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Why does my yogurt always separate?|Tempering yogurt

We’ve been cooking out of a new cookbook from Madhur Jaffrey called Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking and having some trouble with the yogurt in the dishes. Jaffrey is a well-known cook and the dishes really are pretty easy and straightforward, so the yogurt going all goofy on us was perplexing – the only thing I could think was that maybe it needed tempering, as do eggs and a few other things when you add them to heat. A bit of Google magic and sure enough, yogurt is a sensitive creature. But as with many high maintenance things, a little pampering and you’re in for a treat. Here are a few tips on cooking with yogurt:

- Let it get to room temperature before adding it to a hot pan
- If you need to stir in anything before cooking, do so gently and in one direction (clockwise or counterclockwise)
- If possible, add the yogurt off heat (you could also deglaze the pan to loosen the cooked yumminess, which will bring the temperature down a bit)
- Temper the yogurt in one/both of the following ways:

  • Add flour (there are many kinds of flour used in Indian cooking like Atta (whole hard wheat), Maida (highly refined wheat, similar to cake flour), or Besan (chickpea)) or corn starch – about 1 tsp per one cup of yogurt being used
  • Take about a tablespoon of the hot liquid or ingredients from the pan you are cooking in (the pan you will be adding the yogurt to) and carefully add it to your room temperature yogurt.  Mix slowly and add enough of the hot liquid or ingredients to heat the yogurt.  The idea is that you are slowly and gently heating the yogurt up to prepare it to be added to the heat, so you don’t shock it from cool to hot.  Think of this the same way you would an egg – if you put a beaten cold egg directly on a hot pan, you’ll get a scrambled egg.  If you warm the beaten egg up slowly and gently with hot liquid, it will stay liquid and can be incorporated into other things as a liquid instead of a solid.  Once the yogurt is closer to the heat of the food in the pan, you can add it.

Or, you can use this recipe for “pre-tempering” yogurt (taken directly and completely from www.indiacurry.com):

1. Whole-milk plain yogurt: 1 Quart
2. Large egg white, lightly beaten: 1
3. Cornstarch: 1 Tablespoon
4. Salt: 1 teaspoon

Mix all ingredients together in a heavy saucepan. Whisk. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, in one direction until mixture starts to bubble and comes to a boil (approximately 8 minutes). Reduce heat to moderately low, and simmer until thickened, it will take approximately additional 4  minutes.  Stabilized yogurt can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.

I can safely say that warming the yogurt with part of the dish we were cooking, in combination with adding some cornstarch worked wonders.  The sauce was excellent.  We haven’t tried the stabilizing recipe yet, but will do so soon and report back.  I will hazard a guess, though, and say that I think bringing the yogurt up to room temperature, stabilized or not, is always a good idea.

Hope that is helpful in your cooking adventures – Indian food is amazing, as well as easy, and hopefully this tip makes it just a little bit easier!

Also – if you’re interested in making your own yogurt (which I just tried yesterday and highly recommend), check out How To Make Yogurt.  I’ll put up a full post on homemade yogurt after I play with the recipe a bit more.

Cheers.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the tips. I have often wondered how to stop yogurt from curdling. One issue I have sometimes is that I use yogurt as a mayo-substitute when making potato salad. If I use hot potatoes, this curdles the yogurt. So I guess in that case, I could let the potatoes cool as well as letting the yogurt warm to room temperature.

    I have been making my own yogurt for a few months and found it really successful. I hope yours works as well. :)
    sarah, simply cooked´s last [type] ..bang bang chicken

  2. Kathlyn says:

    Hi Sarah! I’m really not a yogurt expert, but I would guess that cooling your potatoes would help, as well as warming the yogurt before it’s added. It’s a lot more temperamental than I thought. I guess because it’s cultured I always assumed it was a pretty sturdy substance but apparently it’s a delicate flower. :)

    Happy cooking – beautiful blog!!

    Cheers.

  3. [...] discovered the hard way the yogurt definitely needs to be tempered!  It’s used a lot in Indian sauces and benefits greatly from gentle handling and throwing [...]

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