Sauces are one of the most important components of cuisine, and can be one of the most difficult to master. In a classic – structure French kitchen, the saucier is the most demanding and respected position outside of the chef level. Sauces require an incredible foundation of flavors, reductions, subtle elements, and a deep understanding of that main ingredient to which the sauce accompanies.
I am of course talking about ‘fresh’ sauces. Chef created and inspired sauces. Most sauces we commonly utilize are store bought, manufactured sauces, such as ketchup, salsas, soy sauce, and apple sauce.
Being that this is a ‘chef inspired’ blog, I am going to take you through the steps necessary to make an amazing ‘fresh’ sauce, that you may find useful in the upcoming holiday season. As most things tricky, breaking the process down into a few concise steps will simplify the whole things, making it a lot easier.
Sauces are multi-layered. The base is normally a well made stock. The final product is a series of reductions, accentuated on a specific flavor profile. Most sauces are the culmination of four things:
- Stock: A properly produced stock (veal, chicken, duck, lamb, etc) contains the gelatin and overall base flavor for your sauce
- Wine: Most finished sauces have some wine or spirit in them. Red wine sauce, white wine sauce, marsala sauce, and so on. No only does this add a very dynamic and specific flavor, but it also adds a slightly acidic component, cutting and balancing the stock.
- Reduction: This is critical. A finished sauce is usually the product of a series of reductions. A stock needs to be reduced until naturally thick, wine needs to be reduced until concentrated and the alcohol is evaporated. Some sauces call for ‘thickeners’, but in this case, we will keep the product as pure as possible.
- Flavor profile: In the end, this is what the sauce is all about. All the reductions give you a background ‘base’ flavor and the correct consistency. But what will your sauce taste like? What will make it unique and delicious? The wine selection is a big part of this step, but in the end, if you want a mushroom sauce, you need to add sauteed mushrooms and let them cook through. If you want a green peppercorn sauce, you will need to add green peppercorns. If you’re serving veal, maybe you want to add dry cherries to your sauce with port wine. This is when the sauce becomes completely customized and takes its unique identity.
Of course, these four steps illustrate a very basic and linear production of sauces. There are many ways to produce fresh sauces (pan deglazing, use of thickeners and starches, au jus style saucing, cream sauces, and so on), but if you can accomplish this style of sauce production, you will have the skills and understanding to produce most other sauces.
Tomato and tarragon vin blanc
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 1/2 hours
Yield: about 3 cups finished sauce
1 lb white fish bones and heads
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 bunch tarragon
2 carrots, medium diced
2 stalk celery, med dice
3 yellow onions, rough chop
1/2 bunch thyme
1 bulb fennel, med dice
1/2 lb white mushrooms
8 roma tomatoes
1 shallot, small dice
1 bottle dry white wine, sauvignon blanc is best
2 tbsp whole unsalted butter, very cold
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of cayenne pepper
ground black pepper
In a small heavy bottomed stock pot, add the oil and fish bones and gently saute (do not put any color on the bones). Add 1/2 the tarragon, the onions, carrots, celery, fennel, mushrooms, bay leaves, thyme, whole peppercorns, 3/4 of the wine, and 6 of the tomatoes cut in half. Turn heat to high. Reduce the wine by half. Cover bones and vegetables with warm water (just barely cover). And bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes and strain through a fine mesh strainer.
Put stock in a large sauce pot and over high heat, reduce by half. Reserve.
Fine chop the remaining tarragon, and small dice the remaining tomatoes (make sure seeds and skins are removed).
In a small non-reactive sauce pot, add about 1 tsp of vegetable oil and slowly begin sweating the shallot. The goal is not to put any color on the shallot, but to create a sweet and fragrant base to the sauce. Deglaze with the remaining white wine and reduce until almost completely dry (au sec). Add the reduced fish stock. Reduce by half again. Season with salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Add the cream and reduce until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (nape). Add the diced tomato and tarragon. Reseason with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and gently swirl in the cold butter until completely incorporated.
The sauce is now prepared. This of course goes best with fish. And it’s good enough to pair with most white fishes or shellfish. It’s a classic French sauce, and one of the best.