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The use of sauces has changed dramatically during the past 25 years or so. Due to the massive amount of information we are constantly exposed to, we have been influenced by various cuisines, cultures and nutritional data in a way that has shaped a new outlook on the food industry. This, combined with the variety of different products we can now purchase, has brought about great changes in our eating habits and has made a huge impact in the way we now view, create and use sauces in the modern kitchen.
The days of heavy cream sauces and thick, rich gravies are slowly being replaced by lighter versions of highly flavored glazes and sauces acting much more as a final seasoning agent than anything else. However, to learn the newer ways of making sauces, one must first have a good grasp of the basics of sauce making to understand where the differences lie. Sauce-making is definitely an art that, once learned, gives endless possibilities to any dish.
Sauces are defined as liquids that are thickened (usually) and perform these functions:
1. Add moistness to sometimes dry food (e.g. meatloaf, roasted or grilled meats)
2. Flavor and finish seasoning the product
3. Add richness to a dish (e.g. Salmon hollandaise)
4. Enhance the presentation to elevate the dining experience
The basic five sauces are:
1. Béchamel or basic white sauce
2. Velouté or stock based white sauces (chicken, fish, veal)
3. Espagnole or brown sauce
5. Butter sauces (e.g. Hollandaise sauce)
These are known as the “Mother Sauces”. From these major five sauces, literally hundreds of other sauces can be made. These are known as “small sauces” or derivative sauces. With the exception of Hollandaise, most Mother sauces are rarely used on their own and almost always used for other sauce bases.
A sauce normally consists of:
1. A liquid
2. A thickener
3. flavorings & seasonings
Liquids used in the five Mother sauces are:
Milk for Béchamel
White stock (chicken, veal, fish) for Velouté
Brown stock for Espagnole
Tomato for Tomato sauce
Clarified butter for Hollandaise sauce
Thickeners come in many different forms.
Roux: a cooked mixture of equal portions of fat and flour. The fat can be butter, drippings from meats, vegetable oils, etc. depending on the dish being prepared. Roux can be white, blond or brown depending on it’s required use.
White roux is cooked for a very short time and used in Béchamel.
Blond roux is cooked for a medium amount of time and used in ivory colored Velouté sauces
Brown roux is cooked for a considerable time for use in Espagnole sauce or Gumbos
Stir flour into the melted fat and cook to the desired color. Add stock. The stock and the roux should always be different temperatures to prevent lumping. Whip in the stock gradually and stir occasionally to insure smoothness. Strain if necessary.
Beurre manie: uncooked butter roux, used at the end of cooking to give a finishing touch. Whip in gradually to give a nice shine and fine texture to the finished sauce.
Whitewash: mixture of flour and cold water, sometimes called a slurry. Add slowly and whip constantly to prevent lumps.
Cornstarch: mixed with a little cold water, thickens quickly. Used the same as whitewash but normally cooks in a couple minutes.
Liason: egg yolks that have been tempered (mixed with hot stock) and then added to the sauce. Whip egg yolks in a bowl, then whip in a bit of the hot stock so they won’t scramble. Add to the sauce whipping constantly. Cook over low heat.
Point to Remember: All thickeners must come to a boil before they achieve their full holding power. After the sauce reaches a boil, turn down to simmer and cook until no trace of the starch taste remains.
Flavorings begin with the stock that is used to base the sauce on. After that, there are a number of ways to increase and enhance the final product.
Reduction: cooking down the stock to concentrate flavor, very little salt required
Wine: wine can be used to add flavor and can also be reduced to maximize it’s use
Acids: lemon juice or vinegar used sparingly to accent some sauces
Numerous other flavorings are needed to turn a Mother sauce into the finished product. For instance, a Bechamel by itself is very bland. Add sharp cheddar cheese and you have a very nice cheese sauce. Even a simple tomato sauce becomes Creole Sauce with just a few moderations. So it goes with most Mother sauces.
Seasonings are much too often confused with flavorings. Since we know now that flavoring is where the stock begins, seasoning is where the stock or sauce finishes. The final procedure in any recipe should be interpreted, whether written or not, to adjust seasoning to taste.
Salt is normally used to bring up the final flavor of sauces. However, with a well reduced stock and careful simmering, it will require very little salt to do the job.
Lemon, lime juice, and vinegars can also be used to enhance flavors already present in the sauce.
Black, white and cayenne pepper may also accent without the use of salt.
These are made simply by thickening the juices left in the pan after sauteing. De-glaze the pan by adding a little water or wine to dissolve the bits of food in the bottom. Then reduce or thicken with one of the above methods.
Adding a puree of vegetables to a sauce will thicken without adding fat. Roasting the vegetables will give an added fullness that will enrich your sauce immensely.
Whipping in bread crumbs is another low-fat way to thicken sauces. They will thicken very quickly because the starch has already been cooked out.
Today’s Chefs are coming up with more and more creative ways to produce sauces everyday. This trend will continue to provide a refreshing, new outlook on some of the classic dishes we have come to know.
Here are some recipes that use the principals of this lesson.
Earthy Portobello Mushroom Soup
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. Salt
½ tsp. white pepper
½ tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. onion powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ lb. Portobello mushrooms thinly sliced
2 tbsp. Flour
1 liters of milk
Melt butter in a 2 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat.
Add mushrooms, garlic and all the spices. Saute until tender.
Add flour to make a medium thick roux. Cook over low heat for 5-10 minutes until blond color
Whip in cold milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
Reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally.
Seared Atlantic Salmon Filet
with Classic Hollandaise Sauce
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. wine vinegar
pinch of fresh ground black pepper
½ cups warm clarified butter
1 ½ TBSP. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch cayenne pepper
6 4-6 oz. salmon filets, bones removed
1 TBSP. butter
1 TBSP. vegetable oil
In the top half of a small double boiler, beat egg yolks, wine vinegar and black pepper.
Place over very hot (not boiling) water and whip constantly to prevent scrambling of the eggs. Cook until the egg yolks become of a sauce consistency.
Remove from heat. Place double boiler on a damp towel to keep in place. Whip in clarified butter in a slow stream, whipping constantly to prevent sauce from breaking.
Whip in lemon juice, salt and cayenne to taste. Hold warm for service.
In a heavy skillet, heat butter and oil to medium high. Brown salmon well on both sides (about 2-3 minutes per side).
Season and serve with warm Hollandaise sauce.
Banana & Cream Cheese Crepes
in Warm Caramel Sauce
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 ½ cups milk
2/3 cup AP flour
½ tsp. salt
½ lb. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup icing sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
3 Tbsp. Water
In a medium bowl, beat melted butter and the rest of the ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Heat a 7 inch crepe or saute pan to medium. Brush with butter. Pour in a scant 1/4 cup of batter in the pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Cook for 2 minutes or until the top is set and bottom slightly browned. Carefully flip with spatula and cook for 30 seconds. Stack on waxed paper until all are done, keep warm.
In a mixer bowl with paddle, cream the cheese, icing sugar and vanilla until smooth. Set aside.
In a small heavy saucepan, bring sugar, butter and water to a boil, stirring often. Cook over low heat , stirring occasionally until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Hold warm.
Finishing & Presentation:
Lay out 6 crepes. Spread filling evenly across the middle of all 6 crepes. Peel bananas, cut in half and split. Place two pieces, end to end, on each filled crepe. Roll up and cut in half on an angle. Stack on a dessert plate and drizzle with a generous amount of caramel sauce. Garnish with whipped cream and a sprig of fresh mint.