How to Clarify Butter

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 27,673
    Chef Mike Isabella demonstrates how to clarify butter for your Spanakopita greek spinach pie.

    Mike Isabella

    In March 2007, Chef Mike Isabella was appointed as head chef of the popular Penn Quarter restaurant Zaytinya, located at 701 9th Street, NW. THINKfoodGROUP’s José Andrés and Rob Wilder were pleased to welcome Chef Isabella who came to Washington with an extensive list of restaurant experience. Mike earned an associates degree in culinary arts at the New York Restaurant School and has several years of industry experience including three years working for Stephen Starr's Philadelphia restaurants. He worked as executive sous chef with James Beard Award-winning Chef Marcus Samuelsson at Washington Square, and as a sous chef at El Vez and Alma de Cuba, the modern Latin restaurant which received accolades from Conde’ Nast Traveler as one of the “Top 50 Restaurants.” Most recently Mike was chef de cuisine at Kyma, the award-winning Greek seafood restaurant in the exclusive Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. Zaytinya serves an extensive array of various hot and cold mezze “little dishes” reflecting the rich regional diversity of classical and contemporary Greek, Turkish and Lebanese cuisine. Open seven days a week. Zaytinya is located at 701 9th St., NW, in the heart of the Penn Quarter. For additional information call (202) 638-0800.

    Mike Isabella: How are you doing? My name is Mike Isabella I'm the chef at Zaytinya restaurant Washington DC. Today, we will be showing you how to make spanakopita, a traditional Greek spinach and feta cheese pie, wrapped in a Phyllo dough, and now, I'm going to show you how to make clarified butter. Traditionally, we are making clarified butter we have to buy the butter. First in the professional restaurant like here at Zaytinya, the smallest sizes I can buy are one pound units, but at a typical store at home usually they sell it in little quarter pound blocks and that's the way we set the recipe up for today.

    So, what I did is, I just got a pretty much of block and I'm going to quarter it up myself. I'm going to cut it in half and then we are going to cut it again, and now we have quarter pound of butter. This is basically what you are going to find in the store, wrapped up in a paper. After you unwrap, we are going to probably use about two sticks, which will be a half a pound of butter. We are going to chop that up, after we chop up the butter, we have it in our little cubes.

    So, basically what we are doing to clarify the butter today is, we are going to cook it, we are going to start it off in a cold pan, put the butter in the pan, pop it on the stove, if you want to bring it on high heat to start and basically what we are going to do is, we are going to separate the butter because you have some milk fats in there and then you have some clarified butter. What happens is, is when we use the clarified butter for the spanakopita, if we don't take the milk solid out, it will kind of burn when we are baking it in the oven. So, we are going to separate that today. What we are going to do is, we are going to put the butter into the pan, bring it on high heat and that butter is basically going to come up to a boil, as soon as it comes to a boil, I'll lower the heat just a little bit, but we will still want to keep it at a high simmer, low boil, simmer means kind of just bubbling away, not too high, not a total full boil, but just like maybe like three quarters of the pot will be bubbling away and with that is that's as going to do is that's going to kind of cook off the milk fats and they are going to solid up and they are going to sink to the bottom of the pan. But about hopefully 80% of this will sink to the bottom of the pan, the other 20% we are just going to skim off for later, and then you will be able to see, because I mean as you, look at the butter right now, it's white, pale and cloudy. After you clarify the butter it's going to kind of look like this, kind of look like oil, but with the butter flavor, a lot more flavor than oil has. A little bit darker yellow tin to it, and that's really it. So, once we get to the point where we are going skim off the fat, you want to grab some towels where we could just kind of grab that pot and get a strainer, a very fine mesh strainer, if we don't have a fine mesh strainer, maybe a little cheesecloth over a bowl, we will place the cheesecloth and then we are going to pour all the butter in very slowly because we want to kind of keep those milk solid in the bottom of the pan. Then we are going to pick up the colander, let it hang, so all the milk solid will bring in there, well discard that and then we will have our nice clear clarified butter.

    Basically, we want to keep this at room temperature through the process because we are going to need to brush this on top of the pies, so it can stick, the Phyllo dough can stick, we can work with it, it will be bendable, it won't get crack, it will stay nice and soft, and also take a nice golden brown color. If we put this into refrigerator, it's going to swollen up like butter, it's just going to be a little bit more yellow, it's not going to be as bright, and will be darker yellow, because we got rid of the milk, the white milk solids, theyre outside the butter. So, we want to keep it at room temperature. If you do make it ahead of time, a day in advance or anything like that, we could just pop it in a microwave, or put it in a warm area of the kitchen by the stove, not on top of the flame in a plastic container, but obviously if you have a lot of clarify, you cant put it back into a pot. So, with that being said we are -- that is how we make the clarified butter today. Now, we will show you how to work with the Phyllo dough.