Sauces keep curdling or separating

cookie8September 21, 2010

The past few times I made gravy type sauces or any cream type sauce it has been separating and looking a lot less pretty than I like for serving. It's still good but how do I keep it creamy looking. For tonight, I made the one posted by David in the mustard cookalong and it was very good but it wasn't exactly nice to look at as I did try to make a nice dinner tonight. I always thought it was the alcohol that was causing the curdling in other recipes I tried but the same thing happened with this one that contains no alcohol? What's up with my technique?

MQ's Steak Diane for Two (Mqmoi)

Mark Bittman, New York Times

2 6-ounce beef fillets, cut from the tenderloin (filet mignon), preferably not too lean

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon minced shallot or onion

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, or to taste (I added 1/2 t. extra because dh likes it)

� cup heavy cream or half-and-half

Lemon juice to taste, optional

Chopped fresh chives or parsley leaves for garnish.

1. Flatten fillets a bit with the palm of your hand, the back of a skillet or a small mallet; they should be about 1 inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and a lot of pepper. In small skillet, preferably one just large enough to hold fillets, combine oil and tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. When butter foam melts, sear steaks on both sides, just until browned, no more than 2 minutes a side. Remove to platter.

2. Wipe pan clean with towel; add remaining butter over medium heat, with shallot or onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in mustard, Worcestershire and cream. Add some salt and a fair amount of pepper. Stir once or twice, then taste and adjust seasoning.

3. Keeping mixture at a steady simmer, return meat and accumulated juices to pan. Cook, turning two or three times, until meat is done to your liking, just 1 or 2 minutes a side for medium-rare. Remove to a plate, and add lemon juice, if using, salt and pepper to the sauce as needed. Spoon sauce over meat, garnish with chives or parsley, and serve.

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At what point does it curdle? Did you add the lemon juice?

It looks like the meat is cooked through in the sauce, then removed again, then lemon juice added. The timing on this sequence can be tricky if you cook the sauce at too high a temperature or cook it down too much maybe. The butter solids could start separating. Lemon juice could cause curdling.

Are you using real butter and Dijon mustard? Both those ingredients are good sauce emulsifiers but both can separate at certain temp.

What say ye CF food scientists?

For this kind of pan sauce I like to use a whisk to help incorporate the ingredients together.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 6:27PM
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I didn't add the lemon. I did use real butter and dijon. I did put a lid on it. Do you think the steam did something to it?

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 7:33PM
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Yes, that's probably it cookie8. For pan sauces, I never put the cover on. Depending on the ingredients (especially cream) they also tend to form a skin, so I just whisk occasionally until done.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 8:40PM
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The more fat in the dairy, the less prone to curdle. So try using more heavy cream and less half and half.

The more heat, the more prone to curdle. Covering the pan was probably contributing.

The more acid, the more prone to curdle. Use lemon zest instead of lemon juice.

Finally, you can add flour or cornstarch to the sauce, this will mostly prevent curdling as well as thicken the sauce. I don't do a roux, just mix a bit of flour or cornstarch with some of the pan liquid in a little bowl, then whisk this slurry into the sauce, early on in the cooking process.

It is normal to have to whisk pan sauce a bit to make it pretty and not lumpy or separated looking. That's different from the dairy curdling as you had.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 10:50PM
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Yep....what John said....if you need another opinion.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 10:54PM
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You may also use Wondra flour for thickening

    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 2:38PM
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