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Please help with cream sauce recipe!

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 
So I happen to be a big fan of rich cream sauces for pasta. I've been experimenting for the last few weeks, and while I can make an okay sauce it just never gets as rich and as thick as what I have at restaurants. Can anyone please take a look at what I generally do and give me some suggestions? I'd prefer to avoid adding cheese to it because I try not to eat cheese. I usually start by cooking chopped shallots in EVOO until they start to soften. I then use my garlic press on a couple of cloves of garlic and add that to the mix. After that cooks a little (with some sea salt and black pepper), I add a splash of white wine and let the alcohol cook out. Then I add whipping cream. I sometimes put a little corn starch in the mix to try to thicken it up some, but it doesn't seem to help very much. And of course I often add other ingredients for flavor, like chopped capers or dried tarragon. In the end, it tastes so-so but is definitely not restaurant-quality. It is too soupy and not rich enough. Any suggestions are appreciated!!
post #2 of 32
Just curious: why do you avoid cheese?
post #3 of 32
I melt butter, soften shallots and garlic, add wine and cook the alcohol out, add flour and cook for a few minutes to get rid of the flour taste, add chicken stock sometimes, then add half and half, milk, or heavy cream. . Whisk or stir until thickened. Add shredded cheese- parm/ romano/asiago and stir until melted. Always thick and creamy.
post #4 of 32
You seem to have your own ideas for what you want and don't want in your cream sauce for pasta. They're not my ideas, but so what? "De gustibus non disputandum," which translates as, "you're old enough to know what you want to eat." Wisdom and palate notwithstanding, you're the victim of bad technique. Let's see if we can't replace it with good.

First: Corn starch is the wrong thickener. It's wrong for wine, and wrong for the fairly rough handling you're dishing out to a dairy sauce. Ixnay the corn starch.

Here are five ways to go which rely on good technique. There are others, but these are the most basic.

Contemporary, straight reduction: Change the olive oil for butter. What made you think of combining olive oil and cream to begin with? Use whipping cream or heavy whipping cream. Add the wine and garlic to the shallots and butter, and reduce by at least 2/3 before adding cream. Do not add raw garlic directly to cream. Add the cream as the last ingredient and reduce at a simmer until desired consistency -- that is, reduce by about 1/2. (You can help the low-heat reduction process along by using a wide pan -- a lot of surface area speeds reduction. There's even a special shape called a saucier in French.) This will be a very rich, but still fairly loose sauce.

Traditional, egg (protein) thickened: Cook as above, but while the cream is reducing, break one egg for each cup of cream and beat them in a separate bowl. When the cream has reduced by about 1/4 to 1/3, reduce the heat to a low simmer; then (counter-intuitively) remove the sauce from the flame. Add a few tbs of hot cream to the beaten eggs to "temper" them. Then whisk the cream/egg mixture into the sauce. Return the sauce to the heat and whisk slowly and continuously until thickened. About 2 or 3 minutes. This is even richer than the version above, and nicely thickened. The term for using an egg this way is called "binding the sauce."

Traditional, bechamel variation: Change the cream for light cream (1/2 and 1/2). Proportion butter and light cream as follows: 2 tbs butter for each cup of cream. Saute the shallots in butter, add the garlic. Stir and when garlic becomes fragrant add 1 tbs flour for each 2 tbs butter. Cook the flour in the butter, at medium-low to medium heat, stirring frequently. The flour will at first smell raw, then as the smell disappears it will slowly change color. When the color becomes honey-blond, add the whine all at once. The wine will thicken all at once, and the mixture will look clumpy. Don't worry about how it looks, stir and cook until the raw alcohol smell disappears. Then raise the heat to medium-high and add the cream. If the cream is cold, you can add it in batches, letting it come to a simmer before adding more -- stirring frequently all the while. When all the cream is in, bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let it fully thicken -- about three minutes.

Traditional, veloute variation: Prepare the bechamel variation as above, but with the following changes: Replace each cup of cream with 1/4 cup of stock and 3/4 cup of cream. Add the stock after the wine, but before adding the cream.

Traditional, allemande variation: Prepare either the bechamel or the veloute variation as above. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, beat one egg for each 2 cups of cream. When the sauce is fully thickened, temper the eggs, add them to the sauce off the flame, and finish the sauce at a simmer, whisking constantly -- as already described. When the sauce is fully set up you may add a little more wine. This will be a fairly stiff sauce with a fresh, wine taste.

