Monday, December 1, 2014

Kitchen 101- Gravy and Sauces

The Chef and I are putting our heads together to come up with what we think are some of the basic skills every cook should master. Not everyone needs to make flawless puff pastry or be able to sear foie gras like a master chef, but making some of the basics should be a priority for everyone who enjoys cooking and loves good food. Where to start? How about an everyday basic like making gravies and sauces? Grocery stores have made it too easy to cheat- with jarred gravy and mixes for every kind of sauce you can think of, many people just don't know how to make them from scratch anymore. We hope to change this. So let's start with a very basic form of thickening- roux.

What is a roux anyway? Quite simply- the easiest way to thicken a liquid. If you were forced to endure Home Economics as a junior high kid (like I was) you might have learned to make white sauce. Thin, medium and thick- each had a specific use and a different amount of butter and flour to thicken it. That, my friends, is roux. Melted butter or fat and flour, in equal parts, with milk or broth, makes your sauce or gravy.

Let's talk about white sauce, or Bechamel sauce, for a few minutes. I mentioned the three types of white sauce- thin, medium and thick. They are all made from the same basic technique- melt the fat, add the flour, cook out the raw flavor, add the milk. Bring to a boil and simmer. Thin white sauce is typically what you would want if you are adding cheese to the sauce. Medium white sauce is the Bechamel most of us are familiar with. Thick white sauce isn't as common as it once was. People don't make croquettes and dishes like that as much as in years past. 

Thin white sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Medium white sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Thick white sauce:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Seems simple enough right? It is!! White sauce is so easy to dress up- a little bit of grainy mustard, some shredded cheese, chopped herbs, sauteed mushrooms or caramelized onions.

Now, what does cornstarch have to do with sauce? For people who prefer not to use wheat products cornstarch is the perfect option. Like roux, the cornstarch mixture used for thickening is called a slurry. For each one cup of liquid, you will need one tablespoon of cornstarch and one tablespoon cold water. Bring your sauce mixture to boil, then whisk in the slurry. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.

Yet another way to make an easy and delicious sauce is to make a reduction. A reduction can be made from almost any liquid- broth or stock, wine, juice. You can't get any easier than a reduction either- simply add your liquid to a heavy saucepan or skillet and boil gently to evaporate the liquid until you have a thick, glossy and luxe reduced liquid. You can add herbs or seasonings and strain them out before using. Red wine and port wine make incredible reductions and are a beautiful sauce for a perfectly cooked steak. Reduced fruit juices are awesome as syrups and flavorings, as well as meat glazes. Like sauces, reductions can be perked up with minced garlic or shallots, a shake or two of spice and some citrus zest.

With those basic sauce skills under your belt, you can dress up the simplest dishes. Have fun and experiment!

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