Clarified butter is the clear yellow butter that you might most easily recognize as the “drawn butter” served with lobster. It is served in that example for aesthetic reasons, I’m sure – because I think clarified butter has almost no flavor. When butter is clarified, the milk solids are removed, leaving a clear yellow liquid which will not burn easily (those milk solids are what make butter brown so fast after melting). This is a valuable technique especially when you wish to sauté several batches of something, without having to stop between batches to wipe out the pan (otherwise you’d risk burned butter particles in the next batch or a burned flavor in the next batch of food). Butter, when it is not clarified, burns at a lower temperature than other fats. Clarified butter also has the advantage that it will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator (tightly cover the container, though – like any butter, clarified butter will easily pick up odors from other foods stored nearby).
To make somewhat less than 1/2 cup of clarified butter (about 1/3 cup): melt 1 stick (1/4 pound) of butter in a small saucepan over low heat, or in a glass bowl in the microwave. Allow the melted butter to stand for 2 or 3 minutes to “settle.” Skim off and discard the foam from the top (white foam will rise to the surface when butter has melted). Carefully pour off the clear yellow liquid that remains – leaving behind the milky residue in the bottom of the pan or bowl. This clear yellow liquid is clarified butter, and can be used for cooking without over-browning or scorching, since the milk solids have now been removed. Store leftover clarified butter, tightly covered, in the refrigerator, or freeze it for up to 6 months.
ALTERNATIVE METHOD: After melting the butter, place it in the refrigerator until the top layer hardens. This layer can then be removed, and the middle (clear yellow, clarified) layer can be carefully poured off, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the container behind.