With all of these, you might consider adding, after cooking, some fresh or frozen peas and some cooked ham cut in small dice, or crumbled, crisp bacon. The residual heat will be enough to finish them.

Hope this helps,

PS Cooking the flour in the butter as described in the bechamel, and as required for the veloute and allemande is called "making a roux (pronounced "roo.") This makes for a very smooth sauce. Adding the flour directly to liquid sometimes results in lumps; also, the flour does not cook as well.

PPS These things are legitimate techniques in Italian cooking and have Italian as well as French names. But (a) I don't know them, and (b) French is the lingua Franca of cooking. Who knew?
post #5 of 32
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all of the information! Do I have to use real butter, or will margarine do? I rarely keep actual butter on-hand these days. And to respond to Anneke, I pretty much gave up most cheese a while back, after I stopped eating red meat. It's a step I took that will potentially result in my becoming a vegan eventually. Check out the book "Skinny *****" if that interests you at all. If not, I understand... cheese is amazing, and to each his/her own. :)
post #6 of 32
I'm sorry, I don't understand. You did say "cream sauce", right? Not judging, again, just curious...
post #7 of 32
Yes, real butter. Margarine without either trans fat or real milk solids simply won't work. Margarine with trans-fat and milk solids is less healthy and contains almost as much animal products as cream.

As to the vegan thing, good luck with that.

post #8 of 32
Thread Starter 
Yes... Someone can consume cream and milk without consuming cheese, I believe.
post #9 of 32
You might be happy with the effect some finely ground dried white beans would have in thickening your sauce. Put some white beans in a coffee grinder, grind to a powder. Best if you have a clean grinder for this. Add a tablespoon or so at a time and stir and let simmer a few minutes and adjust as needed.

This isn't as powerful athickener as roux or cornstarch, but is very neutral and won't break in the same way those do with extended cooking.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #10 of 32
Sure. The only relevant difference between cheese and milk/cream is potentially animal rennet. Is this what's keeping you from cheese?

The reason I ask is that there are animal friendly alternatives to renneted cheeses.
post #11 of 32
Thread Starter 
Giving up cheese is mostly just my first step towards giving up most dairy. I guess it sounds kind of stupid to come here asking about a cream sauce recipe and then talking about becoming vegan, but I'm taking it one step at a time. I waited nearly 4 years after giving up red meat before giving up cheese. I like to take it slowly :) I know that there are soy cheeses available, but I've never tried to cook with them. Does anyone have any experience cooking with soy cheese?
post #12 of 32
I wouldn't bother. Proper cheese has 4 ingredients, all natural. Analog cheeses, while being extremely high in salt, are also full of chemicals. It's not a worthwile compromise.
post #13 of 32
this is off topic a bit but i don;t get the no dairy business.

If it's for the sake of the animals, not to have them treated badly, then there are sources of good milk and eggs that don;t involve bad treatment of the cows and chickens. (Indians consider cows sacred and yet their diet is full of milk and milk products).

If it's for health, then forget the substitutes, and eat a diet of vegetables and (real) vegetable products and forget cream sauces of any kind - you'll just get some crappy artificial ersatz version that will not satisfy and will ruin your palate. If you're really into vegan, you'll have to develop a taste for it esp if you want to eat a balanced diet and get enough protein. Whole grains and legumes will be your basic diet and lots of vegetables.
If you start using margarine, you are goign to ruin your health, not enhance it.

If it's for happiness and general well-being, then bring on the milk!
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
post #14 of 32
Thread Starter 
In the future I'll be sure to avoid all of this by refusing to explain my preferences/needs. Thanks for the response.
post #15 of 32
You gotta know this board is full of people who hold time honored food traditions in high esteem.

Anyway, for "restaurant quality" cream sauces, you'll need to use a butter/flour roux, or, you'll need to reduce the cream a little bit. IMO the best cream alfredo is pasta tossed in butter and cream.
post #16 of 32
Yup! And ditto to many of the "Culinary based" responses.:cool:
post #17 of 32
Jeremy, surely you expected Siduri's response. It's a bit like asking a Catholic priest for communion and telling him you reject the Holy Trinity. Please don't be offended. Most of us respect vegetarians and vegans, but as passionate food lovers, we question everthing and anything that imposes restrictions to gastronomical pleasure. Surely you'll agree that's a healthy thing to do. Like most of us here, I'm always curious as to what would trigger such a drastic measure in a person; becoming a vegan is a really big deal when you love food.

