One of the best things about food, I think, is that it brings like minded people together. I really enjoy spending time in the company of chefs, fellow cooks, farmers and food producers who are clearly passionate about their craft. My friend and colleague, Pepe Saya (the alter ego of Mr Pierre Issa), is one such person.
On our way home from Sydney, Peter and I stopped in at the Tempe factory where we watched Pepe and his team making butter and also ghee or clarified butter. Not just any ghee, mind you... this was made by the butter master himself, Pepe Saya, from his award winning, handcrafted cultured Australian butter.
Our visit commenced with a short discussion about ghee, followed by a sensory exercise where we sniffed the aroma of three different ghee varieties. One is a supermarket standard and the smell is ordinary, as in 'meh'. The second is apparently India's finest ghee. There is a curious hint of something almost like kerosine to this one. The third smelled sweet and fresh. To my delight, Pepe said he had made it himself. As with everything that he creates, Pepe has value added to ensure that the end product is of the finest quality. To this end, Pepe tells us he added Herbie's Spices bay leaves, cloves and cardamom to 'cut through the gunk'. It works!
Pepe and his 'Ghee Guide' and kitchen manager, Hiren, explain that they have been wanting to make ghee for a long time. Hiren and his fellow workers bring in ghee with chapati and enjoy it during their lunch break. Hiren was born in Gujarad in Western India, and says his grandmother showed him how to make ghee. 'She made it in an enormous pot with a wooden churn,' Hiren told us. 'There are no machines there, it is all done by hand!'. He smiles.
After smelling the different ghee types, Pepe says ' Let's make some!'. We go downstairs into the commercial kitchen, where Pepe weighs out eight kilograms of his cultured butter and we set out to make ghee. Enjoy my postcards and morsels from the morning with Pepe and his team.
Pepe made a large batch of ghee using 8 kilos of butter. If you would like to make it at home, Charmaine Solomon recommends using 200-250g of unsalted or cultured butter into a heavy enamelled pan, cutting the butter into pieces first. In her Encyclopedia of Asia Food, Charmaine suggests: 'Melt over a low heat, then simmer for ten minutes or so, during which time it will crackle as moisture is driven off. When it stops crackling, the thin crust on the surface may be lifted off. The ghee should then be stirred and the cooking continued until the solids on the bottom of the pan have turned nut brown. Let it cool sufficiently to handle, then pour the clarified butter off into a lidded jar. Ghee prepared this way will keep for months under refrigeration'.
Interestingly, Charmaine also notes that in India most people use a much cheaper vegetable ghee called vanaspati, which is made from saturated vegetable oils that have been hydrogenated.
Like all fats, ghee is high in kilojoules/calories and will add to your waistline. With this in mind, here's a note about ghee from my friend and colleague, Catherine Saxelby, Australia's leading nutritionist:
'Ghee is made from unsalted butter heated to separate and remove the milk solids. It is used in traditional Indian cuisine, and for shallow-frying, roasting potatoes and pan-frying meat without burning. It has a very high smoke point, so doesn’t burn or smoke easily during pan-frying and deep-frying. It has a nutty flavour, contains vitamins A and D, and keeps for longer than butter. But it’s very high in saturated fat – 66%. A little goes a long way. Just for comparison, canola has less than 10% saturated fat, olive oil around 15%, butter 53%, and margarines 20%.
Therefore, use ghee sparingly as it’s more concentrated in fat than butter. A little is fine for adding a traditional flavour and Indian cooking at high heat and so on. But don’t deep fry in it. And do use Pepe Saya’s great new product, as it sounds like a cut above anything else!'
Indeed it is, Catherine. Personally, I have not been all that fond of ghee over the years. It was used in my former cooking school by a couple of well known visiting chefs who deep fried everything in it. One chef deep fried gulab jamun in ghee for well over half an hour. By the end of the day, the air in the room was thick with the rank aroma of the stuff... so much so that it almost seemed to be dripping from the ceiling.
Not the case with Pepe Saya's ghee. It is quite divine. Again, as with all good things, enjoy it sparingly.
Pepe Saya is making ghee weekly or on demand. If you are interested, please contact Pepe by email or telephone call to 61 2 9559 1113.
About Pepe Saya cultured butter...
Pepe Saya handcrafted cultured butter is made from 100% Australian cream, fresh from a local farm (John Fairley's Country Valley Dairy in Picton), delivered straight to the doors of the Pepe Saya factory at Tempe. The cream is cultured over a two-week period, churned and then shaped by the hardworking and loving hands of Pepe Saya's passionate team: Elena, Rhida, Hiren, Pabu and Maria.
Have you ever made ghee? Tell me how you use it in your cooking. Do you enjoy Pepe Saya's cultured butter?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
Join me as I share with you my favourite recipes, postcards and morsels from my adventures, conversations with cookery writers
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.