Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Your Alfredo Sauce Blows and This is Why

Dear Tricia, Alfredo sauce is supposed to be one of the most basic Italian sauces to make but mine never seems to come out just right. I've used several different recipes some with a roux some with out but it just doesn't taste as good as the ones in the restaurants. Any suggestions?

After a couple of emails with this particular reader, I received a couple of links to recipes that produced said less-than-stellar results.  Tyler Florence's recipe on the Food Network website was one of the culprits, that bastard.

I'm going to back up for a minute and talk Alfredo sauce.  Alfredo is one of those sauces that has been adopted by Americans as one of our favorite comfort foods.  Its what you want to eat when you want to eat your feelings or maybe when you take your high school girlfriend on a fancy date to the Olive Garden.  Its predominant ingredients are butter, cream and parmesan cheese.  And a heart attack.  Italians don't recognize Alfredo as a traditional sauce.  Their version of Alfredo is simply pasta with butter and parmesan, or Fettucine alla Romana.   Our bastardized version has upped the ante with the extra cream and lots of it.  Here's Tyler's ingredients:

1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly cracked black pepper
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

You know why this recipe doesn't taste like the ones you've had in restaurants?  Because there's no effing salt in it.  That doesn't make it a bad recipe either, because parmesan has salt in it.  But it's not nearly as salty as what your line cook is preparing behind the scenes and that's why you think its lacking.  Cooks are notoriously heavy handed with the salt: that's just how we're wired.  Hell, I'll salt a filet mignon 3 times while its on my grill in the back yard.  It brings out the flavor.  Salt is our taste buds' friend.  Do not be afraid of it.  Embrace it and your taste buds will reward you.  Start with 1 teaspoon and work from there.  If you want more, add some more.  Want less?  Be my guest.

I started looking around at other Alfredo recipes (which you won't find in a traditional, credible cookbook because it's not a classic sauce.  The closest thing you'll find to it is bechamel.)  and noticed only about half of them use salt.  Again, this isn't to say it's a bad recipe, but if you're used to tasting the Alfredo sauce at the Olive Garden, then there's your culprit.  Talk about heavy on the salt: corporate restaurants have their stuff jam packed with sodium and preservatives.  Holy crap its scary.   I have a hard time believing that stuff doesn't come frozen out of a bag, thawed out and serve en masse.  I hate to burst your bubble.  The Culinary Institute of Tuscany that you see advertised in their commercials isn't a REAL school.  They do not send their $8.50 an hour cooks to Italy to learn authentic cuisine.  That.  doesn't.  happen.

Sorry, done with my rant.

The other culprit is your cheese.  Real parmesan reggiano has a much stronger taste than Americanized, fake parmesan cheese.  If you're not using the real thing, you're not getting the real flavor.  That's like ordering a Red Bull and vodka at the bar, and the bartender handing you a stale cup of coffee with cough syrup in it.  So try the real parmesan reggiano along with the extra salt.  That should solve your dilemma, because the technique of the recipe is fine.  Let me know how it works out for you.  You can thank me with a bowl of endless bread sticks. 

*Side note, I have no problems with Tyler Florence, whom I've never met.  Sometimes I just get a kick out of calling people names for no reason every now and then when I'm having a rough day.  Sorry Ty Ty.  Can I call you Ty Ty?

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