How do you stop creamy sauces from curdling?

Cauliflower cheese meets carbonara in this creamy pasta.
Cauliflower cheese meets carbonara in this creamy pasta. Photo: William Meppem

How do I stop my creamy sauces from curdling? P. Caruthers

Curdling. There is a clue to what is happening to your cream in the word. Curd-ling. Those little lumps are curds. What is occurring is that naturally occurring acid in the food is causing the proteins in the cream to clump together to form curds. That's great if you are making cheese but not useful if you want a creamy sauce. Try using pure cream or creme fraiche. There is not enough protein in these products to cause noticeable curdling. Also, add the cream towards the end of the cooking process to reduce the time any acid has to start the curdling reaction.

I inherited a silver cutlery set. What should I do with it? H. Middleton

Admire it. Despite the allure and lustre, silver is not an inert metal and reacts with some foods and even saliva to create a metallic taste. Cutlery that leaves a bad taste in your mouth has long been a problem. In China, people solved the problem by whittling down timber to make chopsticks some 5000 years ago. In the West, it was discovered that copper and bronze are easy to form into the shape of a spoon but are highly reactive and leave food with a strong metallic taste. This meant most eating utensils were made of wood for much of human history until metalworkers in the north of England worked out how to put a layer of silver over copper in the mid-1700s. A century later, electroplating was invented, which meant that every aspirational household in the empire could have a canteen of cutlery with a very fine layer of silver that needed constant polishing and made food taste slightly metallic, but not enough to make them unusable. When stainless steel was invented in the 1900s, it eventually replaced electroplated cutlery. In an ideal world, we would eat off gold spoons as this is the least reactive metal. It is interesting to note that caviar lovers eat the precious little fish eggs from a mother of pearl spoon. Or they simply eat the caviar directly from the part of the hand at the base of the thumb. Apparently, skin does not interfere with the flavour.

Why does store-bought sweetcorn taste different to the sweetcorn I grow? L. Dabrowski

When first picked, sweetcorn is about 3-4 per cent sugar. Almost straight after being picked, the corn cob starts converting the sugar into starch. At ambient temperature, a cob of sweetcorn can convert about 25 per cent of its sugar into starch within a day. That is why sweetcorn is cooled almost immediately after harvest to remove what is known as "field heat". While cooling the cobs slows the conversion of sugar to starch, it does not stop it. The best way to preserve the sweetness is to freeze, can or bottle corn. An American expression says "boil the water before you pick the corn", to emphasise that sweet corn is at its best when very fresh.


J. Sconce sent in this vexing question last week, which some readers may have a response to. "Is there a way to effectively clean an electric rice cooker? I'm scared of putting too much water near it, and, despite my attempts, I still end up with a cooker that looks like I grabbed it off someone's hard rubbish."

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