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Anne Freeze: Becoming a saucier at home


Anne Freeze



Terry and I had a sort of date night at home recently. It had been a busy week, and we got to spend all of a Saturday together, beginning at the Hitching Lot and ending with steaks grilling on the hibachi outside. I made some wonderful, crispy oven potatoes from "Cooks Illustrated" and broccoli with hollandaise sauce. 


I love "Cooks Illustrated," with its set 32 pages and no ads and the intelligent, scientific explanations with the recipes. But, it can get a tad tiresome. So I''ll leave it up to you to read the complete explanation on the potatoes. I''ll just share the big secret to their crispiness:  


Parboil the thickly-sliced (1/2-inch) potatoes for five minutes, then drain. (They prefer Yukon Golds; I used russets as I had them on hand.) After draining, toss the potatoes with a small amount of salt and olive oil or take a fork and rough them up on the surface a bit. Cook on a preheated (450 degrees), hot pan for 15-20 minutes, then turn them over for another 15-20 minutes. OMG, they were scrumptious. 


The roughing-up of the texture makes them brown better, and the parboiling has to do with the release of the amylose (starch) in the potato. Anyway, there are a few more details to the recipe, and it''s a lot of reading, but I think now that I have it down I can move on. 






The hollandaise was a rare treat. There is no arguing that this is a rich, rich sauce for such a healthy vegetable. But as long as it is a rare treat, it''s OK -- Julia said so. It reminded me of long, long ago when Daddy used to come home from school for midday dinner. We would infrequently have an entire cauliflower steamed, served whole in a bowl with hollandaise sauce covering the entire head.  


I used to be afraid of hollandaise and have even resorted to buying the powder in a packet or hollandaise in a jar. However, just like the potatoes above, once you "get it," it''s little or no bother at all. Everything you need is generally on hand -- eggs, butter, acid (fresh lemons or vinegar) and a little salt and pepper. And, once the basic method is learned, it can become the base for other flavorful sauces such as Béarnaise (hollandaise with tarragon), or sauce paloise (substitute mint for tarragon, great with lamb), or add capers or zested orange and a bit of orange juice.  


As you can see, hollandaise sauce is something I think everyone needs in his or her cooking repertoire. It is one of the five Mother Sauces of French cooking. For generations, these sauces were so important in the French kitchen that one of the premier positions up the career ladder to chef was the saucier who was responsible for mastering the sauces. In addition to hollandaise, the others are: béchamel, velouté, espagnole and tomato. Some lists also include mayonnaise, which I agree with. 




Sauce primer 


Every Southern cook knows how to make a roux -- add milk or stock and form the base for many a casserole. Well, the roux with milk is the béchamel; with stock, it is velouté. Classic béchamel will have a whole clove, a wedge of white onion and a bay leaf added to the milk while the milk heats, as well as a sprinkle of nutmeg. 


Béchamel is the base for cheese sauce with cheddar cheese or Mornay sauce with grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese (and a dash of Worcestershire sauce). Volouté has three standard variations: chicken stock, veal stock or fish stock. 


Espagnole sauce is a brown version of velouté (referred to as blonde) using a brown (beef) stock and a browned roux (not quite as dark as a gumbo roux). It also has onion, carrot and celery added for flavor (a mirepoix) and strained out at the end, as well as a small bit of tomato paste.  


From espagnole you can make a bordelaise using red wine, or a demi-glace (a greatly reduced sauce made from espagnole and brown stock and herbs). I think this is definitely the most labor- and time-intensive of all the five or six sauces, and I''ve never made it --mostly because I don''t keep beef stock on hand. But, I guess it''s really just brown gravy. 




You say tomato 


Tomato-based sauces are on this list. This can be any of many tomato sauces. The most basic would be simply sautéed fresh tomatoes with olive oil and perhaps some garlic, onion or herbs added. My tomatoes were pretty wimpy this year, but my friend, Jennifer Brady, made several batches of sauce, which she can now pull from the freezer.  


I did make one sauce from leftover roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic, which was good, but a little sweet since the tomatoes were roasted with balsamic vinegar.  




Southern staple 


The sixth sauce is mayonnaise, which I think is also a Southern staple, or at least it once was. Momma used to make it, but only for parties or when she made chicken salad. I think I''ve told this before, but once she discovered Hellman''s she would use it and just add fresh lemon juice, a little olive oil and a pinch of cayenne and swear it tasted like homemade.  


Homemade is so easy with the blender, and you can ensure the quality of ingredients. Using a local egg, olive oil and fresh lemon juice pretty much guarantees a healthier product than most store-bought. But, I don''t make it, and now I''m not sure why. I love, love, love mayonnaise (and it shows) and you''d think that, especially considering there are only two of us and we don''t eat it daily, I would just whip up a small batch. Well, maybe I just will. 


I hope you''ll practice these sauces. You can even find videos online for guidance on technique. You may find the list of sauces named by color: white (béchamel), blonde (velouté), brown (espagnole), red (tomato) and emulsified (hollandaise and mayonnaise).



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