Canola oil, Spectrum Palm Shortening, and ghee–my go-to GF-CF-SF alternatives
One of the hardest things about being GF-CF is not having dairy. Sure, you can easily substitute wheat flour with a gluten-free flour mix and some xanthan gum and voila! You’ve got yourself an amazing gluten-free alternative! But dairy items like butter, cheese, ice cream, milk, cream cheese . . . their casein-free counterparts are typically a major disappointment. And heavy on the soy. I try to modify my recipes to be soy-free because my son doesn’t tolerate soy very well either. So if I’m making a recipe that requires dairy butter, instead of replacing it with soy butter I’ll replace it with a Gluten-Free, Casein-Free, Soy-Free alternative. And that alternative could be any of the following (or perhaps a combination of several of the following):
1.) Canola Oil. If you’re an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to nutrition and all-things-holistic, you’re going to think I’m an uneducated person for continuing to use canola oil. I respect that you may feel that way and may instinctively want to provide me with information on the dangers of canola oil. I ask that you please respect that I do not wish to be educated at this point in time. I have a child with multiple special needs; I’m more preoccupied with educating myself on all of his medical diagnoses. The potential health effects of canola oil can wait.
2.) Spectrum Organic Shortening. So why would I use this significantly more expensive alternative to Crisco shortening? Well, because Crisco shortening contains soy, which I try to avoid if I can. Spectrum shortening is made exclusively from palm oil. (And unfortunately it’s not cheap!)
3.) Ghee. Oh how I love ghee!!! However, if you’re vegan, you’ll want to avoid using this product because it’s derived from cow’s milk. So how is that possible? After all, if you’re casein-free, aren’t you supposed to avoid using dairy products? Well here’s the deal–ghee may not be dairy-free, but it’s lactose- and casein-free. It’s a form of clarified butter that is cooked until the lactose and casein is burned off, leaving behind pure lard. (Sounds appealing, I know!) Now I can’t promise that you won’t suffer from a delayed reaction by consuming something containing ghee. Depending on your own personal sensitivities, ghee may not be an option for you. But for me, personally, when I’m eating a very strict GF-CF diet, I will not react to ghee in any way. But give me a bowl of (gluten-free, casein-free) Cinnamon Chex and I’ll develop tongue sores within a day. Give me a drink containing an alcohol that was distilled from wheat and I’ll have a reaction. My body is very sensitive to gluten, despite the fact that I don’t have Celiac Disease. Your body may be equally sensitive to casein or lactose. It all comes down to paying attention to what your body is telling you. If you make one of my GF-CF-SF recipes and you suffer a delayed reaction that you know can only mean that you’ve been exposed to an ingredient to which your body is intolerant, perhaps you cannot tolerate lard derived from cow’s milk, which would include clarified butter and ghee. In that case, I apologize that some of my recipes won’t work for you because I tend to use ghee in a lot of them, especially desserts.
As I just mentioned, I tend to use ghee a lot, both in cooking and in baking. I’d actually already written about how to make ghee at home several years back. The information in that post (from a different blog that I wrote) is almost exactly the same information that I’d be writing today. So I’m cutting and pasting the information from my old blog post, written back in 2008, into this post, while making some minor changes. (You’ll notice that my style of writing was much more upbeat at the time. Sigh. But I digress . . .) I’ve also changed my method of straining the ghee to make it much easier, less messy, and less time-consuming, so a lot of the photos I’m including in this post have been updated.
Ghee is CRAZY expensive to buy it and it’s challenging to find. I just saw some at Hannaford the other day and a little 8 oz. jar was almost $7. Originally I bought a container of ghee from an Indian grocery store, since it’s frequently used in Indian cuisine. However, it was a very odd consistency (almost slushy) and it had an almost spicy aroma that did not appeal to me. But when you make it at home the consistency is more like softened butter and it smells like toffee as it’s cooking. Which would you rather have?
Ghee, made in a slow cooker
A few months ago, I was researching alternatives to dairy butter and soy butter since it’s best if Jack avoids both. I wasn’t sure what I could use for baking and cooking, especially for baked goods that needed a buttery flavor that shortening can’t provide (yes, I’m aware they make butter-flavored Crisco, but Crisco is soybean oil-based). I discovered several websites that mentioned how ghee (a form of clarified butter) was an acceptable option for people who are intolerant or allergic to the casein in dairy products. So, in theory, people on a gluten-free and casein-free diet shouldn’t suffer from an adverse reaction to ghee. Why? Because during the clarification process the casein (milk protein) and lactose (milk sugar) is burned away.
Ghee is frequently used by professional cooks and chefs because it has a high smoking point. So, for example, if you were pan-frying chicken cutlets in ghee, they would be less likely to burn and more likely to cook to golden-brown perfection, than if you were using olive oil. I’ve also read that ghee does not need to be refrigerated. It will last for 1 month in a covered container unrefrigerated, or three months refrigerated. Below is a method for making ghee that I read about online. However, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find any photos of the process online so I didn’t know if I was doing it right or not. That’s why I’m uploading this post–so that people can see exactly how to do it and exactly how the butter is supposed to look the entire time.
When I make ghee I always use at least 8 sticks of butter (salted or unsalted), because although ghee is easy to make, it’s also messy. So I try to make a huge batch that will last me for several months. But no matter how many sticks of butter you use, the process will still be the same. Since I’m a Semi-Crazy Coupon Lady, I stock up on butter of any brand when there’s a sale and/or I have coupons for it.
