"Ghee whizz: The Gippsland team turning butter into gold" The Age Good Food Guide

by Gippsland Jersey

By Richard Cornish, 

Gippsland chef Shalem Raj makes good ghee. It is so good, in fact, that fellow Indian expats have been driving hours just to get their hands on some of the clarified butter.

Raj owns a takeaway in the back streets of Drouin, an old dairy town in West Gippsland. The Bangalore-born chef's main trade is serving homemade pies to passing tradies, but two years ago Raj started experimenting with ghee, making small batches in a 20-litre brass pot.

Ghee is a deep yellow butterfat essential to many Indian cuisines. Word got out about a small-batch ghee being made 90 kilometres east of Melbourne, and Indian cooks and chefs from around Victoria started heading to Raj's Kitchen to get their hands on a jar.

"To have the support of my countrymen was very encouraging," says Raj.

In September, he teamed up with an old friend, co-owner of Gippsland Jersey dairy company, Sallie Jones. A decade earlier the two met when Raj was a student, staying at Jones' father-in-law's student boarding house in Melbourne.

"I met this beautiful young man who so eager to work in hospitality, yet no one would take him on," says Jones, who set Raj up with a job at The Outpost Retreat restaurant in Noojee.

 Outpost Retreat owner John Snelling sold the business seven years later and Raj moved from fine dining to fast food when he bought the Drouin takeaway. When Jones discovered Raj was toying with ghee, she saw an opportunity.

"Our company makes butter," she says. "We know how to deliver dairy around the state and Raj cooks exceptional food. Ghee is becoming popular, so it was pretty simple."

Jones now supplies Raj with freshly made cultured butter from her factory in East Gippsland.

"In India ghee is made with cultured butter too," says Raj. "It brings much flavour to the food it is cooked with."

Raj invested in a 300-litre hand-beaten copper pot imported from his home country. One day a week, he turns off the pie oven and turns on the stove to load the pot with Gippsland Jersey butter.

"It takes me six hours to turn the butter into ghee," says Raj. "I have to constantly stir the pot to remove the solids that include protein and lactose as the water in the butter slowly evaporates."

At the end of a long day, he pours the liquid ghee into jars, allowing it to cool and solidify. The resulting product is rich and smooth with a nutty, slightly mushroomy aroma and notes of caramel.

Raj also uses the leftover milk solids to make the filling for his butter chicken pies that have developed a cult following amongst local tradies.

"We call [the milk solid filling] kova," says Raj. "And it is even more valuable than the ghee itself!"

How to cook with ghee

Ghee is pure butterfat without the protein and lactose that is in butter. Chef Shalem Raj says that is an essential ingredient when making butter chicken, an Anglified modern classic.

In India, cumin, mustard seeds and curry leaves are added to hot ghee and briefly cooked to make dhal thake, which is poured over dahl prior to serving. A tablespoon of ghee added to a pot of steamed rice will also enrich its flavour and texture.

It can be used to cook spices and pastes in Indian dishes, or as you would use oil to cook stir fries and start braises. Roll par-cooked potatoes in melted ghee before roasting, use it to fry croutons, or mix in mashed garlic to make butter for spreading on steak.

Buy Ghee here

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