Like stocks, sauces have lost some of their importance in the modern kitchen setup. The skill of the Chef Saucier was second to none and sauce making was and important and treasured art. Most of the decline could be attributed to the advent of convenience foods and the eating habits of people.
However, much of this change is due to misunderstandings. How many times have we heard people exclaim `I don’t want all these sauces, give me plain and simple food’ and then proceed to pour ketchup and chili sauce over everything from French fries to burgers and even pizzas!! This could also be attributed to poorly made sauces. No one likes thick and pasty sauces over their meat or vegetables or salty but otherwise tasteless sauces gumming up their meat and fish.
But just because some chefs serve badly made sauces, there is no reason to reject all sauce cookery. In fact, good sauce making is the pinnacle of good cooking, both in the skill they require and the excitement and variety they create in the food. Very often the most memorable part of a meal is the excellent sauce that accompanied the meat or the fish. A sauce works like a seasoning. It enhances and accents the flavor of the food. It should not dominate, overpower or hide the food.
A sauce is defined as a flavorful liquid, usually thickened, which is used to flavor, season and enhance other foods.
A sauce adds the following qualities to food:
- Appearance, color and shine
- Interest and appetite appeal
Sauces can be classified as under:
- Mother sauces/leading sauces
- Derivative/secondary sauces
- Emulsion sauces
- Proprietary sauces
- Dessert sauces
- Miscellaneous sauces
Three kinds of ingredients make up the structure of a sauce.
- A Liquid, which is the body of the sauce
- A Thickening agent
- Additional seasoning and flavoring agents
A liquid agent provides the base and the body of the sauce:
Milk for the Béchamel
Stock for the Veloute and Espagnole
Butter for the hollandaise
Oil for the Mayonnaise
A sauce must be thick enough to cling lightly to the foods; otherwise it will run off and lie in a puddle at the bottom of the dish. This does not mean that it should be heavy and pasty either. Starches are the most common thickening agents used in sauces but there are others as well.
- Roux : Cooked mixture of butter and flour
- Beurre manie : uncooked mixture of butter and flour
- Whitewash: blend of milk and flour
- Slurry: blend of water and flour
- Corn starch: blend of corn flour and water. Used when a clear glossy texture is required.
- Arrowroot: used like cornstarch but gives an even clearer sauce.
- Waxy maize: Used when sauce is to be frozen. Flour and other starches break down and lose their thickening power when they are frozen. Waxy Maize does not.
- Breadcrumbs: Both fresh and dry will thicken sauces very quickly as they have already been cooked.
- Egg Yolks: used as thickening in emulsion sauces such as mayonnaise and Hollandaise.
- Egg Yolk and Cream Liaison: Thick cream also adds thickness and flavor to the sauce. Egg yolks have the power to thicken because of the coagulation of the protein present in the yolk, when heated. Besides thickening, the liaison also gives richness, flavor & smoothness to the sauce.
In order to vary the basic sauce, other flavoring and seasoning ingredients are added to the sauce. They provide character to the finished sauce. This also makes it possible for sauces to accompany different dishes, as the different flavors will vary and complement a variety of tastes.
- Consistency & Body:
Most sauces should be smooth with no lumps. They should not be too thick and pasty. They must be thick enough to coat the foods lightly.
The flavor of the sauce should be distinctive and well balanced. There must be a proper degree of seasoning with no starchy taste. The flavor should be selected to enhance or complement the food.
The appearance should be smooth with a good shine and gloss. It should have the requisite color: rich brown for the espagnole, pale ivory for the veloute and white (not gray) for the béchamel.
These are sauces that do not fit into any of the above classifications. These include:
- Mint Sauce for Roast lamb
- Horse radish sauce for Roast Beef
- Bread Sauce for Roast Chicken
- Cranberry sauce for Roast Turkey
- Apple sauce for Roast Pork
- Raisin Sauce for Ham
- Orange sauce for Roast duck
These are sauces, which are served exclusively for desserts. These will include
- Custard sauce for steamed and baked puddings
- Jam Sauce for ice creams and sundaes
- Chocolate sauce
- Rum sauce
- Brandy sauce
- Melba sauce