Saturday, March 19, 2011

Everyday Yumminess: Perfect Ricotta

So, I am about to blow your mind by telling you how to make the world's easiest, most delicious fresh ricotta... while spending a total of about 5 minutes in the kitchen. Best. Recipe. Ever.
Having been not-super-impressed with ricotta I've made in the past using lemon juice or buttermilk, I decided to go with a citric acid recipe this time. I actually stumbled upon this method for the first time last weekend. I needed to make ricotta, but I was in too much pain to think about doing the standard sitting-and-stirring-forever-while-staring-at-a-thermometer routine. Also, I really hate sitting and stirring forever while staring at thermometers. I opened Ideas in Food to get a handle on just how much time I would have to spend doing this stupid task, when I saw a magical sentence.
The authors told me that I could sit and stir and stare until the mixture came to 195°F... OR I could vacuum-seal the ingredients and toss them in a 195°F water bath for 30 minutes. My response to this (edited for my more sensitive readers), was essentially to exclaim "Holy freaking crap! That's awesome!!!" Turns out, this is the best ricotta I've ever tasted, and it's absurdly easy to make. I can't picture myself every using store-bought ricotta again.
One of the reasons this ricotta tastes so amazing is the fact that I have amazing milk. A few weeks back I started thinking about how much better my homemade yogurt and future homemade cheese would be with really good milk. My friend R grew up with a milk delivery from Crescent Ridge Dairy, and couldn't stop raving about the awesomeness of their products. Within a couple days, I had my own milk man and have been getting fantastic milk delivered every Thursday ever since. Anyway... The awesome milk is combined with salt, heavy cream, and citric acid. (You may find, as I have, that using super-awesome milk can require 2-3x more citric acid than the recipe calls for in order to get proper curd formation.) All of the ingredients go into a zip-top bag.
(I'm showing all the steps, since there really is nothing to this recipe...) You seal the bag while pushing as much air out as possible. (A skill I am getting much better at... because I don't have a chamber vacuum... grumble grumble...)
Next just vacuum-seal the zip-top bag.
Into your sous vide apparatus (in my case the SousVide Supreme, which is rapidly becoming one of my most-used kitchen toys) for 30 minutes at 195°F...
When you pull the bag out, you should see the milk mixture separated into curds and whey. Let this rest for 10 minutes before moving on to the next step.
While you're waiting, line a strainer with cheesecloth...
... then pour in the mixture to strain. The longer you strain, the tighter your final ricotta will be. Check back every 10 minutes or so if you want a nice loose ricotta, or let strain for an hour or more if you want something firmer.
That's it! You now have some of the best ricotta you've ever tasted.
When I'd made ricotta in the past with the sit-stir-stare method I found myself thinking that, even if it had been the best ricotta ever, I couldn't see myself making it all that often. (I reserve my sit-stir-stare time for yogurt-making... although I'm experimenting with switching that over to this sous vide method as well...) It was just too much of a hassle. Now that I can make ricotta with no effort whatsoever and also have it taste this amazing, there's no turning back. I also think the milk heats more evenly with this method, so you don't have some parts overheating by the time your thermometer reaches the desired temperature. Price-wise, I got about 1.4 pounds of amazing ricotta for the price of a half-gallon of awesome milk ($3.19) and a cup of cream ($1.25), so it comes to around $3.25 per pound. I consider that a fantastic deal for a product this high-quality. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for fava beans to come back in season... (Hurry, fava beans! Hurry!)

UPDATE: Since it was asked in the comments, my (approximate) quantities on ingredients (I hate keeping track of quantities of ingredients, so I often fail to list them) were a half gallon of whole milk, about a cup of cream, a little over a half teaspoon of sea salt, and around 3/4 teaspoon citric acid. I've made this three times now, and it's been super-delicious and creamy and world-rocking every time.

The first time, I followed the recipe in the book and I didn't get curds forming, which is when I increased the citric acid. As soon as I stirred in the additional citric acid, curds started forming in the already-hot milk mixture and I cooked for another 10 minutes before the cooling and the straining. From then on, I've just started with increased citric acid and it works perfectly. I imagine it varies for the quality/style of your milk. If you have a favorite ricotta recipe that you know works using buttermilk or lemon juice, the same heating technique should work for those, as well. I've just had the best luck with citric acid so far...

UPDATE #2: A streamlined method (courtesy of awesome advice from Lynn in the comments) is posted here.


johanna said...

any reason that wouldn't work with yogurt too?

emmo said...

