In Praise of Crème Fraîche

Lately I’ve discovered the wonders of crème fraîche.  Similar to sour cream, but softer, less sour, and thicker, this tangy concoction can be purchased just about everywhere these days, including at your local supermarket.  Making your own is apparently quite simple, though I’ve yet to try it.  All you do is slowly heat one cup of heavy whipping cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized) and then stir in a tablespoon of buttermilk. This mixture is left to sit, covered, in a warm draught-free place for around 24 hours. It is ready when it is the consistency of thick cream. If it still looks a little runny after 24 hours, leave it another 8 to 12 hours but move it to a warmer spot.  Then you can use it in any recipe that calls for sour cream.  It has twice the calories of its American cousin, but all things in moderation, right?

One reason I decided to try crème fraîche is that it often appears as an ingredient in the daily email recipes I receive from P’tit Chef outside of Bordeaux.  (Once on the site click on “Recevoir le menu du jour” on the right, if you’re interested.)  It’s fun because every day I can read three French recipes—an appetizer, main dish, and dessert—which, at the very least, give me ideas for meals.  Because we try to have one meatless supper per week, I was intrigued by the “Risotto aux champignons” I got from the little chef.  Although the recipes contain weights in grams instead of ounces, you can quickly find equivalents online.  To create the mushroom risotto, gently cook a clove of minced garlic in some butter for a couple of minutes, then add in about 5 ounces of mushrooms.  I found a nice 3-oz. package of sliced shiitakes to which I added a few more of the button variety.  After cooking for 3 minutes, pour in about 3 tablespoons of white wine.  Then spoon in a couple of tablespoons of crème fraîche; salt and pepper to taste and set the mixture aside off the heat.  While bringing a quart of chicken broth to the boiling point, sauté a small onion in some oil for about 3 minutes, then add in a cup of Arborio rice.  Once the rice becomes translucent, stir in one ladle of the hot broth.  After the liquid is absorbed, add in another ladleful, stirring just about constantly; continue until the broth is used up and the rice is cooked.  This should take about 20 minutes.  Put in some grated parmesan and the mushroom mixture.  Et voilà!  It’s quite a tasty dish. 

It’s funny how cooking styles change over the years.  When I was newly married, many cookbooks called for the use of high-sodium canned soups.  I have since adapted some of my old favorite recipes—like Chicken à la Parisienne—found in Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.  For this, you put a couple of boneless chicken breasts in a baking dish (browning them first, if you want) and cover them with a mushroom white sauce.  To make the sauce, brown some sliced mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter or oil; add in another couple of tablespoons of butter and the same amount of flour and stir for about a minute.  Thin the mixture to the desired consistency with a few tablespoons of white wine and some milk—or a combination of milk and chicken broth.  Stir in a few tablespoons of crème fraîche, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the chicken.  Sprinkle the top with paprika and bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Serve over hot rice or pasta.

Another favorite out of the same cookbook is the recipe for Beef Stroganoff.  This dish can be made with strips of sirloin or simply with ground beef.  Either way, the result is delicious!  First brown the meat (a pound or less) in a little butter or oil, add in some sliced mushrooms, a half-cup of chopped onion, and a minced clove of garlic.  Cook for 3 or 4 minutes and then sprinkle the mixture with a tablespoon of flour.  Pour in a cup of beef broth, a tablespoon of white wine, and a tablespoon of tomato paste or ketchup.  (I sometimes add some chopped fresh dill to the mixture.)  Cook, stirring occasionally, till thickened and bubbly and the meat is tender.  Finally, stir in a few tablespoons of crème fraîche and serve over wide egg noodles.

I hope this post gets your salivary glands working and inspires you to get into the kitchen.  Let me know if you try any of these recipes.  Happy cooking!

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