Smen is a traditional butter-based cooking oil commonly used in Moroccan cooking. It is usually made using the milk of sheep or goats and left to age to give it a distinctive, pungent flavour. In southern Morocco, Berbers store smen in a sealed earthenware jar, which is then buried for a year or longer until it ages. This aged smell is considered especially magnificent, with a unique flavour resembling Gorgonzola cheese. It represents the riches of the house and brought out on special occasions for honoured guests to sniff!!
The distinctive, almost cheesy flavour of smen and its deep, pungent aroma is used to enhance many Moroccan savoury dishes. It is traditional to add a spoonful to soups, mix a few tablespoons with couscous grains before serving and also used in the cooking of tagines and kdaras.
We present you here with a sample recipe for smen that you can use in recipes for tagine or kdaras or to flavour your couscous before serving. Note that if using more than a teaspoon of Smen as an ingredient in your cooking, you shouldn’t have to add any additional salt until you taste your food first.
450 g (1 lb) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon coarse salt
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat. Bring to the boil and simmer over low heat. The butter will separate into three layers: froth on top, a thick layer of yellow butterfat (smen) and milk solids at the bottom. Carefully spoon the froth and continue simmering until the milk solids at the bottom turn light brown.
Discard the milk solids in the saucepan and strain the clear liquid into a cheesecloth. Repeat this process until the smen is absolutely clear.
Stir in the salt and pour into a sterile glass container. Cover and store in a cool place or in the refrigerator. This should keep for six months or longer.