Valerie Phillips, Valerie Phillips
For many people, a sauce comes from a packaged mix, a jar or a can of cream-of-something soup. But making your own sauces "from scratch" isn't hard to do, and they add distinctive flavor and flair to your dishes.
Sauces — thickened, flavored liquids — have been added to meat since ancient times, said chef Rob Lundell, who taught a sauce-making class at the Harmons Station Park Cooking School in Farmington.
"In medieval times their meat wasn't always the freshest, so if you made a nice flavored sauce the meat would taste all right," Lundell told the class of about 15 students.
But modern-day cooks use sauces to complement or contrast with the meat's flavor, instead of trying to cover it up, he added.
A sauce is a nice addition to meats, fish, pasta or vegetables. It adds flavor and moisture, and can give the dish a "finished" visual appeal.
Classical French cooking is known for its sauces. Other cuisines around the world also offer a variety of flavorful sauces; for instance, pesto from Italy, soy sauce and fish sauce from Asia, curry and chutney from India, and salsa and mole from Mexico.
The legendary French chef Antonin Careme was noted for creating numerous sauces in the 19th century. Around the turn of the 20th century, chef Auguste Escoffier , known as the father of modern French cuisine, consolidated Careme's list to five "mother sauces." In the culinary world, they remain a basic foundation for building dozens of other sauces. For instance, hollandaise sauce can be made into bearnaise sauce by adding shallots, white wine or vinegar, tarragon and peppercorns. Tomato sauce becomes marinara, Spanish sauce, or Creole sauce.
Lundell was involved in recipe development for Harmons, and "most of our soups are centered around a mother sauce," he said.
Three of the mother sauces are thickened with a roux (pronounced roo). This is a mixture of fat (such as butter, oil,or pan drippings) and flour that are cooked together before adding stirring in liquid.
Here are the five "mother" sauces:
Bechamel: a white, milk-based sauce. "This is one of those sauces that you have to stir consistently or you will scorch it," said Lundell. "By itself, it just tastes like thick milk. But it's a starting point for sauce Mornay, by adding cheese, and a lot of cream soups start out with it."
In the class, Lundell made a bé chamel sauce, and the students then made an Alfredo sauce using the béchamel.
Lundell's Alfredo recipe calls for Asiago cheese instead of the traditional Parmesan. He said Asiago melts more quickly, and costs less than good Parmesan.
Veloute: a blond sauce, usually made chicken or fish stock. By adding heavy cream, you have supreme sauce. Lundell added caramelized onions to a veloute sauce made with chicken stock, which gave it a rich depth of flavor.
Espagnole: This beefy brown gravy is made from veal or beef stock. It might be served over a steak, studded with mushrooms and onions. It's also the starting point for demi-glace and Lyonnaise sauce (by adding onions and white wine vinegar). Many espagnole-based sauces (such as bordelaise) include some type of wine as a flavoring agent. The longer the sauce is cooked, the more alcohol will evaporate from the wine. Lundell said Harmons also sells a line of alcohol-free cooking wines called Fre, for those concerned about alcohol intake.
Hollandaise: An emulsion of egg yolk, butter and lemon or vinegar, "along the lines of mayonnaise. You use lots of clarified butter — it's ridiculously bad for you, but it tastes great."
Lundell had the students make their own bé arnaise sauce (a variation of hollandaise) which was served over asparagus.