Whole books have been written on the subject (I highly recommend James Peterson's Beard Award-winning book Sauces: Contemporary and Classical Sauce Making), and careers have been spent mastering the art of sauce-making, and I'm going to try to make you into a saucier on one Web page? I think not ... I'm just a humble former culinary student, many years away from being one myself!
But I will share with you the tiny bit that I've learned, and point you in the right direction. Sauces are extremely important, and can make or break a dish. There are many sauces used in Creole cooking, some of which are derived from some of the classical sauces listed below. But first ...
Sauces, unless they're jus type sauces, shouldn't be thin and watery. There are many ways to thicken a sauce. One classic method: if you've ever asked a Louisianian for how to start many of her or his dishes, you're liable to hear something along the lines of, "Dawlin, first ya make a roux"; learning to make a roux is essential.
Here are a few other sauce-thickening techniques:
Yes, I know ... "That's an awful lot of butter, cream and egg yolks," you're saying. Well, although a roux is still essential to much Creole and Cajun cuisine, rouxs and butter thickeners have somewhat fallen out of favor with nouvelle chefs. There are a few other thickening that are wonderful, and are better for you:
- Monter au beurre
- This is a French term meaning to finish a sauce with butter. As the last step in making a sauce, you can swirl in chunks of cold unsalted butter, one at a time, whisking until melted, giving the sauce a velvety texture and rich flavor.
- Beurre manié
- This is a kneaded mixture of butter and flour, sometimes called "uncooked roux", and is added at the end of cooking for quick thickening. Add 2-1/2 ounces of flour to 3-1/2 ounces of butter that's been softened until pliable, but is still cool. Use a wooden spoon to mix into a paste. Use an electric mixer for larger quantities. Use immediately or refrigerate.
- This is a mixture of cream and egg yolks, used to thicken soups and sauces. To prepare, 3 beaten egg yolks to one cup of heavy cream. Never add directly to hot liquids, or you'll end up with scrambled eggs. Instead, temper the liaison by adding a small amount of the hot liquid to it to gradually raise the temperature.
- Your mom called this "cooking down" ... it's the process of cooking a liquid until some or most of the water has evaporated. This not only thickens a sauce, but it intensifies its flavor. Use a heavy pot; sometimes this takes a while, and you don't want to burn your sauce. Bring the liquid or sauce to a simmer, and cook until the required volume has cooked away (i.e., to reduce by half means cook until the volume is half of what you started with). Many of the sauces found in more nouvelle Creole and contemporary New Orleans cuisine are based on reductions.
- A slurry is a mixture of a starch and cold water. You can use cornstarch (preferred for thickening milk or dairy sauces), arrowroot (great for defatted meat sauces or broths; gives a wonderful glossy sheen and fatty mouth-feel, but it's expensive), potato starch, rice flour, or regular flour. Proportion is 1 part starch with 2 parts COLD liquid. Remove from the heat before you add the slurry, or you'll end up with dumplings.
Even though you don't see them as much in contemporary cuisine these days (reduction-style sauces being the current vogue), any discussion of sauce-making MUST begin with the five Mother Sauces, which are listed below. I had to learn it, and so do you. :^)
Under each one I'll list some classic secondary sauces that are derived from it.
The "Mother Sauces", with some secondary sauces
- Hollandaise (butter and egg yolks) and its derivatives
- Béchamel (milk and roux), New Orleans style
- Velouté (white stock and roux)
- Espagnole, or brown sauce
- Classic Tomato sauce
Other butter-based sauces
Here are a few sauces used in New Orleans and Acadiana.
Sauces from Louisiana cuisine
Other classic sauces
- Aioli: garlic mayonnaise
- Marchand de Vin
- Rouille: Red pepper garlic sauce
- Basic vinaigrette
Here are some nifty sauce recipes I've collected here and there:
Other miscellaneous sauces
creole and cajun recipe page | the gumbo pages' home page
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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)