Oct 04, 2016 CANADA (SUN) A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.
There are significant differences in the way ghee is produced in India, compared to the West. In the West, the artisan process is to use fresh, whole cow's milk, let the cream rise to the top, then churn the heavy cream to butter, and finally slow cook the butter to separate the milk solids and whey from the liquid golden ghee. Unfortunately in the West today, few creameries make their butter by actually churning the cream. Instead, the milk is extruded through a fine screen. The larger fat molecules are captured, and the rest runs off as the commercial equivalent of buttermilk.
The problem with this process is that without churning, the all-important transformative energy is eliminated. The agni quality that was embodied in Lord Prajapati's churning of butter into sacrificial ghee is absent. In India, butter is traditionally made by hand-churning and hand-working the butter, which imparts a quality much improved over the commercial process due the churning motion. While the differences are subtle, they are among the qualities inherent in sattvic practice.
Ghee-making in the West is sometimes confused with making clarified butter, which is not really ghee at all. Clarified butter is butter that is boiled to eliminate the moisture content, leaving it with a frothy foam on top of the yellow liquefied butter. When making ghee, many Western cooks simply place blocks of unsalted butter in a pan on very low heat, removing the ghee as soon as it has separated, and allowing little carmelization to occur. Indian cooks often encourage carmelization on the bottom of the ghee pot, because it sweetens the entire ghee batch in a lovely way.
In India, ghee making not only ends differently – it begins differently. The whole milk is typically not allowed to sit until the cream rises. Instead, the milk is boiled to eliminate bacteria, then cooled. Next the milk is cultured with yoghurt and allowed to rest, covered, for several hours or overnight, slightly souring the milk. Next morning, a thick layer of yoghurt and cream is removed from the top. The curd is then hand-beaten, and after about 30 minutes of churning, a frothy layer of butter begins to take shape in the bowl.
Gathering together the fresh made butter, it is next placed in a heavy kadai and melted over a medium-low fire. The brown, gritty stuff that layers the bottom of the pan is saved after the golden ghee is poured off, and the leavings are then mixed with sugar as a treat for children, or else it's thrown into the dal pot, or mixed into the day's sabji.
Ghee is best made in a stainless steel pot, and aluminum pots should always be avoided, as they leech toxins into the food. The heavier the pot, the more effectively heat will be distributed across the bottom. Whenever possible, make arrangements to cook your ghee over fire, rather than electrical heat. Again, the sattvic qualifies will be much improved this way.
Never stir the pot when you're making ghee, at any point during the process, as it's important to let the heat do the job of separating out all the impurities and milk solids, so you can drain off only the pure liquid oil.
Depending on the quality of the butter being used, the milk solids and impurities will rise to the top and drop to the bottom in somewhat different consistencies. If you use salted butter, most of the salt will get thrown off as impurities, in a brown crust that forms on the surface, although some of the salt will remain. Unsalted butter is far preferable to use for ghee.
On the bottom of the pan a whitish liquid forms which is technically 'precipitated protein', commonly referred to as whey or curd. The whey still contains 50 percent or more butterfat, which makes it a wonderful ingredient on its own. The whey can be frozen for later use, or immediately cooked into sabjis or dals. One of the best uses for whey is to add it to the water when boiling peeled potatoes. The potatoes hold a much firmer texture after cooking, which makes them perfect for stuffing. Below is our recipe for Stuffed New Potatoes in Saffron Cream, which puts to excellent use the whey leftover from ghee making.
Depending on the size of the pot and temperature, ghee will be done anywhere from a few to several hours. Undercooking it means that there will still be too much moisture in the ghee, and this causes it to splatter when frying, and lessens the shelf life. Over-cooked ghee gets a nutty taste which many find pleasant, although the purest ghee flavor is desirable for many recipes.
Making Ghee in the Oven
When cooking over open fire isn't possible, our next preferred method of ghee-making is to cook it overnight in the oven. Placing the desired quantity of butter in an uncovered stainless steel pot or pan, leaving it in the oven overnight at about 170 degrees F. In the morning, the end product will be three distinct layers of semi-solids and liquids. The top crust will contain all the butter impurities, the whey collects at the bottom, and the golden oil is between.
In the morning, remove the pot from oven and let it sit for 10 minutes, so the crust hardens even more. This makes it easier to skim off the crust, which you can set aside for later use. These milk/salt solids are wonderful cooked into sabjis and vegetable dishes. Skim the crust off carefully with a spatula or flat utensil, gently getting up under the crust and lifting it off in chunks. Remove as much as possible, on top and around the edges.
Next, pour off or ladle off as much of the golden ghee as possible without mixing in any of the whey. This takes a little practice. The white liquid will want to bubble up into your ghee, as hey don't naturally mix (like oil and water). When you get whey in with the ghee, then heat the ghee on a hot fire, the whey will 'pop' or explode, just like water hitting hot oil, so you'll want to eliminate that messy event. And again, the whey creates a culture that attracts bacteria, and shortens storage life.
Carefully pour off, then spoon off as much of the golden ghee as you can. When you get down to the point where you just can't keep the whey from mixing in, stop and set the pan in the refrigerator for an hour. This causes the remaining ghee to solidify into a solid yellow block. They liquid whey beneath it won't harden.
Remove the pan from the fridge and tip it, just enough to slide the solid block of ghee aside so you can pour off the whey into a separate container. Now take the ghee 'block' out of pan, and any whey that remains on the bottom of the block can be easily patted off with paper towel or scraped off with a knife.
According to Vedic tradition, there is a mantra one can chant when making ghee, known as the Mahamrtunjaya Mantra, or the Tryambakam Mantra. This hymn is found in the Rgveda (RV 7.59.12), and also in Yajurveda (TS 1.8.6.i; VS 3.60). The mantra addresses Lord Shiva as Tryambaka, the 'three-eyed one':
tryambaka yajamahe sugandhi pushti-vardhanam
urvarukam iva bandhanan mrityor mukshiya mamritat
Sugandhim refers to the sweet fragrance, and pushti to attaining a well-nourished condition. Vardhanam is one who causes health and strength to increase.
Stuffed New Potatoes in Saffron Cream
Baby potatoes (white or Yukon), 12 to 14
Whey, fresh or powdered, 1 cup
Cream cheese, 6 ozs.
Ginger, minced, 1-1/2 inch
Pistachios, toasted and ground, 1/4 cup
Red Bell Pepper, 1 medium
Sour Cream, 2 cups
Saffron, a hefty pinch
Honey, 2 to 3 Tblsp.
Black Pepper, to taste
Peel the potatoes and boil until just tender all the way through, in a mixture of water and 1 Cup of whey (preferably dry, but liquid is OK). Putting whey in the water helps the potatoes hold their texture after cooking. Remove and set aside until cool. With a small implement like a wooden skewer, core a small center of the potato, about the size of a cashew. Mix together the cream cheese, ginger and toasted ground nuts to a fine paste, and use to stuff all the potatoes. Roast or grill the red pepper strips, remove the skin, and cut into small pieces to 'cork' the potato holes. Blend the sour cream and honey completely, add a liberal pinch of saffron for taste and color, and put the potatoes into the mixture. Potatoes should be completely covered by the sauce. Sprinkle top with black pepper and put in the refrigerator needed. Can be offered cool or at room temperature.