To me, sauces and herbs & spices are the things that make each meal unique. Sauces do that by using herbs and spices, along with the sauce base, to make things taste fantastic and totally change the whole meal. I mean, chicken is chicken is chicken… you can cook it with paprika and lemon, rosemary, garlic, etc. But it’s still just chicken. But if you add a sauce to it, you can transform the dish to something else entirely. I’ve made fruit sauces, savory sauces, spicy sauces, thick sauces and thin sauces. I’ve experimented with some real successful sauces and had a few duds too.
See the picture to the left there? That is paprika and lemon chicken, pasta and asparagus with alfredo sauce–it was my daughter’s first attempt at an alfredo sauce and it turned out pretty good.
The best sauce to learn, in my opinion, to get started with sauces is a very basic and simple alfredo sauce. Sure, you can make a fancy roux with quality flour and heat it and mix it until it’s smooth and take hours to prepare a sauce–but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve found a super-easy shortcut sauce, using cream cheese, which is cheap and easy, to make a simple easy alfredo sauce in just a few minutes. The most time consuming part of it is mincing the garlic if you do it by hand or with a garlic press, but you can even buy the garlic in the jar already minced for a short cut. Using fresh, minced garlic is really the best way to go with an alfredo sauce, at least, in my opinion, because it’s really the core flavor of the sauce after the creamy.
So here’s my tweak on a Simple Basic Easy Alfredo Sauce Recipe:
- 1/2 cup butter (half a stick–sweet cream buter is best, unsalted if you can get it)
- 1 package of cream cheese
- 1 tablespoon garlic
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream (can substitute half & half, but heavy cream is better)
- 6 ounces GRATED fresh parmesan (don’t use the green can of powdered/dried stuff and if you can grate it yourself from a hard wedge, so much the better)
- 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Optional ingredients: fresh or dried parsley
Melt the butter in a pan and then add the garlic (sometimes I cheat and use the minced garlic in the jar, but mincing garlic is super easy if you have a garlic press–we have a manual one that is super easy to use, and garlic is cheap). Sautee the garlic in the butter until lightly browned. Add cream cheese to the butter. This is the tricky part if you want a smooth alfredo sauce–you have to mash the cream cheese with a fork and do that until it’s heated and starts ‘melting’ and there are no lumps left. Since this recipe uses the cream cheese in place of a flour roux, you won’t get the carbs from it that a flour roux would make, but the cream cheese can be just as lumpy if you don’t smash out the lumps. Once the cream cheese is smooth and melted with no lumps, you can add the heavy cream in a little at a time, whisky or stirring briskly with a fork the whole time. Keep heating until the sauce begins to bubble around the edges of the pan, but don’t heat to a boil.
Quickly stir in all the Parmesan and the pepper and then immediately remove from the heat but keep stirring and stirring and stirring until the parm melts into the sauce completely. The sauce will thicken quite quickly when you put the parm in, so be sure when you remove it from the heat that you’re stirring constantly.
If you cook it a little too long or it gets too thick when you add the parm, you can put it back on the burner for a little bit on a lower heat and add more heavy cream (or some milk if you don’t have cream–a little milk to thin it won’t hurt the flavor once you’ve made it).
Basic Alfredo Sauce Tweaks/Alternatives
I personally love paprika, and I’ll put it in almost everything. So if you have a hearty dish, such as a chicken or a firm fish dish that you want to put an alfredo sauce on, you can put a little paprika in the basic alfredo sauce for a bit of a kick.
Red pepper flakes can go into a basic alfredo toward the end to add a spicy kick to the sauce.
Rosemary, just a pinch, adds a great addition to a basic alfredo sauce, and goes great on pasta or chicken–or pasta with chicken.
For a colorful, flavorful sauce that is awesome over chicken, take your basic alfredo sauce and then add four tablespoons of unflavored, plain greek yogurt and then mix in half a tablespoon of turmeric. This makes an amazing sauce to then throw some chicken pieces into the pan and coat them with the sauce and serve over rice–ohhh, jasmine rice, even. Or if you don’t do chicken (vegetarian) you can put it over rice by itself. Turmeric gives it a lovely yellowish color and it’s sooo good for you. Read about all the amazing properties of turmeric here where I wrote about this amazing spice.
There’s even a great alfredo mustard sauce I made once, but haven’t been able to recreate yet–I’m working on it!
One last note–you might be tempted to put some salt into the alfredo sauce, and that’s okay–if you feel you need the salt, use the Himalayan pink sea salt. The Parmesan will add a salty note and you really won’t need the extra salt. Plus, if you use regular butter, it will have salt too. If you add salt without tasting, you might end up with too much salt.
Enjoy your alfredo sauce! this is one of my all-time favorite base sauces!