When deciding what to cook for dinner, I’ve never really paid attention to the sauces that go on my food. Instead, I usually concentrate on the entire dish. Well after this week, I learned that a good sauce can transform even basic, grilled chicken into something special. We learned the difference between classical and contemporary sauces, and concentrated on three different categories: reductions, emulsions and purees.
Most sauces you’ll get in restaurants today are contemporary which kind of makes sense, being that the classical types are high fat with lots of butter and cream, like velouté, béchamel, hollandaise and the ever popular mayonnaise. Yup, mayo started as a sauce, and we made it from scratch. A lot easier than it seems! I’ve included the recipe for it below.
A reduction sauce is usually based on a brown stock with whatever flavorings you choose to put in. One of most basic is the red wine reduction, always a good choice for a lean cut of meat! You can vary this by using different types of wine, like Marsala and Port or even a brandy. The most important thing in a reduction is the consistency. The term “nappe” means that the sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and this is just what you need to look for when stirring and reducing your sauce.
An emulsion is when a fat and another liquid are mixed together. It can get a little tricky because normally oil and water don’t mix, right? Well, here they do. You just have to do it the right way, have patience and a strong wrist.
Here’s where our solo class work started. We were each to make a beurre blanc sauce and homemade mayonnaise. Beurre blanc literally means white butter. For this recipe, temperature control is really important. After combining the first series of ingredients, you remove it from the heat source and SLOWLY whisk in cold butter. It won’t emulsify if the butter is melted or even room temperature. Interesting, no?
Mayo is another emulsification that we’re all familiar with, but try making it from scratch. You need patience to very slowly pour the oil into the egg yolks, mustard and vinegar while whisking the whole time. I’m not a huge mayo fan, but this was pretty darn good!
Our group assignment was vinaigrette. The basic rule for vinaigrettes is to use a three to one ratio, three parts oil to one part acid (this means a vinegar or juice). We were allowed to be creative for this, so Kathy, Mindy and I chose to make ours with orange and basil. All you do for this is use OJ instead of vinegar and chiffonade some basil to whisk in.We even used a touch of orange zest! (Good suggestion, Mindy!)
Purees are sauces that change depending on the ingredients and herbs that are used. Pesto is a perfect example of this type of sauce, as is chutney. These sauces are usually not totally smooth and have a rustic edge.
Sauces serve a definite purpose, and how they’re paired with food makes a HUGE difference in taste. Your sauce should add visual interest and texture to your dish, like using a chunky sauce with a smooth chicken breast. It should also be appropriate for the food.
Whichever sauce you decide to prepare, just make sure there’s enough for each and every bite, you’ll be glad you did. My ketchup will surely be taking a back seat from now on!
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp mustard (use a Dijon)
1-2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2C vegetable oil (I like EVOO in this)
Salt and pepper
Combine yolks, mustard and 1 tsp lemon juice, whisking mixture until smooth. Slowly add oil in a very thin pour while whisking continuously. As emulsion is established, the oil can be added a bit more quickly. When all oil is added, adjust consistency and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Basic Red Wine ReductionIngredients:
2 shallots, finely chopped
4 oz red wine
4 oz demi-glace (stock that’s been reduced)
Reduce wine and shallots. Add demi-glace. Stir. Strain.
1 medium shallot, minced
½ C white wine
1 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 oz heavy cream
½ lb unsalted butter, COLD but not frozen and cut into chunks.
Salt and white pepper to taste
Combine shallots, wine and vinegar in a non-reactive saucepot. Add salt. Reduce by half. Add the cream and reduce to a light sauce consistency. Remove from heat. Carefully whisk in all the butter. If the sauce gets cold, carefully heat on low while whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper. Strain.