Smen, clarified goat butter, gives that authentic taste to traditional Moroccan food.
Smen, made from goat butter, is becoming rare in Moroccan kitchens. Vegetable oils, so conveniently poured out of a bottle, are the preferred cooking fat of modern cooks. But as it is with our sourdough, so it is with fermented butter. The essences of all good things develop at their own pace.
Middle-Eastern fermented butter is sometimes packed away and buried in the ground for years, the flavor becoming stronger with the passage of time. In traditional households, the older the smen is, the more highly prized.
Old recipes call for kneading fresh butter with oregano – a highly anti-microbial herb that you can read about in our ABCs of medicinal culinary herbs, and salt. (We’ve written about the surprising properties of salt in this post.) Once treated that way and then buried in a nice cool cache, far from heat and light, no wonder the butter stays edible. The color, though, changes from that appetizing light yellow to quite a dark brown. The odor and taste are that of aged cheese.
There are different recipes for smen. Some like to cook it gently like ghee, then salt it and put it away for a month in a cool, dark place. In Yemen, the butter is gently cooked that way, spiced with fenugreek while still liquid, and called samanah.
Not being fond of fenugreek, I prefer the Moroccan version presented in the video below, where the butter isn’t cooked but kneaded together with cooled oregano tea and then set aside to mature.
I admit I’ve never eaten smen taken out of a buried crock, but do enjoy it fresh, in cooking and just lightly spread on warm bread.
More tasty ideas for your table on Green Prophet:
Photo of Smen by Miriam Kresh. Miriam also writes a food blog.