A bad sauce can wreck a fine cut of beef, or a good sauce can rescue a bad cut of beef.
A good cook, therefore, must be able to turn out a good sauce, and the technique must be practiced.
In a professional kitchen, making sauces is a specialty position filled by a saucier chef, a very talented chef indeed.
Making a good sauce, however, is not an impossible task for the home cook.
Read the recipe thoroughly first, prepare your mise en place -- a French term meaning everything in its place in reference to the prep work in a kitchen before a meal starts.
Pay attention to detail and don’t be in a hurry to improvise. Learn to successfully make the sauce; then think about adding your own twists.
The French have recognized four sauce mères, or mother sauces, that are the basis for most others, so they might be the best place to start.
Auguste Escoffier, in his book, “Le Guide Culinaire,” the cookbook some still think the most important cookbook of classical French cooking, names those important sauces as tomato, espagnole, veloute and béchamel. Hollandaise and mayonnaise have been added more recently.
1 chopped onion
1 chopped carrot
1 rib chopped celery
3-4 cloves chopped garlic
2 cups beef stock (homemade is preferred)
1 can whole or chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons cup tomato puree
1 bay leaf
Dried oregano or if you prefer Italian Seasoning
Butter as needed for sautéing
Sauté the onions in butter for five minutes, seasoning as you go. Add the carrot and celery and sauté an additional 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté three minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer 1 hour. Taste and season as necessary as the stock simmers. A heal of Parmesan cheese can be added with the liquid ingredients for additional flavor and depth.
This sauce can be enhanced by browning beef and slow cooking it in the sauce, adding zucchini, cooked mushrooms or, just before it is finished, by adding seafood. We most often see this sauce served with pasta, but is goes well with roast beef, sautéed chicken or gnocchi.
This is a classic brown sauce and its basic components are only brown stock, mirepoix, and tomatoes and is thickened with a dark roux. From this sauce comes sauce africaine, sauce bigarade, sauce bourguignonne but most importantly it is the basic foundation of demi-glace.
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped onion
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
4 cups beef stock (use homemade if you can)
1/4 cup tomato puree
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 rib celery
A small pinch of black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Bring the stock to a simmer. Separately sauté the onion, celery and carrot in a little butter for five-to-six minutes, then add the remaining butter and whisk in the flour to make a good brown roux. Add the hot stock, whisking as you pour, then add the tomato puree, peppercorns and bay. Bring to a slow simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Strain through a sieve before serving.
Serve this sauce with roasted duck (adding cherries), grilled steaks or a German schnitzel.
5 cups veal or chicken stock
2 ounces butter
2 ounces flour
Bring the stock to a slow simmer. Melt the butter in another pan, add the flour and incorporate completely, cook over a slow flame for about two minutes to make a blond roux. Remove from the heat and set aside. Whisk the stock slowly into the roux and simmer for 1 hour. Strain before serving.
Sauce allemande can be made from Sauce Veloute by adding egg yolks, veal or chicken stock, and lemon juice. Supreme sauce is made by adding the liquid cooked out of mushrooms and cream and Sauce Ravigote is made with the addition of lemon, white wine vinegar, onions and shallots.
Veloute can be served with stuffed chicken breasts, quenelles, grilled shrimp and chicken, but it is generally just a stepping stone to one of the sauces that derive from it.
Bechamel is the base for many popular recipes including macaroni and cheese, lasagna and a wide range of foods prepared as gratins. Jazz up a pasta dish by adding béchamel, julienned ham or prosciutto and a good cheese like Fontina, top with buttered bread crumbs and bake.
6 tablespoons butter
8 tablespoons flour
4 cups milk
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch nutmeg
Heat the milk, add the bay leaf and set aside. Melt the butter in a sauce pan and whisk in the flour cooking until you have a blond roux, five minutes or so. Slowly add the hot milk, whisking as you go. Return to the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
When cheese is added to a béchamel it becomes Mornay Sauce, add mustard and it becomes Moutrade Sauce, add crawfish, butter and cream and it is Nantua Sauce.
If you would like to take a closer look at the art of sauce making see James Peterson’s classic book, “Sauces, Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making.”