Side Orders: Sauce-making an art form

Side Orders: Sauce-making an art form

March 6th, 2013 by Anne Braly in Life Entertainment

How about some saucy talk ...

Sauces are a specialty of the house in many restaurants. In fact, some chefs spend hours in classes devoted solely to the preparation of sauces.

"Sauce-making is considered a specialty because it requires a delicate balancing of flavors," said Cynthia Keller, an alumnus of the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where she is now the associate dean of culinary fundamentals. "Often in the French sauce-making tradition, this involves the nuance of blending herbs, wines or aromatic spirits along with reduced stock and often finishing with just the right balance of richness from whole butter, heavy cream or high quality olive oil. International or global cuisines each have their own specialized categories of sauces from mole, to curry and so on."

It might sound simple but, as Keller says: "The specialization is the art of getting it just right to bring about the perfect balance of flavors exploding on your tongue. This comes from years of practice and training the chef's palate. The most important lesson about sauce-making is taking your time and building the sauce with the freshest and best ingredients possible."

Keller said most nicer restaurants trust their sauce-making duties to a well-trained chef. St. John's in downtown Chattanooga follows suit, depending on Rebecca Barron to make the sauces accompanying many dishes on the menu. She was instructed in the art by St. John's sous chef and butcher Kenny Burnap.

"I love making sauces because a great sauce can turn something that's good into something that's amazing," Barron said.

Keller said most sauces made in fine restaurants start with a stock made from meat, poultry or fish and is simmered gently for quite some time to concentrate the flavor. Barron said St. John's typically uses roasted veal bones that marry with other ingredients. One of her favorites, she said, contains golden raisins and beet chutney combined with a port demi-glace and buerre fondue.

The classical cuisine of France, where sauces are considered a culinary art of the highest sort, breaks down sauces into five basic categories that may be varied by adding or changing the ingredients, Keller explains. They are:

Sauce Béchamel: A white, milk-based sauce, used for white pizza, lasagna, moussaka and the base for cheese sauces.

Sauce Velouté: Based upon a white stock such as chicken and used for white stews or saucing poached fish and other items.

Sauce Espagnole: A basic brown sauce, good for braises and stews.

Tomato sauce: Many different variations.

Hollandaise sauce and its variations, such as Béarnaise sauce: Emulsions of butter and egg yolks with different herbs and seasonings added.

Sauces add a certain dynamic to a dish, Keller said. They can add subtly reinforced flavor, for instance, making chicken taste more like chicken. A sauce can add moisture and texture, but it also can provide a counterpoint to jazz things up. A simple grilled fish with a salsa as a counterpoint brings about a contrast of warm mild fish with crisp spicy tangy vegetables.

"The possibilities are limitless, left to the creativity of the cook," she said.

So next time you're looking at a piece of meat and tired of the same old flavor, try a new sauce. You might be surprised at the change it can bring about.

Here is the Culinary Institute of America's recipe for its special hollandaise.

Hollandaise Sauce

1/2 teaspoon cracked peppercorns

1/4 cup white wine or cider vinegar

1/4 cup water, or as needed

4 large fresh egg yolks

1 1/2 cups melted butter, unsalted

2 teaspoons lemon juice, or as needed

2 teaspoons salt, or as needed

Pinch ground white pepper

Pinch cayenne (optional)

Combine the peppercorns and vinegar in a small pan and reduce over medium heat until nearly dry, about 5 minutes. Add the water to the vinegar reduction. Strain this liquid into a stainless-steel bowl.

Add the egg yolks to the vinegar reduction and set the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisking constantly, cook the egg yolk/vinegar mixture until the yolks triple in volume and fall in ribbons from the whisk. Remove the bowl from the simmering water and place it on a clean kitchen towel to keep the bowl from slipping.

Gradually ladle the warm butter into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. If the sauce becomes too thick and the butter is not blending in easily, add a little water to thin the egg mixture enough to whisk in the remaining butter. Season the Hollandaise with lemon juice, salt, pepper and cayenne, if desired. Serve immediately or keep the sauce warm in a bowl over simmering water. Makes 2 cups.

Congratulations go out this morning to Dan Benton of Panera Bread. Benton was recently named top local general manager for 2012 by the local Panera Bread franchise organization, CSC Investments. He achieved the recognition because of his track record for consistently successful operations and his commitment to the concept and brand.

In a news release, Tom Krings, operating partner for the franchise investment company, says Panera's success as a concept depends on positive customer service, and the keys to that are running a consistent operation and building strong relationships in the community. Benton has done just that, Krings says.

Benton has been with Panera for seven years, starting at the Northgate location before moving to the Gunbarrel Road location in March 2007. He recently moved to the Panera Bread in Cleveland, Tenn.

Do you make the best biscuits in town, or do you know someone who does? If so, consider an entry into Knoxville's International Biscuit Festival Biscuit Bake-Off. The event, recently rated by as the No. 1 food festival in the nation, will be held in downtown Knoxville on May 18, but entries must be in no later than April 22 in one of four categories: sweet biscuits, savory biscuits, special biscuits and student biscuits (for biscuit bakers under 18). The special biscuit category is for those biscuits that are over-the-top and imaginative. Applications and more information can be found at