Friday, June 8, 2012

The Secret's In the Sauce...

Sauces are a great way to add distinctive flair and flavor to whatever you're making. For many people, a sauce comes from a packaged mix, a jar or a can of cream-of-something soup. But making your own sauces "from scratch" isn't hard to do. A few weeks ago I attended a sauce-making class at the Harmons Station Park Cooking School in Farmington.  It was taught by Harmons chef Rob Lundell. 

Bearnaise sauce finishes off steak with asparagus, garnished with  dots of roasted red pepper coulis. (Phillips)

Chef Rob Lundell makes an Alfredo sauce.  (Phillips)

Alfredo sauce with pasta and chicken breast. (Phillips)

Sauces — thickened, flavored liquids — have been added to meat since ancient times, said Lundell. They were often used to cover up the flavor of rancid meat.
"In medieval times their meat wasn't always the freshest, so if you made a nice flavored sauce the meat would taste all right," Lundell told the class of about 15 students.
But modern-day cooks use sauces to complement or contrast with the meat's flavor, instead of trying to cover it up, he added.
A sauce is a nice addition to meats, fish, pasta, or vegetables. It adds flavor and moisture, and can give the dish a "finished" visual appeal.
Classical French cooking is known for its sauces. Other cuisines around the world also offer a variety of flavorful sauces; for instance, pesto from Italy, soy sauce and fish sauce from Asia, curry and chutney from India, and salsa and mole from Mexico.
The legendary French chef Antonin Careme was noted for creating numerous sauces in the 19th century. Around the turn of the 20th century, chef Auguste Escoffier, known as the father of modern French cuisine, consolidated Careme's list to five "mother sauces." In the culinary world, they remain a basic foundation for building dozens of other sauces. For instance, hollandaise sauce can be made into bearnaise sauce by adding shallots, white wine or vinegar, tarragon and peppercorns. Tomato sauce becomes marinara, Spanish sauce, or Creole sauce.
Lundell was involved in recipe development for Harmons, and "most of our soups are centered around a mother sauce," he said.
Three of the mother sauces are thickened with a roux (pronounced roo). This is a mixture of fat (such as butter, oil, or pan drippings) and flour that are cooked together before adding stirring in liquid.
Here are the five "mother" sauces:
Bechamel: a white, milk-based sauce. "This is one of those sauces that you have to stir consistently or you will scorch it," said Lundell. "By itself, it just tastes like thick milk. But it's a starting point for sauce Mornay, by adding cheese, and a lot of cream soups start out with it."
In the class, Lundell made a béchamel sauce, and the students then made an Alfredo sauce using the béchamel.
Lundell's Alfredo recipe calls for Asiago cheese instead of the traditional Parmesan. He said Asiago melts more quickly, and costs less than good Parmesan.
Veloute: a blond sauce, usually made chicken or fish stock. By adding heavy cream, you have supreme sauce. Lundell added caramelized onions to a veloute sauce made with chicken stock, which gave it a rich depth of flavor.
Espagnole: This beefy brown gravy is made from veal or beef stock. It might be served over a steak, studded with mushrooms and onions. It's also the starting point for demi-glace and Lyonnaise sauce (by adding onions and white wine vinegar). Many espagnole-based sauces (such as bordelaise) include some type of wine as a flavoring agent. The longer the sauce is cooked, the more alcohol will evaporate from the wine. Lundell said Harmon's also sells a line of alcohol-free cooking wines called Fre, for those concerned about alcohol intake.
Hollandaise: An emulsion of egg yolk, butter and lemon or vinegar, "along the lines of mayonnaise. You use lots of clarified butter — it's ridiculously bad for you, but it tastes great."
Lundell had the students make their own béarnaise sauce (a variation of hollandaise) which was served over asparagus.
Tomato: Red sauce, thickened by cooking the tomato and other vegetables until some of the liquid evaporates or "reduces." Variations include marinara, Creole, and Spanish sauces.
A good sauce should have a smooth consistency with no lumps, Lundell said.  The roux helps by separating the starches in the flour so they won't clump into your sauce.  The roux's flavor and color change with the amount of cooking time. A pale roux is used in béchamel and veloute sauces, and it's more bland-tasting than the almost nutty flavor of darker roux used in gumbo-making. 
Lundell said that cornstarch-thickened sauces have become a new, or sixth, mother sauce. "They tend to be a lot more clear," he said. "You can use it when making a fruit sauce."

12 large egg yolks
Juice of 1 lemon
1 pound butter, clarified
1 pinch cayenne
Salt to taste
Heat a medium-size pot of water to a simmer. Whisk the yolks and lemon juice together in a stainless steel bowl. Place the bowl over the top of the pot to make a double boiler. Whisk the yolks and lemon juice while the bowl is sitting on the boiling water. Whisk until thick. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the butter, adding a few drops of hot water if the sauce is too thick. Season with cayenne and salt.
— Rob Lundell, Harmon's Station Park Cooking School
Bearnaise Sauce:
2 ounces shallots
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons tarragon
1 teaspoon chervil
1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns
1 recipe Hollandaise Sauce
Cook shallots, vinegar, tarragon and chervil in a small saucepan until the liquid reduces to about half. Whisk the mixture into the hollandaise sauce. Serve over asparagus.
— Rob Lundell, Harmon's Station Park Cooking School
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup diced onion
1 bay leaf
1 quart whole milk
Fresh nutmeg to taste
Salt and white pepper to taste
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the onions and the butter, and sauté to translucence. Add the flour to make a roux. Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the bay leaf. Simmer for about 20 minutes to cook off the "raw flour" taste. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Note: Cream can be substituted for the milk if an extra rich sauce is desired.
— Rob Lundell, Harmon's Station Park Cooking School

1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine (substitution: chicken broth)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups Béchamel Sauce
1 cup Asiago cheese, shredded
Nutmeg and black pepper to taste
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and the olive oil. Add the garlic and sweat it over medium-high heat. Add the broth, wine (if using) and cream, and cook until the mixture is reduced by about half. Add the 2 cups of béchamel sauce, cheese, black pepper and nutmeg. Turn off heat and stir until the cheese has melted.
— Rob Lundell, Harmon's Station Park Cooking School
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (such as Harmon's Recipe Ready brand)
2 tablespoons carrots, diced fine
2 tablespoons celery, diced fine
2 tablespoons leeks, diced fine
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter. Add chicken breasts and sauté until browned on one side, about 7 minutes. Turn the chicken over and add the vegetables and herbs, and cook until chicken is done, about 8 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate. Add the flour to the pan, stirring constantly. Cook about 2 minutes. Whisk in the stock and cook on medium heat about 15 minutes. Season sauce and pour over the chicken.
— Rob Lundell, Harmon's Station Park Cooking School
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon shallots, minced
2 large red bell peppers, roasted and peeled
1 cup chicken stock
In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat to rippling. Add the shallots and sweat them about 2 minutes. Add the bell peppers and chicken stock. Reduce the liquid by half (by cooking until the liquid evaporates). Transfer to a food processor and puree. For a very smooth sauce, strain through a sieve. Add salt and white pepper to taste. Pour into a squirt bottle and use as a plate garnish for meat, such as a steak.
— Rob Lundell, Harmon's Station Park Cooking School

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