If you’re a newcomer to the kitchen, you might scoff at sauces. You know, that starchy liquid that other chefs like to drizzle over their finished dish? Sometimes they’re even used as decorative elements on the plate. So how important can they be?
As it turns out, pretty darn important. The truth is that sauces are like little keys that help to unlock the secret potential of ingredients. Imagine a world where steak is served completely plain without a creamy béarnaise or an earthy peppercorn sauce to liven it up; it’s like watching a movie with no sound on. In fact, it’s so important that traditional French kitchens would employ one chef (called a saucier) to do nothing else but just make sauces.
Sauces are thickened liquids that enhance and complement ingredients through flavor, texture and moisture, and can also make a dish look more visually appealing.
Sauce can be served cold (mayonnaise), lukewarm (pesto), or warm (Béchamel), and can even be savoury or sweet. At its very base, sauces should complement the flavours of the main ingredient, as well as its texture and cooking method.
Chefs trained in Western cuisine would immediately be familiar with the fundamental French sauces, more affectionately known as the 5 Mother Sauces.
Here’s a quick guide to your leading sauces:
An emulsion of egg yolk and liquid butter, usually seasoned with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Often used for fish, steak, gratin, thermidor and Eggs Benedict.
Made largely out of tomatoes, it can also be mixed with onions and garlic. Goes well with pasta, meats and vegetables, and often used for pizza bases.
Known as the white sauce, Béchamel is a milk-based sauce that’s thickened with white roux.
A light, reduced stock that’s thickened with a white roux. Good for vegetable, chicken and fish.
A fortified brown veal stock sauce that’s thickened with brown roux. Goes well with meat.
These sauces make up the building blocks for many secondary sauces to be birthed from. Think of them as the base of a pyramid that allows for an infinite number of sauces to be built upon them. For example, add a little dash of finely chopped tarragon to your hollandaise and voila, you have a béarnaise sauce.