Ghee and Chonk (tempered clarified butter)

Clarified butter, known in Hindi as “ghee”, will be our foundation, the base from which all the coming Indian delights will spring. Especially when we temper spices in the ghee when its hot and make “chonk”, it’s almost like magic is being performed. Flavor magic.

What does it mean to clarify butter? We’re going to separate and remove the milk solids from regular butter, leaving behind pure golden butter fat that preserves longer, and can handle sauteing at high temperatures.


Melt a little more butter than you want to yield. You will lost about 20% to evaporation (1 1/4 cups butter yields 1 cup clarified butter). Simmer on medium heat at a very gentle boil for about 15 minutes total.

1) The butter will foam
2) The foam will break up into clusters
3)The foam clusters (milk solids) will sink to the bottom and start to brown

When step 3 starts to happen, turn off the heat and pour through cheese cloth and a fine strainer. Don’t throw away the milk solids! They can be used in desserts, as we will see in future posts.

What can you do with clarified butter? Well, just about every classic Indian recipe calls for it to start. But more than that, you can use it in just about anything that calls for butter or oil. The best of both worlds, with the flavor of the butter and the high smoke point of the oil.

But if you want to really take your Indian food to the next level, you need to temper the ghee with spices and make what’s called many things depending on where in the vast land of India you’re in. My personal favorite term for it is “chonk”.

CHONK (tempered ghee)

4 tbsp clarified butter
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground tumeric
1/8 teaspoon ground asafoetida

This is my favorite recipe for chonk. You can of course use this same technique with ANY spices you want.

Mix the cumin and mustard seeds together. Divide the mixture in half, setting aside one portion to leave whole. Grind the other half with all the coriander into a coarse powder.

In a small pot, melt the clarified butter over medium heat. After half a minute, or until the “oil” is hot, add the whole cumin and musatrd seeds. When the cumin seeds begin to dance around and turn brown, add the spice powder along with the tumeric and asafoetida, stirring vierously for 10-15 seconds then removing from the heat.

Your chonk is done! It’s ready to dip breads in, or drizzle over finished plates to give them that classic Indian sheen. As seen on this Dal I made! (recipe coming soon).

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