Alex Eats: Tangy Creams

by in Food Network Chef, How-to, September 13th, 2011

tangy dairy creams
alex guarnaschelliEvery week, Alex Guarnaschelli, host of Alex’s Day Off, shares with readers what she’s eating — whether it’s from the farmers’ market or fresh off the boat, she’ll have you craving everything from comfort food to seasonal produce.

As a lover of all things dairy, I especially like sour cream, yogurt, crème fraiche and buttermilk because they add “tang” to my cooking. They get their base flavor from friendly bacterial cultures that actively convert the natural sugars in milk lactic acid through fermentation. So if each of these four tangy dairy variants gets its signature acid zip the same way, what makes them different?

Sour Cream: Take cream, add those miraculous cultures, allow fermentation to partially run its course, and voila. It’s has such a thick texture, it can stand on its own. A dollop of sour cream on a baked Idaho or sweet potato is just delicious. I love adding sour cream to blue cheese dressing instead of mayonnaise. Hot blueberry pancakes topped with cold sour cream? It’s so creamy against the fruit.

Yogurt: Add cultures to whole milk and allow the fermentation process to run its full course and you get yogurt. In its simplest form, I love it with a spoonful of jam and sweet fruits, like mangoes or bananas. Try making a sauce for a simple grilled chicken kebab by mixing yogurt with lemon juice, cucumber, salt, pepper and a touch of paprika — it’s cool and refreshing. Yogurt also takes on spices well. Curry powder, dried ginger and cinnamon are a few I think pair best with yogurt.

Crème Fraiche: Crème fraiche is actually less sour than American sour cream. Crème fraiche is also higher in fat and lower in protein than sour cream. It’s great as a condiment — with berries or salted fish roe — but a dollop added to whipped cream can add a special tang and richness. I love stirring crème fraiche into vegetable soups (carrot or tomato are my personal favorites) to add thickness and rich flavor.

Buttermilk: Today’s supermarket buttermilk refers to homogenized, pasteurized whole milk that is industrially produced with lactic acid cultures. Buttermilk is the only one of the bunch that you can’t drink or eat as-is. Instead, buttermilk can be the spark-plug ingredient of a marinade. I use it to tenderize chicken and squid. Try whisking some into fork-crushed potatoes for a leaner (and tangy) alternative to cream and butter. It’s also great for baking — my mother’s corn bread would never be as tender without the addition of buttermilk.

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Comments (6)

  1. @laurabray says:

    "Buttermilk is the only one of the bunch that you can’t drink or eat as-is" You *clearly* never met my grandmother. :-) Her fridge always had a carton of buttermilk. I never saw her cook with it. But her favorite snack was day-old cornbread soaked in buttermilk. I never got the appeal, but she adored it…. Alamo A La Carte

    • DGB says:

      Buttermilk is also very smoothing for upset stomach. I drink a glass every night before I go to bed – this helps me sleep. Bake with it too – have good cake recipes – also use with mash potatoes and cornbread.
      I tip a glass on buttermilk to your grandmother too!!

  2. DGB says:

    With you being a judge on Chopped – and a private chef, are you afraid of gaining to much weight. This is enabling you to have poor health. By way – I love your hair in a lighter color very becoming. Enjoying watching you as a Chopped judge. . just be careful and eat healthy food.

  3. momslifeponderings says:

    I never thought of putting buttermilk in my mashed potatoes instead of butter and cream. I'm going to give it a try this week. Thanks!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I drink @ least two big glasses of buttermilk every day–i don't care for sweet milk. Maybe it's a Southern thing. We also had cornbread in a glass of buttermilk as a snack.

  5. 05worth says:

    Buttermilk has always been a common drink – at least in the rural South where I grew up! You need to get out more, Alex.

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