Róisín Ingle ... on making ghee

‘Thirty years ago when my brother came home and tried to tell people they should drink ghee, he nearly got ran out of town’

The fact that ghee – which, to be clear, is actually clarified butter – had the same name as a Dublin slang word for a certain female body part never made any odds to my brother.

The fact that ghee – which, to be clear, is actually clarified butter – had the same name as a Dublin slang word for a certain female body part never made any odds to my brother.

 

My brother is home. He wants to make ghee. This is what happens when your siblings go off to live in faraway places. They come home chatting about ghee as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Talking about ghee is not quite as funny as it used to be back in the ’80s. When my brother first came home and kept banging on about ghee it was mortifying, especially if you had your friends around.

“Why is your brother always talking about how much he likes gee?” a girl asked me once, and that’s not a question you want to be asked when you are 13.

He wasn’t doing it on purpose. He had discovered ghee in India and couldn’t wait to tell us all about the health-giving properties of the stuff. Newly vegetarian, he was killed telling my mother not to cook sausages, and if she must cook sausages then would she please not use oil because it wasn’t a “good fat”. This was before we knew fats were good or bad. Or cared much either.

The fact that ghee – which, to be clear, is actually clarified butter – had the same name as a Dublin slang word for a certain female body part never made any odds to my brother. Never once have I heard him say ghee and then snigger uncontrollably in a knowing way. He was a committed fan of ghee. It was no joke.

Talking about ghee is not quite so embarrassing now a few decades later. Because now we are foodies. Now we have books telling us how to get the most from psyllium husks and coconut sugar.

Ghee is the least of it these days, really, in a world where people talk quite seriously – and in some cases lovingly – about the scoby they are growing for their kombucha. But ghee still cracks me up.

My friend Susan Jane White, author of the Extra Virgin Kitchen, is only mad for ghee, so I’ll let her give you the science bit: “What interests me most about ghee is its nutritional whistle, and its stability when heated in a frying pan. As soon as any fat reaches its ‘smoke point’, the point at which the fat begins to decompose and make free radicals, the fat will lose any nutritional purchase it once had. Free radicals are those nasty carcinogenic compounds that act like evil Power Rangers in our system. Not the sort of thing you want to serve your family.”

Ghee, on the other hand, has a smoke point of 220 degrees so it stays nutritionally intact, and my brother swears it makes everything taste better. He’s talking about it so much because he is cooking up a big family Indian dinner for us of homemade paneer and dahl and naan bread. He puts a big pot of milk on to boil, adds some lemon juice, the milk curdles and he strains it off and it turns into a block of delicious white cheese or paneer which he will use for the main course.

He’ll cook it all with ghee. “I think,” I tell him “If it wasn’t called ghee it would be a lot more popular in Ireland.”

He nods and remembers. Thirty years ago when he came home and tried to tell people they should drink ghee, he nearly got ran out of town. It was like when he rang up the Berkeley Court Hotel and offered his services as a masseur. “We don’t do that type of thing here,” he was told. Now we have spas and massages up the wahoosie and ghee is no longer a dirty word.

(Of course my brother had to tear the arse out of the ghee fixation. He’s been known to do an Ayurvedic detox treatment where you drink pure ghee for five days which he claims is “cleansing”.)

Ghee costs a heart-stopping €14 a jar in the health food shop, but you can make three homemade jars for €6. All you do is get four blocks of unsalted butter, put it in a pan, melt it and boil it until it gets all foamy and the house starts to smell like a shortbread factory.

Eventually you strain off the solid bits through a bit of muslin and you are left with pure ghee in little jars on the window sill. (My Ghee Advisory Board warns that it can be a bit tricky to master so do your research if you want DIY ghee).

More ghee trivia. If you are lactose intolerant you can eat ghee because the lactose is removed as part of the process.

When he has finished cooking, our family falls on my brother’s feast of dahl and rice and paneer with peas and spices. And I have to say, there’s only one word for it: Gheelicious.

roisin@irishtimes.com