Not a Condiment, an Emotion: Why a Dollop of Rich Brown Ghee a Singular Must in a Bong Kitchen




This granular nutty dollop of wonder resembling hot magma, would slowly melt inside the steaming hill of rice and spread through its crevices, to finally create my very own gastro-science experiment of flavours.

I was never really a fussy eater. Almost anything on my plate would be savoured with respect. 

But, then again it’s an ‘almost’ right?

To any Bengali mother’s horror, I had an inexplicable aversion to fish which continued to bother my mum for several years. But, that’s a story for another time. 

Coming back to my usual plate of bhaat (rice), daal (lentils), shobji (vegetable curry) and bhaja (fried side dish), I was truly a saint, but on just one condition–I needed to have my own volcano of flavours!

In other words, I would eat anything you give me, provided the mountain of rice was specifically served with a small chasm filled with a big dollop of rich brown ghee. This granular nutty dollop of wonder resembling hot magma, would slowly melt inside the steaming hill of rice and spread through its crevices, to finally create my very own gastro-science experiment of flavours.
Source: Facebook
I guess that was not really fussy, because in mum’s world, this was after all just plain ‘ghee bhaat’- an anchor of sweet nostalgia for almost any Indian, not just bong!

The ghee trail away from home

Like most things, in life change is inevitable. So when I moved out of home and shifted to Pune, then Bengaluru, the Jharna ghee’s jar soon was replaced by Nandini and several other brands. 

The light golden dollop of ghee with more subtle undertones was indeed fine, but not quite right. Everytime I cooked the gobindobhog (sourced from specific Bengali stores) rice to make basanti pulao (yellow pulao) or payesh (also known as kheer, or rice pudding), it never quite hit the right note. Ghee bhaat would also not taste the same anymore. 

By now, if you already think of me as some ghee-snob, let me clarify that I am not. In a country known for a myriad of culinary cultures with a vast variety of dairy breeds and climatic conditions, it is only fair to assume that ghee in India, is not of just one homogenous kind. The flavour of this superfood, also known as ‘liquid gold’ in international markets, depends not just on the climate, dairy breed, preparation method, but even on the diet of the cattle. 

So you can imagine how different the subtle undertones of the ghee found in South India, might be from the rich texture found in its brown version. It’s safe to say that this version is quite similar to its European cousin, Beurre Noisette.

Now in pursuit to satisfy my bong palette I did try to find it in several parts of the city but in vain. Friends suggested checking online grocery stores and even Amazon. Jharna ghee was often listed but mostly out of stock. 
The secret to making your ghee’s texture granular lies in a pinch of salt. Photos: Ananya Barua
Hence, I had to find an alternative- to make my own. But mind you, as a usually broke foodie with developing culinary skills, I couldn’t have delved into the complicated and time-taking endeavour of collecting malai (cream) to make my ghee. 

Finally, after a thorough internet research on various processes of making both ghee and beurre noisette, I found the best combination. Here’s the guide to your very own thrifty and quick recipe to making Bengali ghee:

Ingredients:
500g of unsalted butter (it would yield around 350g of ghee) A heavy bottom pan A strainer An airtight container for storage A skimmer (optional) 1 pinch of salt (optional)
Preparation Time:

25-30 minutes

Method:
Cut solid unsalted butter into half-inch pieces. Warm a heavy bottomed pan under medium heat and add the butter to melt it.  Once the butter melts, allow it to softly simmer until a white foamy layer begins to appear on the top surface. Milk solids will also begin to settle at the bottom of the pan.*  This is how the ghee should look after melting. Follow the instructions below and remove the foam at intervals Softly stir throughout the process and every now and then use a spoon or skimmer to remove the foam and keep it in a bowl.* Continue till the milk solids at the bottom have turned into a dark golden to brown colour, and the foam has separated to reveal rich caramel-coloured clear liquid.  Turn off heat and let it cool.  After 10-12 minutes, check the ghee. Place a strainer on top of a container or jar and pour the ghee through it. At this point, if you fancy a granular version of ghee, as opposed to the smooth one, you may add a pinch of salt.  Let it further rest before closing the tight lid and storing it in a cool and dry place. 
Voila!

*Tips:

I HATE waste, so instead of throwing away the residual milk solids at the bottom of the pan, or the fat foam you collected in a bowl, I have a better option. You can either use the milk solids with khoya to make sweets or add it to your kheer for a rich colour and flavour. The foam, however, can be easily refrigerated and used like butter. It actually works wonders with the perfect creamy mashed potatoes and garlic bread!

For more interesting information, check out this amazing website. 

With all of this now in place, cook away your budget-friendly dreamy dishes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!