If you can master saucing, your cooking – no matter how simple the meal – will be elevated to a much higher plane.
In culinary school, after you get through with the preliminaries and you’ve cut yourself with that new chef’s knife, you will learn that there are five basic sauces – called the Mother Sauces. From these mother sauces, all other sauces derive, at least in classical cooking circles.
Also called “Grand Sauces,” the five most basic sauces that every aspiring chef has to master are these: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise and Tomato.
Rather than spend my space describing each in detail, I’d rather relate these to the every day meals that you may be cooking in your home kitchen. For instance, if you make Mac ‘n’ Cheese from scratch, rather than from a box, you already know how to make a béchamel (start with a roux, add milk and cheese, etc. etc.) and you’re also well on your way to making what’s known as mornay sauce.
Velouté is similar, but instead of adding milk to the roux, you would add chicken stock or fish stock (also known as fumé), depending on what you’re serving and then you can enrich it (I had to resist writing “kick it up a notch”) by adding egg yolks or cream.
Sauce Espagnole is a brown sauce also known as demi-glace. Traditionally it is made by roasting veal or beef bones, then adding tomato paste, aromatics and beef stock, then cooking these in water over a very long period of time at a very slow pace to extract all of the flavors from the vegetables and gelatin from the bones. Once the liquid has been filtered, it can be further reduced to thicken.
If you like Eggs Benedict for Sunday brunch, then you’re familiar with the fourth mother sauce, known as Hollandaise. This is a sauce thickened with egg yolks and melted butter and besides your poached eggs it is often served with vegetables or fish. This is one of the more difficult sauces to make because it “breaks” so easily, meaning that the “liaison” (that’s a culinary term meaning binding) created between the egg yolks and the butter separates.
Then there is the fifth sauce – tomato – which actually comes in two forms: smooth and coarse. In either case it is the basis for most red sauces. The texture of the sauce is dependent on the degree of pureeing that you do.
Some will argue, because it is unique and like no other, that there is a sixth sauce – mayonnaise. Even though it is a cold sauce, and it requires emulsification, as does Hollandaise, it does serve as the source of a number of other sauces, such as aioli.
Culinary purists will argue that one must master the art of stock-making in order to create Escoffier-worthy sauces. I say otherwise. I say learn how to make a pan sauce by proper deglazing with wine, or vinegar or broth or stock. Learn to measure equal parts of butter and flour to make a proper roux for thickening your sauces.
I say if you don’t have the elbow grease to use a whisk, use your blender or food processor to help bind your Hollandaise or mayonnaise.
I hereby give you permission to experiment.
I’m a believer in simple foods. There’s nothing I like more than a perfectly grilled steak. But a nicely made Béarnaise brings it to a whole new plane.
Saucing will elevate your cooking to new levels. Your family and friends will notice the difference. And you may just discover that cooking dinner for the family is not drudgery or burdensome, but actually fun.
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