Dairy-based sauce in a crockpot--how to manage
March 5, 2008 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Help me fine tune having to heat a dairy-based sauce in a crockpot without it falling apart.

I'm assigned to bring a white sauce to a pasta bar tonight, where it'll probably sit in a crock pot for about an hour. I'm not comfortable with how the quality of the sauce will survive, and in general I think crock pots are lousy with sauce.

No one cares what I bring, but I refuse to base it on cream of X soup. I know that I can stabilize the dairy with starch somewhat (thanks Alton Brown!), but I don't know how long that will last. I don't even have to prep it in the crockpot, as long as it will survive in it afterwards. So I'm thinking cornstarch is probably my best bet (more stable than flour). I found this recipe, but I'm wary of a cottage cheese texture for sauce.

Any other specific suggestions or refinements you might offer? What kinds of cheese would make this job easier or harder? I don't need a specific recipe as I'm reasonably skilled with tossing a sauce together, even with a roux, but specific recipes would ultimately make my life easier too. It can be as out of the box as you like.
posted by artifarce to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "using stock, as opposed to dairy, then using heavy cream during thickening" is, despite being from Yahoo! Answers, sound advice.

I've simmered potatoes in whipping cream; heavy cream thickens instead of curdles.
posted by kmennie at 7:37 AM on March 5, 2008

You're right in thinking that cornstarch is the way to go. Flour and potato starch will work just as well. It works for cheese sauces, too.
posted by Alison at 8:28 AM on March 5, 2008

When I had a brief flirtation with becoming a personal chef, they recommended mochiko, a rice starch. It was one of the few that survived freezing, which is what you have to do when you make a week's worth of meals in a day.
posted by O9scar at 8:39 AM on March 5, 2008

Best answer: cornstarch in a white sauce kind of gives me the icks (too much association with the clarity of the cornstartch thickened sauces).

So long as you use cream as your dairy in a standard white sauce (based on a standard flour/fat roux), and suppliment with a little stock for the liquid, I don't think you'll have any problems with holding it at a temp. The more fat in the sauce, the less likely it'll be to curdle, and I think your biggest issue will end up being evaporation. Make the sauce looser than normal, and you should be fine.

As for cheese, you definitely need a smooth melting cheese that won't lump or separate. Frankly, parmesan would be the tastiest and best option in a sauce--also pretty traditional, no?
posted by kumquatmay at 8:48 AM on March 5, 2008

I'm with kumquatmay. Exactly the advice I would give. I also second the parm. Big flavor for the amount of cheese you have to add and the strong flavor will counter any dulling caused by the flour base.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:47 PM on March 5, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I did cheat a little, but it was an overwhelming favorite and your answers pointed me the right way.
posted by artifarce at 6:02 PM on March 5, 2008

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