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SAUCES, An Introduction to the Classics

Be warned, this is a bit of a long one! However an important one. This introduction to MOTHER sauces, brown sauces specifically, is the one category that is used most in cooking. This is a step by step guide to the production and use of basic brown sauces and there derivatives. To access specific recipes, join our recipe & cookbook database.

Sauces are the pinnacle of a chef’s achievement requiring study and practice to master.  A great saucier must have a discriminating palate and the ability to understand how to build depth and harmony into a sauce.

The formal study of sauces usually begins with the classic French sauces. Today, however, world influences from Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Mediterranean, along with the public’s appetite for new and exciting tastes, has driven sauces in many different directions, and brought an array of flavors and endless possibilities to their preparation and pairing.

The French term sauce is derived from the Latin salus meaning salted. Salsa is the term for sauces in Spanish and Italian.  Sauces are meant to relish and compliment foods, and make them more interesting to eat. They pull together different elements of a dish to compliment or provide a contrast in flavors and textures. Some sauces, like a classic demi-glace, take days to prepare, while others, including vinaigrette, can be made very quickly. Sauces can be as simple as thickened pan juices, or as complex as a Mexican mole or an Indian curry.  There are literally thousands of sauce variations that can be created once you master the basics.

Sauce preparation used to involve a laborious and time consuming commitment, and while this is still the case for preparation of classic French sauces, the reality is that in today’s kitchen very few operations prepare and use them as originally intended. The reasons these sauces have grown out of favor include the changing preferences of chefs and the clientele they serve, the time factor involved in their preparation, and the cost of producing the sauces. In today’s world, food cost economics, the desire for workplace efficiency, and lack of skill have created convenience sauces, and shortcuts that produce adequate results to time-tested methods that have evolved over centuries of practice. Here is the complete list of Classically prepared sauces;

Contemporary Sauce Preparation

Classic French sauces, the standard for Western Cuisine, are often based on meat and dairy products. Many of these sauces, from the famous chefs Careme and Escoffier, were thickened with a roux. Prepared correctly, they are examples of French cuisine at its peak.  In the hands of less experienced cooks, they become heavy sauces that easily overwhelm a delicate entree. In France during the 1970’s and 1980’s, Nouvelle Cuisine became known partially because chefs created lighter sauces with natural reductions, often thickened with cream, butter, yogurt, cheese, vegetable purees, or foams. Refined starches, including arrowroot and potato starch, came into use as thickeners because they were lighter and could be quickly added at the last minute. The practice of presenting the sauce under a plated item, rather than ladled over it also became popular during this time.

With the interest in global cuisine today, many of the laborious sauce preparations are giving way to Latin American, Asian, and Italian sauces and condiments that are often easier, and less time-consuming, to prepare. These include vinaigrettes, pesto, salsas, flavored ketchups, hot sauces, and chutneys. Grande sauces have been simplified to reflect current tastes for lighter and more natural flavors. Demi-glace, which once took as much as three days to prepare, has been replaced by jus lié, a reduction of stock fortified with aromatics, wine, or additional flavors, and thickened with a light starch. Salsas, coulis, chutneys, vinaigrettes, and condiments have opened up a chef’s repertoire for endless variations of plated possibilities.

Let's start with the brown sauces; Espanole, jus lie and demi glace.

Small sauces;

Creating Small Sauces

Small sauces are traditionally created from classic sauces like demi-glace, jus lié, velouté or béchamel. They begin with infusions of aromatic vegetables, herbs, spices, and wine or other spirits. A foundational sauce like a demi-glace is added and the small sauce is cooked further to develop flavor and proper consistency. It is often finished with butter or enriched with cream or cheese. Three common methods are illustrated here. For creating small sauces to order see sautéing of proteins under the meat poultry and seafood section.

Small Sauce Prep Steps – 3 Methods Illustrated

The methods for preparing a small sauce from a mother sauce include the sauté and deglaze method, the reduction method, and the gastrique method.

Small Sauce Recipes

Bordelaise, Marchand de Vin, Madeira, Port Wine Sauces

Method 1 - Sauté and Deglaze Sauce Technique

This technique can be used to prepare a large quantity of sauce or for preparing smaller quantities of pan sauces after sautéing or searing cutlets or chops.

