Smen is a type of clarified butter popular in North African regions- it is free of milk solids, and its fat percentage and boiling point are higher, but most importantly it keeps for a long time outside the refrigerator. Known as Semneh in Yemen, it is used as a kind of clarified preserved butter.
There are many versions of preserved clarified butter in other cuisines – in India they call it “ghee” and Ethiopians call it “niter kibbeh” – and the difference between these and Yemeni smeneh is the seasoning: in Yemeni cuisine it is customary to season smeneh with fenugreek seeds, and some even burn a section of grape vine and smoke the jar (Esther, Tamar’s older sister, still makes it this way, but Tamar prefers to prepare a cleaner smeneh). She uses smeneh when rolling out her wonderful sabaya or cubana dough, but also for deep-frying and even cooking omelets or French toast.
When I told Tamar that you can buy ready-made ghee in stores, she snorted with contempt and asked “What for?”, and honestly? Preparing smeneh is so easy, and really only requires keeping your eye on the pot and a good amount of empty jars. Since it is keeps for a long time, you can prepare a large amount of smeneh in a batch and keep it in the refrigerator (and even on the counter). Keep in mind that 2.2 pounds/one kilogram of butter will yield about 500 grams of clarified butter.
Ingredients for Yemeni Clarified Butter
- 2.2 lbs (1 kilogram) butter cut into cubes
1. Melt butter in a tall, narrow sauce pan. Lower heat and cook at a gentle bubble. Check from time to time that the butter is not burning and skim off any foam that forms on the surface.
2. After 20-30 minutes, when the foam stops forming and the remaining liquid is clear - remove from the stove and pour the clarified butter into a jar. If any golden sediment remain at the bottom of the pot, filter the butter through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth. Keep in the fridge (Tamar usually keeps one jar on the counter and the rest in the fridge).