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Culinary Connection: Sauce SavvyCulinary Connection: Sauce Savvy

October 1, 1998

5 Min Read
Culinary Connection:  Sauce Savvy

Culinary Connection:
Sauce Savvy
October 1998 -- Applications Plus

By: Michael L. Minor

  Sauce is defined as "a fluid dressing or topping to complement the flavor of food." A "gravy" is a sauce made from the juices of cooked meat, poultry, seafood or vegetables, then seasoned and thickened.

  Based on the definition, sauces can be of the sweet, savory or astringent variety. Gravies, on the other hand, are only savory. However, in classical cooking, very seldom is the term "gravy" used when preparing savory sauces, because a sauce is perceived to be a more complex culinary creation than a gravy.

Early efforts

  In the early days of cooking, lack of refrigeration restricted meat, poultry, fish and seafood to extremely short shelf lives. Sauces and gravies often were used as a way to mask the flavor of slightly tainted foods.

  Chefs created the sauces from the juices extracted from cooking extra quantities of meat, poultry, fish or seafood. For example, they would cook twice the amount of meat necessary for a meal so there would be enough juice to prepare the sauce.

  The history of sauce preparation is vague because early cookbooks described the eating habits of the rich and poor, but very seldom described the cooking process. Occasionally, recipes were scattered throughout the books, with little information on how they were served. However, many of the recipes from early cookbooks reflect some of the flavor blends on today's menus.

  The French defined classical cooking and sauce preparation in the 19th century. Before the French Revolution, the greatest cooking was done in palaces and private homes, and only the wealthy enjoyed fine dining. After the French Revolution, many chefs found themselves without jobs so they began opening their own restaurants. Fine dining could now be enjoyed by anyone who could afford the price of the meal. French citizens became extremely interested in French cuisine and the great chefs were considered celebrities.

  Sauces once named for members of nobility, such as béchamel, Mornay and soubise, were now named for the chefs who created them (Vison or Duglere). Sauces such as espagnole, velouté, tomato, hollandaise and a version of ketchup all originated in 19th century French cuisine.

  Antonin CarÍme was the most detailed of all the great chefs and food writers of the 19th century. It was he who created a systematic method for creating complex sauces from the "Grand Sauces," more commonly known as the "Mother Sauces." Chef August Escoffier continued to systemize Carême's work and, for many culinarians, remains the authority on French cuisine as documented in his book, Le Guide Culinaire.

  Novelle cuisine represents the start of chefs beginning to develop new ideas in cooking and food presentation, marking the initial break from classical cooking. This didn't really take hold in Europe until the late 1960s. However, in the United States, chefs began creating dishes much earlier, beginning the regional and ethnic cuisines throughout the country.

  Sauce preparation became most innovative in the 1960s and 1970s when chefs got away from the heavier, complex sauces thickened with flour, to lighter sauces using cream, butter and egg yolks as the liaison.

Three parts

  The basic structure of a sauce has three parts: a liquid; a thickening agent; and additional seasoning and flavor ingredients.

  Five liquids form the foundation of most sauces: white stock - chicken, veal or fish - for velouté; brown stock - beef - for brown sauces, or espagnole; milk for béchamel; tomato plus stock for tomato sauce; and clarified butter for hollandaise sauce.

  Thickening agents include: roux (a cooked mixture of equal parts by weight of fat and flour); starch and liquid slurries (made from flour, cornstarch, arrowroot, waxy maize, instant or pregelatinized starch, bread crumbs, puréed vegetables, potato starch or rice flour); and egg yolk and cream liaison.

  The first step in most classic sauces is making stock. Classic stock preparation in today's foodservice operations is not practical for several reasons:

The process is time- and energy-consuming.
Raw materials are expensive.
Proper temperature is required to prevent bacterial growth.
An inconsistent finished product is produced.
A skilled, trained staff is required.
High-priced kitchen space and equipment is utilized for long periods of time.

  To address these concerns, foodservice operators may elect to use contemporary ingredients such as food bases and sauce concentrates for simplified, cost-effective sauce preparation. Other ingredients can be added to make a more complex sauce, allowing chefs and foodservice operators to be creative without going through all the steps of classic sauce preparation.

  Finishing techniques in classic sauce preparation include reduction, straining, enriching and seasoning.

  Reduction involves simmering a sauce for long periods of time to evaporate liquid and intensify flavor. Most classic sauces involve a reduction process. Reductions also can be made from stock. The finished product is called a glace. Glace is then added to a sauce to intensify flavor. Even though reduction sauces are a popular trend, when served directly on a protein they tend to dominate flavor. It is preferable to serve a reduction sauce on the side, rather than on the plate.

  Straining creates a velvety smooth sauce by eliminating any graininess that might not be visible. Enriching is accomplished by adding a liaison of egg yolks and cream, heavy cream and/or butter. This step adds a nice shine to the sauce and provides a rich mouthfeel.

  Seasoning is the final step in classic sauce preparation. Carefully seasoning a finished sauce is one of the most important steps. Never add any seasoning to the point that a particular ingredient can be identified in the finished sauce. If an ingredient can be identified, too much has been added. Remember, a good sauce complements the flavor of the food with which it is served; it shouldn't be the dominant flavor.

When prepared and seasoned correctly, sauces add a wonderful finish to any dish.

  Chef Minor serves as director of culinary services for Nestlé USA's FoodServices Division, and is a founding member of the Research Chefs Association. Additional professional affiliations include the American Culinary Federation (certified executive chef), the American Academy of Chefs, and the Foodservice Executive Association. In 1977, he joined the L.J. Minor Corporation, the leading manufacturer of food bases and sauce concentrates, and now a division of Nestlé USA. There he led a team of eight chefs to win the Grand Gold Medal in the 1984 World Culinary Olympics.

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