You are under no obligation to disclose your position or philosophy, of course. I did ask you those questions at the beginning of the thread in order for us to give you a coherent answer. Good luck.
post #18 of 32
Even us foodies eat vegan dishes, usually as sides to accompany our protein. Kudos to you for trying to make a healthy change.

I do however shrieeek at the thought of margarine!! It's such a no no for a healthy lifestyle as well as delicious food.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."


"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

post #19 of 32
sorry if i was offensive. I just found it kind of strange that you would cut out RED meat (which means you eat other kinds of meat?) and cut out butter and cheese but not cream.
There are plenty of good vegan dishes, but they don;t involve cream sauce.

My daughter, by the way, is a vegetarian (she never liked meat- red OR white) and i cooked for her for years, and though she is not vegan, and i always made lots of vegetables anyway (meat cost three or four times as much here as in the states), i learned quite a bit about nutrition over the years that she lived at home and expanded my repertoire of vegetarian dishes. There's plenty of good food out there to eat if you don;t try to make meat dishes without meat, or cream dishes without milk products.
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
post #20 of 32
Sorry if this sounds stupid, but here it goes..How does the difference of milk,half and half or heavy cream change a roux recipe...Fat content, taste or thickness? Or all of the above..I have seen similar recipes calling for different ingredients.
post #21 of 32
Try making a Sauce Bechamel and then adding that to your sauteed shallots and garlic. Do not add raw reduce with wine to half

If you add a stock of any kind it then becomes a Veloute

Personally I use half Bechamel and half heavy cream. Sauce Bechamel recipe is available in any good cookbook.

Cornstarch is shlock house syle and should not be used, if you make it to thin add a Manni butter and cook a bit further to thicken, being careful not to scorch. Use a good heavy saucepan.:bounce:
post #22 of 32
First, a "roux recipe" includes only flour and fat. You're talking about bechamel variations -- and the thread wanders around to veloutes, too.

With that over... The important distinction between the different types of dairy you mention is relative fat content. The differences made to roux-thickened sauces are largely in smoothness and mouth feel. If it seems like I'm dancing around the "fat content" thing, that's because it's easy to control or alter the total fat content of the sauce by adjusting the fat in the roux as by the type of dairy. However, cream will always give you a silkier more unctuous sauce than milk. But, cream can easily make the sauce too rich.

It all depends what you're doing. If the sauce is going to serve as a base from a baked item, say a mornay going into mac and cheese, I'd be inclined to go richer -- probably 1/2 and 1/2 (aka light cream). But if the sauce were to be used to dress a piece of fish, I'd go with straight milk.

post #23 of 32
Just traditionally, for the sake of education, and not meant to correct... True "Alfredo" ("true" in the sense that it's the "Alfredo" enjoyed by Mary Pickford and Doug Fairbanks when they visited Rome on their honeymoon) doesn't contain any cream at all. It's butter and cheese only. I've written enough about it in CT already without going into more detail. You can search here, or just as easily google "Alfredo + Pickford + Rome" to get the facts.

post #24 of 32
Great answer thank you. I will search the alfredo sauce.
post #25 of 32
I realize that the OP is long since gone, probably, but a few notes nonetheless.

1. If still using cream (but not butter, etc.), you can reduce cream amazingly far without breaking it. Try reducing it on a medium-gentle simmer, in a wide pan, all by itself. Keep stirring occasionally as you go. You're going to need a heck of a lot of cream to produce the napping-thick result you seem to want, though.

2. Try white miso in your sauce. I mean WHITE, not sort of pale. It's very often called Saikyo-miso, though there are other kinds. Add this to your simmering cream and whisk in, then whisk often and DO NOT let it come to a rolling boil: miso at about 210*F changes flavor and consistency pretty radically, and you want the under-210* style. This will give you thickness, sweetness, and depth, but will be distinctively not-quite-like what you're used to. You may have trouble finding miso like this, depending on where you live.

