You can mix equal parts water and evaporated milk to create a milk-like drink with the same texture and consistency as regular milk, but you might want to consider taste too. Evaporated milk has an unmistakable caramelized aroma and flavor that lingers on the palate after swallowing, which you might find pleasing or distasteful, depending on your expectations. That is to say, if you expect reconstituted milk to taste the same as regular milk, it won't.
Although you can't take the caramelized taste out of evaporated milk, you can mask it or ameliorate it with secondary flavorings. You can also turn that caramelization into a benefit by pairing reconstituted milk with foods that call for a cream finish or by using it as the foundation for dairy-based and cream-finished sauces, such as béchamel and Alfredo.
How Milk Caramelizes
Caramelization isn't bad – in fact, it's desirable for most foods – but it can catch your taste buds off guard when they're conditioned to the taste of regular milk. Evaporated milk, also known as condensed milk, caramelizes during heating to reduce the base milk's overall volume by about 60 percent.
During heated reduction (at around 320F), the lactose and sucrose, also known as galactose, oxidize and brown, creating the sweet, nutty flavor associated with evaporated milk. This type of caramelization differs from the Maillard reaction – the chemical reaction that prompts meat to brown and caramelize – in that it affects sugar and not amino acids, but produces similar results.
If you have an aversion to a little sweetness in your milk when you drink it on its own, try using it in preparations where caramelization acts as an enhancement, such as in breads, drinks and desserts.
Using Evaporated Milk
- Add evaporated milk (reconstituted or from the can) to bold dark-roasted coffees and spiced teas, to taste; it gives you a richer, more complex flavor than you get with regular milk.
- Add reconstituted evaporated milk to marinades for added tenderization. Acidic marinades primarily add flavor to meats, but do not tenderize. Milk, or, more specifically, the lactose it contains, denatures (breaks down) tough, tightly coiled protein fibers for that fork-tenderness you want in beef.
- Marinate game meats and offal in reconstituted milk to ameliorate the gamey, "barnyard" flavor they often have.
- Reconstituted evaporated milk makes a superb milk substitute for hot chocolate and chocolate milk. Mix one can of evaporated milk with an equal amount of water, and add according to your recipe.
Making Sweetened Condensed Milk
Make sweetened condensed milk from evaporated milk by adding sugar and cooking it.
In a saucepan, mix together one can of evaporated milk with 1 1/2 cups of white granulated sugar. Set the pan on the stove over medium heat.
Simmer the evaporated milk until the sugar dissolves, stirring or whisking constantly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Try to avoid scraping the bottom of the saucepan while stirring or whisking.
Take the milk off the stove and let it reach room temperature before using. If desired, stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla.
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- Substituting evaporated milk one-for-one with fresh milk in desserts yields a richer-tasting dessert.
- Add diluted evaporated milk to cereals, oatmeal or sauces or in recipes for cakes and ice cream.
- Evaporated milk comes in low-fat and non-fat varieties.
- Add evaporated milk to dishes where creamy sauces are common, such as butter chicken and pot pies, or to homemade cream soups.
- Evaporated milk is not the same as sweetened condensed milk, and should not be substituted in recipes.
- Don't use evaporated milk if the can is rusted or bulging.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.