Updated: Jul 5
Sauces are important across the culinary landscape, but recently, many can be seen as outdated and somewhat pointless in a dish. What's often overlooked is that many important sauces are the basic building blocks for final sauces.
I always tell people that sauces are the first step if you truly want to improve your cooking and recognition of flavors. There are many complicated sauces out there, many we will post recipes for. Still, you can learn to use herbs and other aromatics at their most basic level and, most importantly, recognize their flavor notes and how they change in the cooking process.
The Ingredient Effect
Take French Onion Soup, for example; you want to caramelize the onions slowly to bring out the sugar. Cook them too fast, and all their flavor will be cooked out; too little, and you won't get the sweet onion flavor. Sauces are no different; adding ingredients and thickeners will affect the end product.
Take butter, for example. You can read about it here, but it can tremendously affect sauces. Ghee is a form of butter that's been clarified. You would melt butter at a very low temperature and skim off any bubbles that rise to the top. You can also buy it, but I often find the taste isn't as good as from scratch. While both are still butter, ghee will give your sauce a more robust and nuttier butter flavor. The little touches in preparing a sauce will bring out the flavor.
Easy or a Challenge?
Many sauces fit on this spectrum of being easy or challenging to prepare. I want to change how you think about this, though. Sauces are inherently easy to make but mastering and creating dynamic taste is challenging. Take chicken stock, for example. The basis for this "sauce" is using bones and boiling fouls and boiling them to extract flavor. It sounds relatively simple, and in its simple form, it is. There are elements of time and temperature in play, additional flavorings, and other techniques to ensure that your stock is flavorful. It's easy to create a chicken stock, but it can be challenging to create a flavorful stock- sauces are no different.
Eggs Benedict is one recipe that comes to mind; it's not all that difficult to make. There are numerous methods, one consisting of mixing the ingredients cold- easy to do. Still, the flavors aren't as intense as the traditional method outlined by the late French chef Auguste Escoffier.
Though sauces go on top of many dishes, they are the foundations of good cooking. The point here is that making sauces is easy. Making good sauces can be challenging; luckily, spices are inexpensive, so sauces can be easily practiced without breaking the bank. It also helps you learn basic cooking techniques and flavors.
Importance & Improving Sauces
Sauces are not only crucial for those wanting to improve their cooking but also to elevate a dish. From decoration on a plate, complimenting or contrasting other flavors, creating moisture for a dish, or simply adding additional flavors, sauces are important in more ways than one.
Our poached pear recipe is an excellent example of this. Poached in red wine, the pear would feel empty and out of place without a sauce. We boil and reduce the sauce to create a syrup texture. This sweet sauce helps to compliment the pear with a strong but warm wine flavor. Not to mention how this sauce elevates the presentation.
Are you more inexperienced in this field, though- in sauce-making? Don't fear! We have many recipes on our website to help. My one word of advice, though, is not to be scared; try new flavors and techniques. One of the easiest ways to experiment is to cook meat such as chicken or steak. All of those juices that come from it are perfect for sauce experimentation! Add herbs, add flour as a thickener, and butter for creaminess. Open your fridge and experiment with what you have. If it doesn't turn out, tweak it or learn what didn't work for next time.
I could go into numerous sauce-making techniques, which we have outlined in our recipes. But the best advice I can give is to experiment and learn. If you are interested in traditional sauces, I recommend the book Escoffier; want to know flavor parings? I recommend The Flavor Bible, or perhaps you want to learn the science behind sauces; in this case, I'd recommend On Food and Cooking (a standard issue book at The Culinary Institute of America).
**want more books to learn about cooking? Click here!
Be sure to look through recipes on our website to practice sauce making!
"The Flying Chef"