3. Roux can be made with flour and any fat you like. You just have to be more assiduous about it sometimes. I suggest bringing a wide pan to high heat, adding 4Tb canola oil, and waiting until it nearly smokes. Add 4 Tb flour and whisk the heck out of it until it all combines, then remove from heat, shut the heat down to a bare minimum, and whisk over that heat for 2-3 minutes. Add your cream a bit at a time, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, and cook until the desired thickness. You may wish to try cooking until the flour is a pale brown color, like peanut butter, before adding the cream; this produces a faint but distinctive "nutty" flavor that starts to push you in the direction of New Orleans. If you take it well into red, add an appropriate structure of Creole flavoring after the cream, and cook the **** out of it, you've entered the instant-death-zone of New Orleans Cookery, where only the strong survive and the weak eat too much, get happy, get fat, and die painfully. I say you're up to it and should try -- everybody should. Make mine etouffee and I don't care what goes in, I like them all.
post #26 of 32
Do you mind if we talk a little more about the length of time to cook a roux? I generally cook mine for a few minutes until is starts to brown slightly, then I add my milk/half and half/heavy cream or chicken broth.

I've never experimented with cooking my roux for an extended amount of time like the previous poster mentions.

My understanding is to make a creole type roux I must use oil in place of the butter, is this correct?

What kind of recipes would I use a peanut butter consistency type roux for? I've love to give it a try. Thanks!
post #27 of 32
Sort of. The ambiguity with butter revolves around not burning the milk solids, and can be dealt with by very careful temperature management. However, it's not worth it. Oil or lard are preferable. Oil is modern, but lard is very good.

Interesting word choice. It's peanut butter color we're talking about, not the consistency of the roux. But what makes it so interesting is that the darker the flour (and the roux along with it) gets, the less thickening power it has. You could use a medium brown roux (peanut butter colored) for a sea-food etouffe, as the base for a poultry veloute (aka turkey gravy), or ...

post #28 of 32
If you're going to make a dark roux for Cajun or Creole food, it's best to use a high-heat fat. I like canola oil, but yes, lard works extremely well. Butter is quite tricky, though clarified butter (or ghee) works well; the disadvantage of clarified is that it doesn't have much butter flavor and it's bad for you. Anyway, pick a high-heat fat.

The old-fashioned way is to heat the oil in a large cast-iron pan over medium heat. When it's thoroughly hot, add an equal quantity of flour and whisk it in. Keep whisking or stirring, being sure to keep the whole quantity moving -- don't miss the bits in the corners of the pan, for example. Keep going until the color is like peanut butter (pale brown roux), a rich rust-brown (red roux), or getting even darker -- it's possible to make a black roux. If at any point you see black flecks in it, it has burned and you should throw it away, as there is nothing you can do to fix it and it will taste very bitter. This process will take roughly 15-25 minutes, depending. You MAY NOT STOP STIRRING at any point in the process. When it's done, get it off the heat and keep stirring fairly rapidly for a few minutes so that it stops cooking.

The quick way is to do exactly the same thing over high heat. Add the flour 1/4 cup at a time when the oil is smoking hot. Whisk rapidly, and watch out for splashing, as the mixture is dangerously hot. The process is precisely the same, but will take about 3-5 minutes, and there is a much more serious danger of scorching. On the other hand, you can do a deep red roux in 5 minutes plus the final off-heat whisking to cool.

If your recipe calls for rapid cooling of the roux by adding minced vegetables, cook the roux a slightly lighter color than you ultimately want. I don't understand precisely why, but the steam produced when you throw chopped veggies into blazing-hot roux darkens the roux noticeably.

For expert commentary on this process, read Paul Prudhomme's Lousiana Kitchen.
post #29 of 32
Great directions Chris, thank you! I'll give this a shot this month.
post #30 of 32
Want to save time. This is what the hotel kitchen did years ago.

Take 2 sheet pans pour flour on both put into a 350-375 oven check and stir flour when 1 pan starts to color and smell like hazelnuts pull it out this is the base for your blonde roux. keep the other pan in till it really darken but not burns pull that out that is your dark roux.
Your white roux is made on top of the stove in a saucepan. Store the 2 cooled flours in airtight containers. Now when a recipe calls for a specific color or kind of roux you are 3/4 there.
A new orleans type roux is cooked much longer and constant stirring, best way to make it is in a wok as there are no corners for anything to burn in, and it can take high heat, if not done correctly it will burn and be bitter, practice makes perfect.:bounce:
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