So as I mentioned in my previous post on sous vide, I tried to do a melty Parmesan topping for my most recent steak and used a recipe I found online that called for mixing the cheese with about an equal amount of butter. And that didn’t really work out well.
Tonight I figured it out when nuking up the other half of that New York strip.
For this you will need sodium citrate, the patron saint of melting salts which is also, handily enough, an emulsifier. Yay molecular gastronomy!
I took about ¼ cup of shredded Parmesan and put it in a Pyrex custard cup, along with roughly ¼ tsp. of sodium citrate; I did not weigh it. (At first it was more like a heaping 1/8; I added more later.) To that I added somewhere between 1-2 tbsp. of water, and I know that’s really inexact but the heck with it. I figured I’d nuke that for 30 seconds to warm it up, stir it, and take it from there.
The cheese actually melted completely within those 30 seconds, so I didn’t get the benefit of being able to nicely emulsify it. In fact I was concerned it was ruined, because part of it was a big clump and the other part was liquid, and they didn’t want to mix together. As I mentioned, at this stage there was only about 1/8 tsp. of sodium citrate included. I stirred vigorously but nothing much happened. At this point I figured I needed two more things: more sodium citrate and more heat. I added the melting salt and re-nuked for a short time, much less than 30 seconds though, to get the cheese hotter.
After the second nuke and with the added sodium citrate to bring it up around ¼ tsp., the cheese stirred a little better but not 100% where I wanted it to be. However at this point the emulsification appeared to be significantly better than before, and the main impediment was the stubborn solid part being a little too solid. More heat! So the third time was a very short nuke, after which about 30 seconds to a minute of good stirring produced a proper creamy result.
At this point not all my food was ready, so I had to wait to get the steak—which was sliced up and given a liberal dribbling of water for better warming—warm before putting on the cheese. So the cheese ended up needing one more nuke, just to warm it up again, but it didn’t “break” into separate solid and oil phases in the short time it sat there—nor did it after I put it on the steak. It did however solidify quite a bit, the way American cheese will after it’s been melted but the heat goes away; this was not at all a bad thing, but I think a higher water content would have softened it further.
The amount of cheese I used would suffice, I think, to nicely top a big burger. To top a whole strip steak I’d actually use a little more.
This was honestly just an experiment. I had no idea if I’d be able to get something workable without weighing out the sodium citrate and I really had no idea if it would work in the microwave. The answer to that was a huge yes. Which means other cheese sauces are very achievable in the microwave too! For cheddar I’d cut the sodium citrate way down, though.
The main thing to note here is that when the cheese breaks, it can be fixed. It will be a little clumpy at first, but if the sodium citrate content is adequate then more heat should solve it. If you suspect there isn’t enough sodium citrate, adding a little should fix things as long as the heat is enough that the solid parts are mushy enough to try blending.
If you haven’t used sodium citrate yet, get a jar on Amazon and thank me later. And be sure to try a topping of melted Parmesan or Romano on your next steak, because I think you’ll find they bring it to the next level. For that matter, certain burgers would probably rejoice at the prospect of a little something different.