Next time you dine in a good restaurant and order something delicious that comes with a really, really flavoursome sauce and you close your eyes and swoon at the heady aroma, savour the unctuous texture, and deliberate over the subtle but deeply delectable underlying seasoning, I want you to pause for a moment and remember this: 18 – 20 hours of labour went into preparing that sauce.
The process begins with stock – let’s say you are eating something meaty, so a brown stock. First we clean the bones and then roast them to a rich brown before smearing over tomato puree and roasting some more until the paste is cooked and changes colour. At that point we take the bones from the oven and place in a stock pot with cold water – it must be cold water so the flavour releases slowly as the bones heat. Now we roast roughly chopped (mirepoix) carrot, celery, leek and onion (yay, no julienne, brunoise or paysanne here) to a rich brown then add to the stock, deglazing the roasting pan and adding the juices to the pot. Now for the bouquet garni: tie thyme, a bay leaf, peppercorns and parsley stalks in a muslin square and put that into the pot along with any available mushroom and tomato trimmings (i.e. skins you have left from vege prep for something else). Bring everything to the boil, skim the top and wipe any residue from around the pot, reduce to a simmer continue to skim the top regularly as impurities rise to the top. After 6 - 8 hours, skim for a final time then strain, cool quickly, cover and refrigerate.
Notes about stock:
- Rule of thumb for quantities is 2:1:1/4 – for example, for 5 litres of stock you start with 5 litres of water, 2.5kg of bones and 625grams of mirepoix.
- The aim is a flavoursome clear liquid which extracts flavour through gentle simmering, so do not cut veggies too small, do not cover the pot, do not boil, skim regularly.
- Cooking too long can result in bitter flavours, undercooking in a weak flavour.
- White stock is roughly the same, and fish stock rather different but that’s another story.
So, after all this we are part way to your luscious sauce. Sauces, as we all know can make or break a plate of food. A great piece of meat, chicken or fish can be ruined by a thin, insipid or bitter sauce, whereas a mediocre dish can be lifted to greatness with the addition of something brilliant by way of a good sauce.
This week we learn the three classical roux based sauces and some of their derivatives.
- Béchamel, made with a white roux, is the base for derivatives such as Mornay, Cream sauce, Onion sauce, Parsley sauce and so on.
- Velouté, made with a blonde roux and the addition of a white stock instead of milk, becomes the basis for derivatives such as White wine sauce and Sauce supreme, which are in turn derivatives of Mushroom sauce, Thermidor etc.
- Espagnole begins with a brown roux and the addition of brown stock and in turn is used to make a Bordelaise, Sauce chasseur and others.
Sauces take patience.
To continue with our brown stock then, we use it to make a basic brown sauce known as Espagnole. This requires dripping (I KNOW!! I haven’t seen dripping since I was a kid) to make a brown roux and then addition of the aforemade brown stock, browning more vegetables and bacon adding them along with a bouquet garni and guess what – another 6 -8 hours of simmering and skimming.
On the third day, we create demi-glace. We take a litre of brown stock, a litre of Espagnole and then reduce it to half of its volume. We then use 600ml of this demi-glace to make Sauce chasseur - which I take home and we have on our steak for dinner and jolly nice it is too.
Apparently there are 200 odd various sauces so forgive me if I don’t describe any more. This week we made three stocks: brown, white and fish. We make lots of sauces: Béchamel Hollandaise, Fresh tomato sauce, Beurre blanc, Espagnole, Classical tomato sauce, Velouté, Demi-glace, Sauce chasseur and Sauce provençal. Suffice to say they generally tend to be more complicated than throwing in a few mushrooms or cream!
A really great week and one in which I learn some of the things I came on this course to learn. Loved it! It is very interesting, for me at least, to ponder classical cuisine the City and Guilds way. Is it an oxymoron to have an English qualification in classical French cookery? Some of the sauces we made this week, especially the tomato based ones, were a long way from what we as modern
cooks would consider a good tomato sauce. The Classical tomato sauce we made had NO TOMATOES in it – just tomato puree. The Fresh tomato sauce, mercifully, did. New Zealand
This coming week fills me with dread! The subject line is Boiling, poaching and steaming. I see the odd gem hidden in the workbook, but there is, waiting for me in the kitchen boiled cauliflower and steamed broccoli and cabbage. Surely it can’t be as bad as I imagine? Stand by for next week’s exciting installment…..