tsp smoked paprika

Add the butter, chile, and vanilla bean to a small saucepan over low heat. Stir the butter as it melts. After 2 minutes, add the smoked paprika and continue stirring. After another 4 to 6 minutes, or when the ghee is a deep shade of gold, pour it through a fine mesh sieve into a small glass jar. Seal tightly, store at room temperature, and add a tablespoon to rice, on seafood, or over veggies.

Sesame Scallion Ghee

2 sticks salted butter, cold
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 scallions, roughly chopped
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Add the sesame seeds to a small, dry saucepan over low heat and swirl pan to toast the sesame seeds for 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Add the butter, sesame oil, and scallions to the saucepan, still over low heat, and continue stirring the butter as it melts and begins to foam, about 6 to 8 minutes. Once the ghee is deeply golden, pour it through a fine mesh sieve into a small glass jar. This ghee tastes especially delicious on fried or steamed fish fillets. 

Garam Masala Ghee

½ Tbsp whole coriander seeds
½ Tbsp whole cumin seeds
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
½ tsp whole cloves
1 2-inch (5 cm) cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
2 sticks salted butter, cold
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed

Add the coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon stick, and cardamom to a small, dry saucepan over low heat. Swirl everything around in the saucepan for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spices are noticeably more fragrant and toasted. Add the thinly sliced shallots, garlic, and butter to the saucepan, still over low heat, and continue stirring the butter while it melts and begins to foam, about 6 to 8 minutes. Once the garlic begins to turn golden brown and the butter turns a deeper shade of yellow gold, remove the pan from the heat. Strain the ghee through a fine mesh sieve into a small glass jar and store at room temperature. Use this ghee on roasted veggies, roast chicken, or anything that needs a little warmth.