Most of us don’t make sauces at home because we’re…well, we’re intimidated. It seems so complicated and time consuming to mix all that stuff and season it and boil it and get it just right. And we don’t know how. We go to a fancy restaurant, and the sauces are so delicate and beautiful, and they are in French, and we know we could never make something like that. Oh, yes, it’s fear and our lack of knowledge that keeps us from enjoying sauces on our home-cooked food.
It really isn’t as difficult as you think to make sauces, though. Once you know about the different kinds of sauces and master a few basic techniques, you can easily make sauces at home. You can even begin to invent your own sauces, based on your personal preferences and the things your family likes best.
Sauces make your food look, taste and smell better. They make food more appetizing. The difference between a Ham & Egg McMuffin and Eggs Benedict is the hollandaise sauce. And it is a big difference, isn’t it? In the same way, sauces can turn your plain and simple cooking into something special.
Sauces add flavor to bland foods, like rice and pasta. Think Alfredo Sauce, Marinara Sauce, Soy Sauce. Sauces also make dry foods moister and easier to eat.
Before refrigeration, sauces were used to mask the flavor of tainted food. Although it’s not recommended that you serve tainted food, a good sauce can still mask the flavor of undesirable food. Kids are more likely to eat broccoli with cheese sauce than without, right? For those of us who are somewhat…indifferent cooks, a good sauce can sometimes mask a cooking mistake, too. Like, perhaps, rice that is just a tiny bit scorched. Served by candlelight and with a nice hollandaise sauce, no one will ever know.
Categories of Sauces There are all kinds of sauces. Ketchup is a sauce. Salsa is a sauce. Vinaigrette dressing is a sauce. For our cooking purposes, though, there are four main categories of sauces.
Sauces made from stock. Stock is the liquid that remains after you cook things in water. The water retains the flavor of whatever was cooked in it, and is used to flavor other dishes. Stock can be thickened or reduced, or various ingredients can be added to it to make brown sauces, white sauces and pan sauces.
Sauces from roux. Roux is a mixture of flour and fat that is combined over low heat. Gravy is made from roux.
Sauces from emulsions. Emulsions are mixtures of liquids that don’t mix. Mayonnaise is an example of an emulsion.
Combinations: Combination sauces are often made from roux and stock, as well as other ingredients.
Mother Sauces In the 19th century, Chef Marie-Antoine Careme developed a system for cooking that relied on “mother sauces” or “grand sauces”. Careme is considered the father of classic French cooking. His system was also used by Auguste Escoffier, another famous French chef. The five mother sauces provide the basis for other sauces that are used in classic French cooking.
Espagole is a reduced brown sauce made from cooking meat. Veloute is white stock thickened with roux. Bechamel is milk thickened with roux. Hollaindaise or Mayonnaise is an emulsion made with butter or oil, egg yolks and lemon juice. Tomato Sauce is tomato sauce.
This all sounds very complex, but it is not. Once you know how to make a nice roux, and how to make stock, you can make hundreds of different sauces. Once you can make the five mother sauces, your sauce repertoire is practically unlimited.
Here are some examples:
· Cheese sauce is béchamel sauce with grated cheese added.
· Gravy is a roux made from pan drippings and espagole or milk.
· Cream sauce for vegetables is veloute with a few herbs tossed in.
But you don’t have to tell your family and guests that it’s cheese sauce or whatever. Instead, you can serve them “steamed broccoli with a light cheese béchamel” or “steamed vegetables in veloute sauce.” And the list can go on and on. Using sauces to make your home cooked meals look better and taste better does not have to be intimidating. You just need to know a few basic techniques, and you will soon be a master sauce-maker.