I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

saucy: a culinary project, take 1

It took me a while to figure it out, since the hundreds of sauce variations could have us eating rich food for a year, but I finally hit on a strategy and started working on my sauces this week. To get through a few at once, I decided to group them by the food they're served with and have a few at once. First up: chicken. So, here we go...

I need more hands.
One note - the recipes for the soubise and the suprême came from my Sauces book, while the Allemande came from the Sauce Bible, mostly because I realized that I had used all my shallots in the other two sauces, was out of onions, and had no tarragon (the horror!), and the Sauce Bible version didn't require those ingredients. I did find it interesting that even within the various sauces, there are different chefs' takes on the classic ones sometimes.

1. Soubise Sauce (Béchamel)

A béchamel sauce is a basic white sauce. I've made it dozens of times before and tossed in garlic and parmesan for pasta, lemon and dill for salmon, and cheddar for mac & cheese. A roux (the thickener) is made with butter and flour that cook together (how long? Depends if you want a roux blanc, roux blonde, or roux brun. Yes really. It darkens and the taste changes as you cook it longer), then milk is added and heated until it thickens. This gives a blank canvas, pretty much, just awaiting the other flavours. 

For the soubise, shallots were sliced thin and sweated in butter until soft, then the béchamel and some cream was added to this and all cooked for about 10 minutes. I'm pretty sure I'd just have eaten it then, but this was strained through a sieve (my sieves got a good workout today) for a velvety smooth sauce infused with shallots. A bit of salt and pepper, and it was delicious.

2. Allemande Sauce (Velouté)

Velouté sauce starts much like a béchamel, with a roux, but stock is added instead of milk. The stock flavour (chicken, beef, fish, vegetable) as well as the aromatics shape the flavour of the sauce. Thickening takes longer than a béchamel but it's a great sauce base and well worth the time.

Allemande (German) sauce started with mushrooms, shallots, lemon juice and chicken stock that simmered happily before having some of the velouté added. After this cooked a bit, I added a liaison (new culinary term! yay!) of egg yolk and some cream that had been whipped together. The liaison is used as a further thickening agent.

This sauce, a lovely pale yellow, was rich but bright with the hint of lemon. Very good. 

Historical note: this sauce was renamed Sauce blonde or Sauce Parisienne during the second World War. The politics of food didn't start with "Freedom Fries".

3. Sauce Suprême with mushrooms and sherry (Velouté)

This time, the mushrooms were simmered in the velouté before being strained, cream and butter added   (more cream! This? Is why I can't do this for a year. I'm trying to lose some weight here), and then sherry added before serving. We didn't like this one as much as the others, the sherry flavour being stronger than we wanted. A suprême is a great base for any flavour, really, so the technique is one I'll likely use again.

So, roasted chicken served with three sauces. It felt more like a tasting than a meal, but we enjoyed trying them. I learned a few things:

  • this is fun.
  • I can see why the saucier in a restaurant is a job in itself. I had all four burners going at one point, the counter busy with my chopping and whipping prep.
  • mastering the sauces would take years. I appreciate it more now.
  • looking forward to the next sauce tasting - beef with béarnaise, bordelaise, Albert, and maybe chasseur.

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