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Why did my alfredo separate?

I just made some alfredo sauce to go on past a for a late dinner - garlic, butter, milk, chives, parsley, fontina, romano, cheddar (cleaning out my cheese drawer), salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, and a little flour, added in that order. I walked away from the stove for a minute, and when I came back it had separated into liquids & grainy solids. Why? I've never had hat happen before. It boiled over at one point, might that have to do with it? It was the same consistency as if I had poured lemon juice into a glass of milk. I poured some of it over pasta anyway, and ignoring the strange texture it was pretty delicious. Any idea how I can stop that from happening again?

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  1. maybe it got mad at you for calling it an alfredo sauce!
    Seriously, there's an alfredo sauce thread somewhere but I'm link-challenged.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Sarah

      C'mon - Emmmmmmmmmmmily was close enough to cream, butter, cheese, salt, and pepper.

      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        "cleaning-out-my-fridge alfredo-esque cheese sauce" just takes too long to type. Whatever you want to call it, it was awfully tasty, if seriously texturally challenged.

    2. egg. For that you need an egg. Mix all that stuff pluss an egg in a blender (I would add mustard) cook the pasta reserving just a bit of the water and add your mixture plus the water on low heat.

      1. Actually, I think you didn't need the flour. And, perhaps the temperature was just a little too high. Plus, with all that cheese you really didn't even need milk.....just a little cream. Oh, and don't forget the parsley.

        1. Oh, sorry, it was probably the flour that separated. It might have been better to start with a beurre manier.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Original recipe of Old World Italy Alfredo was 1 lb pasta, 1 lb butter and 1 lb cheese. Simple.

          2. Sauces generally "break" because of failure on the part of one or more of the three keys:

            Butter/Cream sequence
            Mixing technique (use a whisk, not a spoon)

            The greatest threat is temperature. You want it to put your pan on low heat and put about 1/4 cup of butter in the pan. Let it warm for thirty seconds or so, then pour in the room temperature cream. Allow the butter to melt in the heat of the cream, whisking lightly but often, until the butter is melted and thoroughly combined with the cream. Gently whisk in 3/4 cup grated Parmesan reggiano, followed by about 1/3 cup of flat Italian parsely. You can add a little bit of pepper if you like, but please use white pepper. It just looks better.
            Don't allow the sauce to rest. It should be prepared just before you're ready to put it on the pasta. When it sits on the stove or counter top waiting for introduction to the spaghetti it tends to do its own thing, depending on the temperature/humidity and can be a disappointment.

            1. Sounds like you had all the ingredients for a bechamel sauce, and maybe would have better results if you use a different sequence. This might work:

              Melt the butter and then add the garlic and the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes until the raw taste of the flour has cooked out and the garlic has softened a bit. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly to avoid lumps, and cook over medium heat until it comes to a gentle boil. Make sure to stir very often (constantly is safest) and to scrape the bottom of the pan so that it doesn't scorch. Reduce heat to very low, season to taste, and add cheeses. Let the cheeses melt, (don't let it boil!) stirring every couple of minutes to incorporate, and then turn off heat and add the chives and parsley. Adjust seasonings.

              It's best not to let a sauce that has cheese in it come to a boil, or the cheese will become very grainy.

              Anyway, sounds like a yummy combo. Fontina is such a great melting cheese, and the others would add great flavor. Makes me think I should clean out my cheese drawer!

              1. As others have said (sorry, Sam), that's not even close to the ingredients for Alfredo. There are literally hundreds of recipes on line for true Alfredo sauce.

                Any time you boil (as opposed to a very gentle simmer) you run a risk of having the sauce break.

                When you use flour in such a recipe, you'll have much better luck making a bechamel sauce first, then adding the cheese and other ingredients.

                Are you sure your cheese-to-other-ingredients ratio was the same as you usually use? Too much cheese can end up overwhelming the rest of the sauce.

                You say you've been doing it this way for a long time and never had the sauce break before. Are you absolutely certain you boiled it hard as you report this time? If that's the case, imo it adds credence to a "too much cheese" theory.

                Too much boiling, too much cheese, a lot of things can lead to a pan full of "floating mozerella." Better luck next time! '-)

                1 Reply
                1. re: Caroline1

                  What? Since when is an Alfredo much more than a simple cream, butter, cheese, salt, and pepper sauce? That Emmmmmmmmmmmmmmmily added flour could have disqualified her sauce as an Alfredo; but the garlic, chives, and cayenne don't bother me.