Deep Dive:

Ocean à la Crème

How it tastes & how we use it:

When we shared Kelp Salt with our Taste Buds members, the response was very positive. At the restaurant, we use it to make a butter that has become a fixture of noma’s Ocean season menus. We wanted to share Kelp Salt more widely via a vegan version of that butter, which led us to Ocean à la Crème. It’s as creamy as an iconic French butter sauce, thanks to the fact that we found a way to emulsify the koji oil, mushroom garum, and kelp salt in a way that delivers that luscious texture, along with a slight sweetness.

How it started:

A main course featuring a protein and a decadent sauce: it’s the classic fine-dining move. Over the years, we’ve tried to rethink the rule, coaxing depth and flavor out of ingredients from the plant kingdom to match (or surpass) the craveability of a côte de boeuf. We’ve also wondered about the accompaniment: what if you could say goodbye to béarnaise, at least once in a while, and replace it with a lighter, more captivating, and, above all, more delicious alternative? A sauce that was all silky umami but zero dairy?

Could a vegan sauce even achieve that?

We believe that Ocean à la Crème does. We developed this rich, powerful, completely vegan ingredient with three products we had lying on the shelf, so to speak: Barley Koji Oil, Roasted Kelp Salt, and Mushroom Garum. Each is a noma essential in its own right. When they join forces, the flavors expand almost exponentially to create a buttery, creamy finishing sauce that to us feels nothing short of revolutionary.

When we tried it, we suddenly had another question to ponder: could this be the best sauce we’ve ever made? 

How we make it:

To produce Ocean à la Crème, we emulsify the three following noma classics using kombu as a natural stabilizer.

Roasted Kelp Salt: Kelp is the foundation of nearly everything that we make at noma — from dashi to dishes — because it adds depth, balance, and deliciousness to nearly any flavor profile. It’s the most-umami rich ingredient in the sea. To achieve a rich, deep caramelized effect, we extract all the flavor from roasted kombu in a cold dashi that is then dehydrated and dried until crystals form.

Barley Koji Oil: We’ve been infusing oils with different flavors for as long as we can remember. Barley Koji Oil originated many years ago, when we set out to create an infused oil packed with the umami that koji is famous for delivering. In 2009, René visited Japan and realized that inoculating with local grains like barley could lend a sweet and fruity element to complement the oil’s potent savory qualities. Made with organic Scandinavian barley that is confited, the result is equal parts Denmark and Japan. 

Mushroom Garum: Our breakthroughs in garums are proof that sometimes you must look back to take a step forward. Whereas the ancient recipes for garum relied on the naturally occurring enzymes in fish intestines to break down the fish and produce robust flavors, we use koji. This simple switch has allowed us to experiment with a wider range of ingredients — including vegetables. The process begins with pressing the raw ingredient, mixing it in salt and water, fermenting for usually two to four weeks, and then straining to create the final product: a powerful and savory liquid seasoning. 

How we recommend using it:

Creative Director Thomas Frebel recommends keeping things simple to start: “I would just make a nice salad with Ocean à la Crème as the dressing”. From there, he suggests treating Ocean à la Crème as an accent or finishing sauce instead of cooking with it — “Add it to the plate, not the pan”. 

You can brush Ocean à la Crème onto your favorite raw and cooked seafood; use it as a dipping sauce; or try it on dessert to add savory complexity. While it’s quite intuitive — just follow your taste and treat it like butter, honestly. Here’s a collection of recipes from the team that have been bringing us joy in our homes.