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My question is about adding heavy cream or half 'n half to a dish. Olive oil is in a skillet over low heat. Next add lemon juice, a ladle of pasta cooking water and the cream. The cream always turns slightly curdled, but the dish still tastes good. What can I do differently?

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Are you using fresh lemon juice from a lemon or bottled? Fresh lemon juice is actually quite a bit more acidic and thus more likely to curdle the cream. It might help to point out what the recipe calls for (exact wording) and what/how much you're using. – Aaronut Jan 31 '11 at 22:47
Cream and olive oil rarely go together. They both have fat in them, however, the cream's fat is emulsified in the cream's aqueous solutions. Adding oil directly to cream often will cause the fats in the cream to separate. I have several times reduced bottles of wine with vinegar to a sec which would be enourmously acidic to which a small amount of heavy cream would be added to create a beurre blanc without it ever curdling. Before I answer this, is the cream's proteins coagulating into cottage cheese type 'curds' or is it just the oils separating? – Adam S Feb 1 '11 at 3:19

One thing you could do is reduce the amount of lemon juice, and add some lemon zest. This will give you much of the lemon aroma without so much acidity. Try adding some zest to the cooking and then grate a little more on the finished plates, just before serving. Use a microplane.

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Try cooking the lemon juice a little longer before adding the cream. This works for me, and I think it reduces the acidity and makes it less likely to curdle the cream.

This is what I do when I make my favorite lemon cream sauce and it has definitely improved it.

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