Sunday, August 21, 2011

Inadvertent Ricotta or otherwise called The Great Mozzarella Disaster

Last Monday was my mother-in-law's birthday. She had not been able to taste any of the previous batches of Mozzarella so I thought it would be the perfect gift. What a wonderful accompaniment a fresh caprese salad would be to the short-ribs I was cooking for dinner! In my mind's eye it was going to be amazing, rave reviews would flow and my ego would be satiated. Ah, pride comes before a fall!

That day I woke up exhausted. My daughter has been teething for what seems like forever. Every once in a while, when the mouth pain is particularly bad, she will decide to wake up in the middle of the night to play... and play... and play... So I hadn't had much sleep, nor did I have the option to take a nap as there was so much to do - grocery shopping, dinner to make for twelve people, the baby to take care of and a batch of Mozzarella. An ambitious day, but I knew I could pull it off - if I could wake up! Enter the Vietnamese iced espresso from the restaurant next to the fish market and I felt wonderful, for a little while at least.

So once Bea was down for her nap and the short ribs were seared and in the oven to braise I began the batch of Mozzarella. With the milk in the pot and everything set up and ready to go, I had high hopes that this would be the best batch yet! (Still using the phone camera with the scratched lens, so there is that annoying dot in each of the pictures, next time I'll switch to a better camera).

At 55 degrees I added the citric acid, checking with my spoon to make sure that I had stirred quickly enough to keep the acid from curdling the milk. Beautiful, still clean and fluid!

The milk came up to 90 degrees and I added the rennet. Put a lid on it and waited the prescribed five minutes. Afterwards I checked for a clean break with the spoon handle.

 With the clear separation of curds and whey I proceeded to cut my curds into half inch cubes. The camera isn't so great so it is hard to see the cut lines.

Turned the heat back on and brought it to 110 degrees, stirring gently. At this point my phone camera began to steam up (my daughter had spilled a glass of water on it earlier at the Vietnamese restaurant so there was moisture between the lenses) so that is why the picture below is so fuzzy.

Once the curds and whey came to temp I turned the stove off and stirred gently for three more minutes. Best looking curds yet!

I then ladled the curds into a separate bowl and salted them.

 This, I believe, is where my problems began. In all my previous batches I have taken small, palm sized chunks of curds and dipped them in hot (175 degree) whey till they would mold together and stretch. While effective this is very time consuming. After reading a blog about adding hot water to curds to bring them to temp and the stretching them with a paddle I decided to try this using hot whey and a separate bowl hoping that I would be able to stretch the entire batch at once. My first problem was that I was running out of time, so against my better judgement I tried to rush and did not heat my whey up hot enough to meld the curds together. At 165 degrees I ladled hot whey onto my curds.

At first it seemed like it might work, the curds started to stretch. When the whey got too cold I drained it off and added more hot whey, repeating a couple times till it seemed to become a soupy milky mess. It was obvious that the whey wasn't hot enough. The curds were no longer coming together and looked much more like Ricotta than anything else. I was at a loss, annoyed, frustrated and ready to give up. I poured everything back into the pot, put a cover on it and stuck it on the back of the stove vowing to check on it in the morning after it had settled. Luckily I had some Mozzarella left over from a batch I had made a few days earlier so there was still caprese salad and dinner was still thoroughly enjoyed.

The next morning I strained my curds from my whey and let them drain for about an hour. This is what I ended up with:

While not a traditional Ricotta it was still quite delicious and I was happy that at least I didn't completely waste my milk. It was also a very good lesson in NOT RUSHING!

Now this week I will get back up, dust myself off and try my hand at Burrata!

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