If you’re like me, you don’t like being told what to do. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner…” Right? (Miss you, Patrick Swayze.)
But when it comes to learning how to make sauce, there are some rules you just can’t ignore. In today’s post on sauce (the fourth post in a series of epic posts on sauce), we talk about what you shouldn’t do in sauce making.
And if you do break these rules, then you might get put in the corner and the sauce may end up in the trash.
This statement isn’t exactly true. Some sauces are worth buying, including fish sauce, hot sauce, and even barbecue sauce. Just ask Chef Caitlin MacEachen Steininger of the Cooking with Caitlin media empire in Cincinnati:
“I would rather buy BBQ sauce than make it,” she said. “I don’t live in a super passionate BBQ region, so I’m pretty flexible as to what goes on my pulled pork. [Although,] I will never buy any of the mother sauces. It’s too easy to make these sauces from scratch, [and] once you’ve tasted homemade, there is no turning back!”
Chef Chuck Kerber Executive Chef of Chaz Catering LLC and author of the site Pittsburgh Hot Plate said that while he doesn’t dislike any store-bought sauces, he chooses not to use them, because of the chemicals, stabilizers, and unnatural additives.
Chef Dennis K. Littley, the chef at Mount Saint Joseph Academy in Flourtown, Pennsylvania, and blogger at More than a Mount Full understands why many home cooks don’t want to expend the time, labor, and electricity to make a sauce when it’s easier to take the lid off the jar. However, he draws the line at hollandaise.
“I would never buy a canned hollandaise sauce,” he said “You cannot repair a canned hollandaise enough.”
Speaking of repairs…
No, this isn’t about taking your sauce dish and throwing it at your spouse’s head…as tempting as that may be. This is about breaking an emulsion.
“An emulsion is simply the combination of oil and water; two liquids that usually don’t go together,” said Chef Kerber. “In my opinion, the best thing to do if your sauce breaks is start over!”
But if you don’t want to walk away, there are a few ways to fix a broken emulsion. 1) If it’s a hot sauce, use a few ice cubes to bring it back. 2) If it’s a cold sauce, add hot water and stir vigorously. 3) Depending on the type of sauce, you can also add softened butter or egg yolk as you whisk.
“The best tip I can give when it comes to making most of the mother sauces would be mastering the roux,” said Chef Steininger. “A roux is always described as equal parts fat to flour, but I never stay precise to that equation. I add a little flour at a time until the fat can’t take anymore and then I saute together. If there isn’t enough flour, the roux will break and you’ll get a floating island of butter on top of your soups. I know this well. I never truly knew how to make a roux until attending culinary school.”
Chef Littley echoed her sentiments.
“When I teach the girls at school, one of the things I see abused most often is the roux,” he said. “Here’s my recommendation: You can use oil, but I prefer butter. Heat your butter and flour together for awhile before you add hot liquid. The flour will never properly cook if you don’t wait until it smells a little like bread, which could even be 5 to 10 minutes.”
There are three types of roux, which are defined by the length of time cooked and the ensuing color. They include white, blonde, and brown. The darker the roux, the nuttier the flavor.
According to Chef Amy Vitale of TABLES, an adorable Denver restaurant that serves fresh American dishes, you should never make a sauce simply for decorating a plate.
“Every sauce (and item) on the plate should have a purpose to the palette. I think the amount of sauce that should be on the plate depends on the balance of the dish.”
A few times now I’ve made a delicious-looking sauce only to find out that I completely over seasoned that puppy. The seasoning process is fun…what can I say?
Chris Perrin of Blog Well Done nailed it on the head.
“Take it easy on the salt,” he said. “The skillful application of salt is one of the best tools in a chef’s arsenal, but when you make a sauce you are often starting with a salt base (like fond), adding butter (which has salt), then stock (which has salt), and then reducing the sauce before you serve. If you add salt too early in the process, your sauce will taste salty.”
Because I often make this over-seasoning mistake, you bet I asked the chefs how to remedy the problem.
“If I over spice a sauce I will usually try two different things,” said Chef Steininger. “First, I will try to add the opposite flavor of whatever I added too much of. If I added too much acid, I’ll add some sugar or honey to balance it out. If I add too much spice, I’ll add an earthier, heartier herb to try to make the heat [not-so] overwhelming. If this doesn’t work, I’ll dilute the sauce with water and adjust the seasonings to make it taste good. If by adding the water makes the sauce too runny, I’ll add a thickening agent (i.e. roux or slurry) to tighten it up.”
That advice is worth the cost of admission.
The larger the sauté pan the more surface area that your sauce has on the heat, which means it will reduce faster. Reduction reveals the flavor and consistency you want in your sauce.
Chef Steininger said the right consistency is when the sauce coats the back of a spoon. If your sauce doesn’t pass that test, then work in your thickening agent. (See roux above).
I’ve had a few moments where I thought about giving up on the Saucy Dipper and sticking with takeout. A totally over-salted marinara sauce, an underdone slow cooker soup (You thought it was impossible!), and a trip to the emergency room really got me wondering if it was all worth it.
But the truth is that it is worth it, especially if you think of sauce making as an adventure where the mistakes don’t really matter. Chef Matt Selby of Denver’s Vesta Dipping Grill and Steuben’s had a very nice take on the topic.
“There are many mistakes and you can categorize them by the technique being used, and you can name those mistakes all day long, and still not avoid them,” he said. “To me, the only mistake is not being able to roll with the punches. As long as your ingredients are awesome, and you have seasoned the base well, so what if your aioli doesn’t emulsify. Use the sauce, and serve it to your guests with confidence as ‘broken garlic mayonnaise,’ or ‘deconstructed garlic aioli.’”
For more sauce tips, check out the How to Make Sauce page and check back next week when we talk about the tools you’ll need for making sauce.
ps – The very first picture of this post is of an enchilada sauce I made awhile back. Click here to read about how to make enchilada sauce.