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Food Prep 101: Getting savvy about sauces
April 30, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
Well, this is it. I have run briefly through the basic categories of food, and today concludes the “Food Prep 101” series with information on making sauces. Know what that means? You guessed it: Next week will be test time. If you have been following my articles these past weeks, you have, hopefully, improved your food prep skills. In the least, you have acquired a more extensive vocabulary to improve your status as a “foodie” while chatting at parties.
Why write about sauces last? Shouldn’t they be one of the first topics? I choose to put sauces last to de-emphasize them. It is very important, if you make a sauce, that you make that sauce perfectly, but is not necessary that you even make a sauce. Classic French cuisine relies heavily on sauces to complete a dish. Today, call it novo cuisine or the desire for good nutrition, we rely on the food first. Foods properly prepared should stand alone without a sauce or just a bit of sauce served on the side or pooled under the food to enhance, not cover the flavor.
That being said, I will proceed. A sauce is a liquid used to enhance the food served. There are many types of sauces — warm sauces thickened by using a starch or egg, such as bechamel or hollandaise, cold sauces that are mayonnaise- or oil-based, such as tartar sauce, salad dressings, dill sauce or ranch. There are butter sauces which are basically melted butter with sugar, flavor or spices added. There are sweet sauces:?fruit purees, maple syrup, honey, liquors or a mixture.
Today we will look at the classic sauces called mother or leading sauces. These are made with a fat, a liquid and a thickener. The liquid, fat and seasonings determine the type of mother sauce. Note that these sauces are bases and require finishing. A chef might make up large batches of the leading sauces to have a base for many small sauces.
Here are the steps in making flour-thickened leading sauces:?
1. Leading sauces begin with a roux. Think about thanksgiving turkey gravy. A roux, pronounced “rue,” is a combination of fat, (butter, animal fat from roasting, margarine, oil) and a starch thickener, usually flour. We melt the fat and slowly add the flour to make a paste, working at all times to keep lumps from forming. Flour has a gelatinizing property by which starch granules absorb moisture and swell to many times their size when heated with a liquid.We add enough flour until the sheen is gone, all fat is absorbed and the mixture cleans the sides. A medium-thick sauce uses equal parts fat to flour. If you try to thicken a hot juice by putting flour into it, the flour will lump. Note that You can add flour to a cold liquid such as water to make a whitewash, then add this but we don’t want to do this in classic sauces because the water dilutes the flavor of the liquid or stock.
2. We then cook the roux to “cook out” the starch taste — a very important step.
3. The hot liquid or juice is added slowly to the roux while stirring continually. The sauce is then cooked to complete the thickening and remove the starch taste.
4. Light seasonings may be added now.
5. The sauce is then strained through a china cap lined with cheese cloth. It is now ready to become a sauce.
Leading sauces, flour thickened
Veloute sauce is the most basic base sauce. The roux is made with clarified butter (heated and skimmed to remove impurities) or meat fat and flour. Hot white stock such as fish, chicken or beef stock is added to the roux and simmered for a half-hour, then strained.
Cream or Bechamel sauce involves milk or cream as the liquid. Classic Bechamel is cream warmed with a small onion to flavor. The roux is cooked for 5 to 10 minutes, but the sauce is not cooked as in the veloute.
For Espagnole sauce, we brown a classic mire poix (remember what that is?) in the butter before adding the flour. We use brown stock and simmer for an hour, then strain, leaving the mire poix in the cheesecloth.
Leading sauce, egg-thickened
Instead of flour, Hollandaise sauce uses egg yolks carefully heated in the butter with lemon juice added at the end, making a complete sauce with no stock. This is a tricky sauce, because care is needed to keep the eggs from scrambling. I will serve this method at another time.
Leading sauce thickened by cooking
Tomato sauce is thickened by cooking with spices, herbs, vegetables or meats.
A good, tasty sauce is made with good-tasting ingredients. A fine sauce should have a light sheen, not dull from uncooked starch. It should have no lumps — not even tiny ones — and a flowing, not too thick consistency called a nappe. It should have a delicate flavor with and the color should be consistent with the type of sauce with a golden, not grayish, glow.
Task to try: Bechamel sauce.
This is a base for Newburgh, ala King, etc. 4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Heat the milk in a separate pan. Do not boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a low simmer. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg.
Quiz: A brown stock uses what? A) roasted bones, B) lemon juice, C) sauteed mire poix, or D) reduced stock.
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