If you are fond of Indian food, you have probably already heard (or tasted) the famous ‘ghee’ with which many Indian dishes are made. But did you know that this clarified butter is not only a specialty of Indian cuisine? It is indeed a culinary tradition widespread in the whole Middle East and in the Maghreb. In our part of the world, it is known as ‘smen’ and used in many culinary specialties such as couscous.
But you may ask of what nutritional interest would be talking about smen or any clarified butter in general? First, clarified butter has a special flavor and, in a preparation, it helps spices to develop all their aromas. Moreover, in addition to being tasty, it avoids many disadvantages of ‘regular’ butter (difficulties to cook, conservation), it is lactose-free and it is good for health according traditional Indian medicine, Ayurveda. For Ayurveda, ghee is a rasayana, a remedy that helps achieving better state of health and wellbeing. It enables a better absorption of nutrients (carrying them into the cell membranes). Incidentally, it is used in some Ayurvedic medicines in conjunction with medicinal herbs. Furthermore, it would help with balancing acidity in the stomach and would facilitate mental abilities.
I must add to that other practical benefits. Clarified butter does not need to be stored in the fridge, as long as it is kept in a hermetical jar protected from light. But above all, it can bear high temperature cooking. Indeed, the clarification process multiply by two the smoking point, compared to regular butter. So no more burnt taste in your dishes!
The principle of clarified butter, or smen, is simple: it consists in removing from butter all its impurities, lactose, water and casein (a butter protein). To clarify butter, you only need to melt it: cream the foam that is floating (the casein) and filter the whey that is in the bottom (some prefer to filter the whole). The Moroccan technique is not different from this point. The difference is that we add salt and aromatize the butter.
Smen, the Moroccan Clarified Butter
For 1 pound / approx. 500 g of organic butter
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp salt
Remove the butter from the fridge a little while before an let it soften. Cut in pieces if needed. Boil 2 cups of water with the oregano over low heat for 10 minutes. Let it cool, then filter and put the water aside.
In a bowl, pour the butter, add the salt and knead it with a wood spoon or - even better - with your hands. Add the oregano water and let it stand for a few hours. Drain, if need be use a thin canvas or a fine sieve. Then, pour the butter in a saucepan over low flame. Let it melt for approximately 30 minutes. Foam is formed on top and some residues go to the bottom. Remove from heat. Cream the foam then filter the butter to pour it into a jar. Avoid pouring the bottom of the saucepan that contains the whey. Let it completely cool before closing the jar.
(Another method consists in directly melting the butter with salt and oregano in a tea ball infuser into the saucepan.)
Hi there! I'm Majda.
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