From carefully prepared stocks we proceed to make some basic sauces. In the early 19th century Antonin Careme was the first celebrity chef – he cooked for royalty and gave us sauces mères – the mother sauces of French cuisine. These sauces are Allemande, Béchamel, Espagnol, and Velouté. Escoffier added Tomato sauce and the hot emulsion, Hollandaise to the original four sauces. There is debate to how many mother sauces exist some say 4 some say 6 - some even include the cold emulsion sauce – mayonnaise as a seventh sauce. I’m not one to debate this I’m here to learn how to make them.
Class began with this discussion and the Chef demonstrated a few of the sauces we were to make that evening. Tonight’s lesson: Sauce Espagnol, Fond de Veau Lié, Sauce Béchamel, Sauce Vin Blanc, Sauce au Porto and Sauce Châteaubriand aux Champignons – I know, a lot, right?
My cooking team was great – we watched the demo, took notes and went to our stations to prep and prepare Sauce Espagnol and Fond de Veau Lié. Sauce Espagnol is basically a brown sauce made from the veal stock we prepared in the previous class. We were instructed to take our recipes and halve the amounts – mind you our recipes are in metric.
(Side note: I remember when I was about 7 years old the nuns told us in elementary school to learn metric because that was the way of the future – I should have paid more attention to that advice!)
Anyway, back to the sauce making…Sauce Espagnol is a wonderful concoction of sautéed bacon (lardons), carrots and onions (Mire Poix), concassér tomatoes, tomato paste, crushed garlic, sprig of tarragon and mushroom trimmings. The sauce was intoxicating, the aroma was gorgeous with hints of smokiness from the bacon. The sauce simmered gently on the stove for 1 hour – when competed it is strained through a chinois.
Fond de Veau Lié is basically veal stock that is bound with a starch in this case we used cornstarch. Binding elements to sauces are called liaisons. These can vary from a roux, double cream, egg yolks, or even a vegetable purée. I made this sauce quickly with the stock, some mushroom trimmings and chervil. We combined cornstarch with Madeira to create a slurry. When the stock achieved a good boil I added the slurry slowly in a steady stream. Simmered for 5 minutes, strained and we were done. This sauce is nothing fancy but it is the basic sauce needed to create other sauces such as Bordelaise, Bercy and Robert.
Good stocks are the foundation to basic sauces and those sauces create many derivative sauces.
Next a short demo on Sauce Béchamel by the assisting Sous Chef then off to create if for ourselves. I took charge of this sauce. At first I let the roux (equal amounts of butter and flour) become a roux blond by cooking it a little too much. So I started over with fresh roux and a slow, low flame – for a roux blanc – no coloration was required. On another burner we had our milk heating up. When the roux was ready we added the hot milk slowly whisking vigorously to incorporate the roux into the hot milk. Once the milk was absorbed, we added more milk to achieve the desired consistency. Seasoned to taste with salt, a pinch of cayenne, and freshly grated nutmeg – it was simple, delicious.
Sauce Vin Blanc (white wine sauce), is one of the toughest! A very delicate sauce for fish dishes, it was made with the Fumet de Poisson (fish stock) we made in the previous class. My cooking partner took the reigns on this sauce. We corroborated on the proportions and the timing of cooking. She did a great job, we ventured off the recipe a little adding a little more heavy cream to balance the fish flavor which seemed strong to us.
After a quick demo, it was on to Sauce Châteaubriand aux Champignons – I was ready for this one. We both sautéed wild mushrooms separately - oyster and shitake – in butter, of course. We had dried porcini mushrooms soaking in warm water to re-hydrate them. I started sweating the shallots in a hot sauteuse (sauté pan), next I added the porcini and cooked for a few minutes to achieve some color. I took the pan off heat and added brandy (the safest way to add alcohol to a hot pan with an open flame) then I flambéed the mixture, once the brandy cooked off I added some white wine then the other mushrooms that were draining from the butter they were cooked in – a few ladles of Sauce Espagnol, some salt and pepper and it was complete. A luscious sauce that would happily accompany a delicious grilled steak.
(Side note: When adding two types of alcohol to sauces, use the strongest first - in this case the brandy - then cook off the alcohol then afterwards add the white wine.)
At the end of our 5 hour class, Chef instructed that he would come around to all the stations and try our sauces. All the while we were keeping our sauces warm in a bain-marie (water bath) as a saucier would in a restaurant. By this time of the evening, all our sauces had cooled, the Bechemel was too thick, the Sauce Vin Blanc tasted too fishy. Chef gave everyone 10 minutes to correct our sauces and revive them. My team sprang into action! I quickly reheated the Fond de Veau Lié, my partner took the Sauce Vin Blanc and carefully reheated it and added some heavy cream and adjusted the seasonings.
My other partner reheated the Sauce Châteaubriand aux Champignons which started to thicken as well so she corrected this with a ladle of Sauce Espagnol – which I had also just reheated. So the Béchamel worried us, I whipped around the kitchen grabbed a sauteuse, ran to the reach-in refrigerator for the milk. I blasted the gas jets as high as possible and heated some milk to revive our once perfect Béchemel. As I slowly poured a slow stream of heated milk into the sauce, my partner whisked it in to incorporate. We tasted it – and made a decision not to adjust any seasonings.
The Sauce au Porto was the last sauce we made so it was in the best shape. Out team was ready for Chef to come and taste our sauces. We felt good about what we prepared but were concerned about our last minute efforts to revive and refresh almost all of our sauces. Chef came to our station with his spoon, he dipped it into the hot bain-marie water and then dipped the spoon into the Sauce Vin Blanc - the most delicate sauce. He turned the spoon over to see if the sauce coated the back of the spoon – called nappant in French. He then tasted it and we got a nod. He then tried the Sauce Béchamel – I was holding my breath worried that it was still too thick. He liked it and said, “very good.” Lastly, the Sauce Espagnol then the Sauce Châteaubriand aux Champignons. After he tried the Sauce Châteaubriand aux Champignons he asked the Sous Chef to try it as well. She said it was very good and from Chef..., another nod of approval. We quietly felt like rock stars inside.