It’s hard to imagine many meals that don’t incorporate sauce recipes. Most of the sauces that grace our dinner tables today are there to enhance the flavour of our meal. Drawn butter sauce, for example, brings out the best in seafood, particularly crayfish.
But sauce recipes had less noble beginnings. The word ‘sauce’ actually comes to us from French. Originally, it referred to a relish that made unpleasant food more palatable. Even before sauce had its name, the early Romans used a very thick, heavily seasoned sauce to cover up the often bad taste of a meal. Sauces were often used so heavy-handedly that the diner might not know exactly what he was eating. And that, I’m afraid, was the point.
We have nicer needs for sauces today. A sauce gives us complementary flavour for our meat or tops off our vegetables. It provides us with something to dip our bread in, or even our fingers when the sauce is “just that good.” Though there are countless variations for sauce recipes, they almost all start out with one of the ‘Mother Sauces.’
- These are:
Tomato – this is a tomato-based sauce with thickeners
Béchamel [bay-shah-mehl, beh-shah-mehl] – also called by its Italian name, ‘balsamella’, this basic French white sauce is made by stirring milk into a butter-flour roux. The thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of flour and butter to milk. Béchamel is a base for many other sauces.
Espagnole [ehs-pah-nyohl] – is a brown sauce used as a base for dozens of other sauces. It’s traditionally made of a rich meat stock, a mirepoix of browned vegetables, a brown roux, herbs and sometimes tomato paste.
Velouté [veh-loo-tay] – a stock-based white sauce. It can be made from chicken or veal stock thickened with white roux. Enrichments such as egg yolks or cream are sometimes also added. Velouté is the base for a number of other sauces.
Hollandaise [hol-uhn-dayz] – is made with butter, egg yolks and lemon juice, and served warm.
Once you’ve mastered these five, all other sauce recipes will come easily to you.