Examples: Robert, Chasseur Sauce

Step 1 - Sauté and Deglaze

  • Sauté the flavor base of aromatic vegetables (examples include, shallots, garlic, mushrooms, or ginger). Variations include leeks, scallions, or red onions, tomatoes, or peppers

  • Dried seasonings are added at this stage to allow the flavor compounds to open. Spices including peppercorns, dry mustard, curry powder, or paprika; dried herbs including thyme, bay, or tarragon

  • The aromatics are deglazed with wine or spirits and are simmered to concentrate the flavors.

  • Wine and spirit variations include dry white, red, or rosé wine, fortified wines including madeira, port, marsala, and hard spirits of cognac, brandy, vodka, gin. Other liquids include beer or hard ciders 

Step 2 - Add Sauce or Flavoring Liquid

Preparing Pan Sauces

  • A prepared sauce of demi-glace, jus lié, béchamel, or velouté, is added at this stage

  • A highly-concentrated stock can be used as a substitute

  • Simmer to adjust the flavors, seasonings, and consistency

Step 3 – Monter au Beurre - Finishing the Sauce

  • Finishing a sauce with a whole butter, cream, cheese, or yogurt, enriches the flavor, balances the acidity, and provides a sheen to the appearance

  • Swirl in whole butter, a process known as monter au beurre, or add an egg yolk and cream liaison (Remember not to let the mixture boil or the yolks will curdle) 

Method 2 – Reduction Sauce Method

Small Sauce Recipes

Robert, Chasseur, Marsala Sauces

This technique is similar to the sauté and deglaze method, but the sautéing step is eliminated, and the wine or spirits are combined directly with aromatics, herb, and spices.

Examples: Bordelaise, Marchand de Vin Sauce

Step 1 - Combine in a saucepan

  • Combine the aromatics, and seasoning, including herbs and spices, with wine or spirits, in a saucepan

  • The liquid is reduced through cooking and evaporation to ¾ of its original volume, or it may be cooked further to the au sec (almost dry) stage

Monter au Beurre

Step 2 - Add Sauce or Flavoring Liquid

  • Add a prepared sauce of demi-glace, jus lié, béchamel, velouté, or a highly-concentrated stock

  • Simmer to adjust the flavors, seasonings, and consistency

Step 3 – Monter au Beurre - Finishing the Sauce

  • Finish the sauce with cheese, crème fraiche, a liason (egg yolks and cream), or monter au beurre with diced butter

Method 3 – Gastrique Method

This technique is a sweet and sour sauce that begins by caramelizing suga and deglazing it with vinegar or sour fruits including lemons or oranges.

Examples: Bigarade, Agrodolce Sauce

Step 1 – Prepare the Gastrique

Caramelizing Sugar for a Gastrique

  • Start by caramelizing sugar in a saucepan

  • The caramel is then deglazed with vinegar, wine, and/or fruits juices to create a sweet-sour taste

  • Use a 2:1 ratio by volume of sugar to vinegar

Step 2 – Add Sauce/Flavoring Liquid

  • A prepared sauce of demi-glace is added at this stage

  • A highly-concentrated stock can be used as a substitute

  • It is simmered to adjust the flavors, seasonings, and consistency 

Additional Flavors

Gastrique Sauce Recipe

Agro Dolce, Bigarde Sauces

  • Fortified wines (sherry, port and Madeira) are added towards the end of the cooking process because their flavors dissipate under prolonged heat

  • Fresh herbs and other garnishes are added at this stage

  • Herb Variations: Tarragon, thyme, rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, chives

  • Garnish Variations: Olives, capers, dried fruits, bacon, citrus zest, truffles, toasted nuts

Step 3 – Finishing the Sauce

  • Finishing a sauce with a whole butter, cream, cheese, or yogurt, enriches the flavor, balances the acidity, and provides a sheen to the appearance

  • Swirl in whole butter, a process known as monter au beurre

  • A mixture of cream and egg yolks, known as a liaison, is sometimes used to enrich white sauces and soups. Use a ratio of 4 parts cream to 1 part egg yolks. To prevent the egg yolks from curdling, never boil it after adding the liaison to the mixture.

I think that's enough for now folks! Information overload. I will continue this thread in a few days, so keep your eyes wide open for more SAUCES! And remember, if you want the whole story, join one of our Culinary Arts Certificate or Diploma Programs Today!

Cheers, and have a GREAT weekend!

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