Crema is the easiest thing in the world to make and is the perfect garnish to myriad dishes. I want to say it is a neutral garnish, because it does pair as nicely with fish, meat, chicken, soups, stews and braises as it does with pancake blini, waffles or other desserts.
It doesn’t have a neutral flavor though. It is always slightly sour and is used to balance and enhance both salty and sweet.
Some recipes call for whipping the crema with an immersion blender or mini food processor. That is nice. But my grandma did it just find with a whisk or wooden spoon and therefore, so do I.
Start with a base.
Sour Cream is typically used in America. It has the thickest consistency and most sour flavor I think, but it is easiest to find. I find it pairs really well with briny garnish such as capers.
Mexican crema can be found in ethnic grocery stores, as can crema Salvadorena, which is exceptional on Latin American flavored dishes.
Creme fraiche can be found at Whole Foods Market or at specialty shops. It stands up well to heat, as in a soup, stroganoff, stew, dumplings or roast. It has an authentic flavor and consistency. Creme fraiche is very nice whipped to add air to the cream, turning it soft and light.
Greek Yogurt, sometimes mixed with a little mayonnaise, works perfectly as a lower calorie option for sweet applications, such as cobblers or hand pies, or savory applications, such as in blinis, spiced soups, cold summer vegetable soups and tarts or cobblers.
Macarpone cheese isn’t technically a cream. Neither are fromage blanc, chevre or cream cheese. But they can all be whipped into a light but dense creamy consistency that pairs perfectly with all sorts of flavors. Mascarpone is especially nice with a hint of vanilla and punch of sweetness. Cream cheese is the same.
Homemade crema can be pulled together in seconds: mix equal parts sour cream and heavy cream, season lightly with salt.photo from www.popfood.com
For a sweet crema, simply add a teaspoon or less, depending on how much crema you need, of vanilla, almond, orange water, rose water or lavendar. A tablespoon of honey, agave nectar or white sugar adds just enough sweetness. Sometimes a little punch of lime is nice too.
If you want a crema for a savory dish, add very slight amounts of chile powder, saffron, cumin or other spices along with a squeeze of lemon. Let the sourness of the garnish stand out while the spices compliment the total flavor of your dish. Or you can serve the crema plain (as in with salmon blini, set off with capers).
Fresh Herb Crema
- Mince (mince well, do not get lazy and just chop) 2-3 Tb fresh herb, such as cilantro, parsley, basil, pineapple sage or lovage.
- add to 3/4 to 1 cup of sour cream, Mexican crema or 1 cup greek Yogurt mixed wtih 3 TB low fat or regular mayonnaise.
- To the recipe above, add 1-2 TB fresh lime (if using cilantro or pineapple sage) or lemon (if using basil, parsley or other herb).
- Alternatively, omit the herb and just add the lemon or lime.
The other night I made the simplest fish tacos that I topped with a simple crema of sour cream thickened with just a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise, seasoned with sea salt and a squeeze of lime. Utterly simple and utterly delicious. Make sure you taste for seasonings, and if you can, give a few minutes for everything to come together.
For one container of sour cream, mascarpone, creme fraiche or Greek Yogurt, add:
- 1 Tb agave nectar, honey or sugar
- 1 ts vanilla extract or
- 1/2 ts almond extract
- Whip by hand or with a mixer.
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