An essential Indian cooking fat from Hook and Son
“Ghee is essentially clarified butter,” says Roopa Gulati, food writer, broadcaster and Borough Market demonstration chef. “It has been used on the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years, principally because it has the wonderful ability to last for a long time. The milk solids have been taken away, which are the parts of dairy products that causes them to go off, so ghee will last for months, even in quite warm temperatures. You can see why it became such an important ingredient in those hot climates.”
Ghee is made by heating unsalted butter until it separates, the solids falling to the bottom and the froth rising to the top. Eventually, between these two layers, you get a clear golden liquid: clarified butter. This is then siphoned off and allowed to cool naturally. Because the ghee still has some solids it has a grainy texture, but this quickly disappears once it is warmed.
“The ghee I use is from Hook and Son here in the Market, which they make using their organic butter from the cream of their organic raw, whole milk. I have tried many different brands, but with theirs you get this wonderfully clean, rich flavour. It is the best ghee I have found. In fact, if you are going to try it for the first time, I would say buy it from them,” our chef says with genuine warmth.
My mother’s kitchen
“I remember going over to them after using it in a cookery demonstration here in the Market, and telling them how using it had transported me back to my childhood. When I opened one of their jars I got this hit of aroma which I remember from my mother’s kitchen, and you just don’t get that with the mass-produced ghee.”
In terms of the flavour, Roopa explains that the process of clarification cooks the butter, thereby intensifying the flavours and giving the finished ghee its unctuousness. “I cook Indian food and the difference in flavour you get when using ghee as opposed to vegetable oil is incredible, it can be like eating two different dishes. It is so buttery, so rich, and often enhances the colours of the finished dish.”
Another real boon for cooks is that ghee has a very high burning point. The chef reveals that for any recipe that requires a buttery element, using ghee removes the risk of burning, which can introduce an acrid flavour or little specks of burnt milk solids into the dish.
Expanded cooking options
Over the years, Roopa has noticed this ability to handle temperatures beyond that of olive and some vegetable oils has led to its popularity with chefs and cooks outside the Indian community, who like the expanded cooking options it gives them—as well as its wonderful taste.
“I have a wonderful recipe for green chilli meat from Rajasthan that really showcases the flavours of ghee. I actually cooked it for the Diwali celebrations this year. I used Hook and Son’s ghee when I made it at a Borough Market demonstration and it just transformed the flavour,” says Roopa. “Or, a real simple use is in tarka dal.” Just fry your tarka (finishing spices) in ghee. Get the spices to a nice sizzle and then pour it to the hot cooked dal. “It is lovely.”