So this week we took on the unfermented milk products section of McGee’s dairy chapter. Whoa. There’s a lot in there. Milk, cream, butter (and butter substitutes), and ice cream. Some really great stuff in terms of why different dairy products behave the way they do when heated, agitated, cooled, foamed, or whatever other kitchen treatment you might be able to come up with.
In any case, remember that butter we made? We turned it into a beurre blanc sauce, following the recipe from The Joy of Cooking, and yes, we used what Anthony Bourdain has referred to as the “cream cheat“. We had a little cream left over from making butter, and it’s not like we have a bunch of chafing dishes to keep the sauce “blood warm” to keep it from breaking. But before we get to how we ate it, let’s stop a moment and talk about the science of it. Butter is an emulsion, much like mayonnaise. Butter is a little unique though: most of the emulsions we’re familiar with are of fat-in-water; in butter’s case, it’s water-in-fat. That helps to explain some of butter’s various behaviors in the kitchen. In the case of the beurre blanc sauce, it’s essentially a reconversion of butter back into cream. When you melt butter in water, the fat molecules are released into the water. Meanwhile, the butter’s own water – which still has some remnants of the proteins and such that were in the milk water – merges seamlessly with the cooking water, and you end up with cream, albeit a more “fragile” cream than the original-straight-from-the-cow stuff. The fats and water will separate from each other at temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (the more fragile fat globule membranes start to leak) or below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (the fat globules start to return to their solid phase, forming crystals which break the membranes).
The really awesome bit that this is telling us though, is that butter can be used to thicken and enrich just about any water-based sauce. The next time I make those really delicious, heart-attack-inducing pork chops with mustard cream sauce, for instance, I can probably step back a bit on the cornstarch (and avoid the risk of a grainy sauce) by whisking in a pat of butter or two at the end when I’m deglazing the pan. And using a bit more butter in that particular recipe surely won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, right?
We poured it over some really quite delicious chicken breasts, each of which was rolled up with mascarpone in the middle and wrapped with pancetta before roasting. It was, more or less, a riff on this recipe. Essentially, we thought that sounded great, but:
- we wanted to do something slightly different,
- we figured that pounding the chicken flat and then essentially sandwiching it between the greasy pork and the cheese would help the breast stay tender and moist, and
- we went with a relatively classic beurre blanc, instead of adding the orange juice.
We didn’t take detailed enough notes to give you a really good recipe, but essentially we swapped in pancetta and mascarpone for the prosciutto and mozzarella. After pounding the chicken flat, we mixed some diced preserved lemon into the mascarpone, then spread it across the chicken. Rolled those up and wrapped them in pancetta, and into the oven to roast. Sauteed spinach and some mashed parstatoes (that’s parsnips and potatoes) on the side, with a sort of lake of delicious, overly rich, probably-going-to-cause-a-heart-attack-if-we-continue-eating-it sauce all around the plate. This was a really, really good meal for date night. That said, the next time that we feel like we’ve given it enough time to completely clear our system and we can therefore risk eating it again, there are a lot of ways that we think might be fun to play with the sauce, for instance using some hard apple cider in place of the white wine. Again, though our bench is deep, we have no original ideas . The thought was spurred by something we heard on the Splendid Table the last time we were headed out to visit the Land of the Grumpasaurae. Also, the mascarpone filling melted and leaked out a bit too much, methinks. I don’t know if this calls for a slightly firmer cheese or a firmer physical barrier to leakage. We will continue to investigate.