Recipe for Ghee:
1.) Place 2 lbs. of butter (8 sticks) in a crock pot/slow cooker. Cook on low with lid on for 5 hours.
(Since I originally wrote this post in 2008, I’ve discovered the awesomeness of Reynold’s Wrap Slow Cooker Liners. They make the ghee-making process so much easier. However, I know some of you will be opposed to using such a product. Thankfully, ghee can easily be made with or without Reynold’s Wrap Slow Cooker Liners.)
2.) Over the next 5 hours, the sticks of butter will look like this (how adorable is it that I made sure to capture the time in every photo?!):
(Note: I no longer own this slower cooker. It broke down on me. While using my new slow cooker–recommended by Cooks Illustrated, BTW–I’ve come to realize that my old slow cooker ran waaay too hot. So, despite the fact that my original instructions advise you to cook the butter in the slow cooker on low heat, apparently the slow cooker that I owned at the time was essentially operating at high heat. Bottom line: It really doesn’t matter if you cook the butter on low heat or high heat. Your ghee may never form a crust like the ghee shown in these pictures. But when you notice that the top of the liquid is clear yellow and the bottom of the slow cooker is full of whitish gunk, your ghee is done.)
RESIST ALL TEMPTATION TO STIR IT! As you can see in the final picture above, the liquid looks burnt. But underneath the burnt crust is the clear, separated ghee. You’ll see that the bottom of the crock pot is also coated with burnt solids. All of that will be strained out during the next step.
Place a piece of cheesecloth over a container. Keep in mind that in order to strain this much ghee, you will end up using several pieces of cheesecloth.
The photos above show my original, less-efficient way of straining the ghee. Since 2008, I happened to find an awesome ladle/strainer utensil that has significantly cut down on the amount of time it takes to strain the ghee:
I saw it a few years back at Home Goods and had to have it!
Place the strainer over a bowl or container. Line the strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth.
Using a spoon, cup, or ladle, pour the liquid into the cheesecloth-lined strainer, being very careful not to disturb the sediment on the bottom of the slow cooker!
After straining the ghee, this is what it will look like. (The above photo is from 2008. Now, I store the ghee in a glass container with an air-tight lid.) Allow the liquid to solidify. Doing so will ensure that every bit of burnt lactose and casein is removed.
Strain all of the ghee that you can–without disturbing the sediment at the bottom of the slow cooker. Now, if you’ve lined your crock pot with a Reynold’s Wrap Slow Cooker Liner, you’ll easily be able to strain much more ghee:
Pour ALL of the contents from the Reynolds Wrap Slow Cooker Liner into a second container (yes, it’s supposed to look like a mixture of vomit and urine!)
Allow the contents to separate and for the ghee to harden (this could take about a day)
Now you’ve got two containers: one container of pure, strained ghee, and another container of ghee with what looks like vomit at the bottom. Very carefully inspect the top of the FIRST container of pure, strained ghee for any brown specks, as seen in the photo above. Scrape these specks out of the container with a spoon. Removing them prevents mold from growing and leaves you with 100% lard.
Now here comes the fun/gross part (I’m a stay-at-home mom so I’m easily amused): salvaging the remaining ghee from the second container! As you can see in the photo above, I’ve started VERY carefully removing the yellow, solidified ghee from the ghee/vomit container by gently scraping it with a spoon and placing the solid ghee into (yet a third) container.
Gently remove the ghee until you can’t help but break through to the vomit-like substance below.
So gross! When you hit the “vomit layer”, cease and desist all attempts to remove any more ghee and dispose of the remaining contents of the container!
(Back in 2008, I actually went through the trouble of separating the ghee into individual 1/4 cup increments, and my original instructions showed you how to do so. Five years later and I’m a lot more . . . “practical”: just separate the ghee from the burnt lactose and caseine, leave it in a big ol’ container, and call it a day! Dividing the ghee into 1/4 cup increments meant that I didn’t have to measure out the ghee if I was using it for baking purposes. If a recipe called for “1/2 cup butter”, I could just replace it with two of my “ghee cups”. But in the long-run, it wasn’t worth the effort. It would only take me an extra minute to slather a few spoonfuls of ghee out of its container and into a measuring cup. So if you happen to be OCD or neurotic or crazy, by all means–separate the ghee into 1/4 cup increments. But if you live in the real world, just dump the ghee into a container with an air-tight lid and spend your “free time” cleaning poop off your couch, like I do.)
Here are a few 1/4 cup increments of pure ghee (pre-autism diagnosis!)
Congratulations! You now have yourself a stockpile of homemade ghee, AND you’ve just created the main ingredient in almost every one of my GF-CF-SF recipes!!! Plus, you’ve saved yourself a ton of money by making it in your slow cooker! Yes, the process seems intimidating and messy, but it’s like riding a bike–you do it once and realize you never want to do it again! 😉
Like I mentioned, you don’t need to refrigerate ghee because it’s pure lard. I keep my ghee on the countertop in a glass container with an air-tight lid. If the weather is hot, the ghee will get all melty. If the weather is cold, the ghee will solidify. Don’t be concerned that it’s gone bad! As long as you thoroughly removed every burnt particle during the straining process, you’re golden. As golden as your ghee! (Yes, that last sentence makes me want to barf as well.)