None that I can think of. I had equipment failure (stupid thermometer...) when I tried last weekend, (I think things over-cooled by a few degrees before I added the culture...) so it didn't turn out just right... Theoretically it totally works, I just biffed while seeking experimental proof... =)

Lynn M. said...

I didn't see the ingredient list and quantities posted on your blog, so I went to Amazon and searched in the contents of Ideas in Food there. The book says to use 3 qts + 2.5 cups (3,785 grams) whole milk, 1 3/4 cups + 1 TB (475 grams heavy cream, 1 tsp (6 grams) fine sea salt, and 1/2 tsp (3 grams) citric acid.

But when you summarized your cost at the end, you said you used a half-gallon of milk and a cup of cream, which are different proportions. Were the quantities you used different from what the book specifies?

I used raw milk and raw cream and put everything in a 3 ft. long Foodsaver-type bag, applied vacuum for 2 seconds, and then sealed it. The bag spent 30 my SVS at 195 deg. I didn't have any separation of curds and whey when I took it out. I opened it up, added 1.5 tsp more citric acid, (you said some milks take 2-3X more) and am now cooking it another 30 min. Hope it works this time.

My citric acid was 2.5 years past it's best-by date. Does citric acid go bad - could that explain my poor initial result? If using farm fresh raw milk, should I just assume I will need to use extra citric acid?

emmo said...

Hi Lynn,

I did a half-batch and fudged the quantities a little for simplicity, so that's why it's not quite the same. I ended up using 1/2 gallon milk, 1 cup cream, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and around 3/4 teaspoon citric acid.

My guess would be that you need more citric acid. The first time I made this following the recipe exactly and curds didn't form, they formed almost as soon as I added more citric acid to the hot milk mixture. (I did this right after I pulled out the bag and saw that I didn't have curd separation, so the milk was still quite hot.)

In a cheese-making book I have (where they call for unpasteurized milk) they use a full teaspoon of citric acid for a gallon of whole milk. I would just try sprinkling a little more into the hot milk mixture while stirring until you see curds start to form. (I'm a physicist, not a chemist, so I can't give a good scientific explanation... I'm just working from experience.)

Good luck! I wish I had raw milk to play with. =) Let me know if you have success...

emmo said...

I've updated the post to include approximate quantities... =)

Lynn M. said...

I see that your ratios are significantly different from what Ideas in Food has listed.

After I saw that my initial batch didn't separate out (using 1/2 tsp citric acid, 3.5 quarts milk, 1.75 cups cream,1 tsp. salt), I added another 1.5 tsp citric acid to it and cooked it another 30 minutes. Still no separation. It had been sitting in a bucket for 10 minutes when I read your reply, and still hot, so I added another 1 tsp. citric acid. Still no separation.

I just hate that my raw milk and raw cream are now cooked milk and cream and not ricotta. Sure wish I had cut the ingredients in half and that you had stated in the article that your photos showed a half-batch. I might get some fresh citric acid and try your recipe one more time as a half-batch.

emmo said...

I know how disheartening it is to lose awesome ingredients. I have definitely been there.

The way I've been making it is pretty much a half batch of the Ideas in Food recipe with triple the citric acid. (I use 8C milk instead of 7.25C and 1C cream instead of 14.5T, just for the sake of not dirtying measuring cups and scales...)

I don't have any experience with raw milk though, and it's possible that the chemistry is completely different. Maybe if you talk to your dairy farmer they will have a better idea? I'm stumped.

Lynn M. said...

When I finished cooking my ricotta, I didn't see any curds separating out after a 1 hour drain. I put the liquid in a jar in the frig while I disheartedly tried to figure out what to do with it.

After a day, I could see a whey separation in the liquid, so I thought I'd try straining again. After straining for 24 hours, the result was almost 3 pounds of cream. I started with 3.6 cups of milk and 1.8 cups cream.

The product looks like cream cheese - no curds. But it tastes great. I definitely will try it again, starting with the higher citric acid ratio that you used.

Lynn M. said...

Better luck this time. I tried the recipe again in my Sous Vide Supreme at 180 d. for 30 min. using 1/2 gallon of 5 day old raw milk, 1 c. cream, 1/2 tsp. sea salt, and 1 scant tsp citric acid (it was old with a best-used-by date of 8/08).

I put the mix in the SVS while it was heating up, and it started forming curds well before the SVS was up to 180. Must be the extra citric acid right from the start that made the difference.

It's still draining, but I can see small curds in the cheese.