Jan 20, 2022, 21:15

Independent Sauces: The Red-headed Stepchildren of the Mother Sauces

06 January 2011

By Brian Campbell, CEC, CCE

food2_jan11Restaurants need students who can not only create and reproduce quality independent sauces (cold and hot), but also know how to use them properly.

I have taught several different classes over the years: Classical French, International, Stocks and Sauces, Traditional European, New World (Cuisine of the Americas) and, most recently, Garde Manger. It is in the latter that I have found myself settling for an extended stay. At our school, Garde Manger is a sophomore-level class that, more often than not, follows an externship in the industry that lasts a full term (about 12 weeks). I mention this only to put into perspective the experience level of the students when they enter my class. They have a year of freshman-level skill-based classes and at least some work experience (externship) that ideally placed them in a full rotation in the kitchen where they were able to put these skills into practice.

One of those freshman-level classes includes Stocks and Sauces, which includes the preparation of the leading (grand or mother) sauces. The name changes depending on the school you attend or the text you are using, but they all pretty much agree on Antonin Carême’s four original (béchamel, velouté, demi-glace and tomato) and Auguste Escoffier’s addition of hollandaise (which encompasses all types of emulsion sauces) for a total of five leading sauces.

Most sauce classes focus on these five basic sauce preparations and the many derivatives, such as the sauces Mornay, allemande, Robert, Creole and Choron. Independent sauces get a mention, but the variety is so vast that it sometimes muddies the educational water next to a nice flow-chart of leading sauces with their derivatives cascading down from each category.

With the time constraints of a sauce class, the amount of practice required to perfect the sauces and the products needed to produce them, independent-sauce education and practice are left to other classes where they tie directly into the cuisine of that course. For example, in a class such as International Cuisine (also a sophomore-level class at our school), students will discuss and produce chutneys and yogurt-based sauces as a function of the cuisine and culture taught that day.

With the above framework in place, it is easier to explain the students’ perspective on cold independent sauces. When arriving to my class, they feel like they have (justified or not) a firm grasp of hot-food techniques in both theory and practice. On the first day of class I explain that Garde Manger class in a lot of ways must be approached like a freshman-level class. Although the basics still apply as in any class, the end result is food presented cold. To that end, the cooking techniques used must result in a finished product that will be visually appealing, flavorful and the proper texture when served. This also applies to the sauces that will accompany items such as terrines, pâtés, ballotines and other forcemeat applications. After research and review of the techniques, the students have creative license to season/flavor/garnish their forcemeat items however they desire (within reason). They must then create a sauce that will accompany their individual pieces. This is the point where students tend to fall back on prior knowledge that they feel comfortable with even though it might not be applicable. When faced with an adverse situation or subject, we all have a tendency to revert to and apply what we are most comfortable with and try to make it work.

For example, I had a team of students prepare a nice salmon terrine for a platter the other day. They were then tasked with preparing sauce for eight servings that would pair well with it. They created a beautiful béchamel-based sauce with horseradish and brought it to a perfect nappé. After straining it, they finished it with fresh dill. When I reminded them that all sauces must be served cold, they placed the 1½ cups of sauce in the refrigerator to cool. Then the moment of truth arrived and it was time to present the platter. You could almost see the “ah ha” moment on their faces (mixed with an “oh no” feeling) when the cold sauce pulled away from the side of the container with the spoon attached—in a form that can best be described as a dill pudding pop. For the student, this is the moment where the lecture about starches used in sauces and the affect of temperature back in Stocks and Sauces class is suddenly relevant, where before it might not have seemed that important.

When deciding on an appropriate independent sauce for any application, you must consider the food item, flavor profile and temperature at which the product is served. Common and versatile independent sauces include:

Mayonnaise-Based Sauces
Some would consider mayonnaise to fall under the hollandaise (oil/butter-based sauce) category of the mother sauces. I believe that because it is a cold sauce it should fall under the independent sauce category (like vinaigrette). Mayonnaise is an emulsion created with egg yolk, oil, vinegar (or lemon juice) with the addition of seasoning, and can be made fresh or purchased already prepared. With mayonnaise as a base, it is easy to add additional ingredients and make other sauces such as rémoulade or tartar. If you prepare your own mayonnaise, you can change the type of oil used (to olive) and add garlic to produce a basic aïoli and then add additional ingredients to create traditional sauces such as rouille.

Crème-Fraîche Sauces
Crème fraîche develops its viscosity from the naturally occurring bacteria found in unpasteurized cream, or added in the form of buttermilk in the pasteurized variety. Because of its lack of starch, it is the best foundation for a cream sauce that will be served cold. You can add different ingredients to flavor it that would then complement just about anything.

Derived from the East Indian Hindi word chatni (to crush), chutneys can be made from just about any fruit, vegetable or herb. They are usually placed into two categories: hot and sweet. Both are cooked with an acid such as vinegar or citrus and are heavily spiced. Chutney served in most non-Indian-style restaurants here in the United States would fall under the sweeter varieties, and most likely contain fruit.

Because of their high vinegar content, relishes were originally an ideal way to preserve vegetables. Relishes differ slightly from chutney in that they are more acidic and not as heavily spiced, and not as complex in flavor or variety of ingredients. Relishes can be sweet or savory and generally focus on the main ingredient that is usually finely chopped, not puréed. Although commonly considered a condiment, a good-quality relish outside of the cucumber variety can stand alone as a sauce.

Most salsas we envision fall under the “salsa cruda” (raw sauce) category. A salsa cruda is an uncooked mixture that, for example, includes rough chopped tomatoes, onions, chile peppers, cilantro and lime juice. This basic combination is called pico de gallo. You can substitute avocados for the tomatoes and create a simple guacamole, or substitute pineapple/mango for a more modern salsa version that is fruit-based. The most common variety of cooked salsas is a “salsa verde” (green sauce) that utilizes tomatillos that require cooking for proper texture and flavor development.

A coulis is simply a thick, puréed fruit- or vegetable-based sauce that is seasoned and strained. The addition of olive oil or cream is sometimes used to give the coulis a richness that would normally be missing.

An uncooked sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy, pesto contains fresh garlic, basil, pine nuts, hard cheese (for example, Parmesan) and olive oil. This classic sauce was originally pounded in a mortar with a pestle until a creamy sauce was produced. Currently, the pesto technique is used, substituting various ingredients such as cilantro, mint and different nuts, to create new varieties of pesto you see on menus today.

Vinaigrette-Based Sauce
Although we associate classic vinaigrette with a salad, you can still use vinaigrette as a sauce if done correctly. Utilizing a heavy amount of vegetable product and/or other flavoring agents in relation to the actual vinegar and oil, you can create a nice sauce that can pair with many foods. For example, tomato concassé, niçoise olives, whole-grain mustard and fresh herbs with a small amount of sherry vinaigrette works well with asparagus and fish.

There are other varieties of sauces and condiments out there, several of which are specific to certain ethnic cuisines. The teaching of independent sauces (cold or hot) is necessary in today’s culinary education. Restaurants, where leading sauces are giving way more and more to pan sauces, beurre blancs, chutneys and salsas on menus, are in need of students who can not only create and reproduce quality independent sauces, but also know how to use them properly.

Brian Campbell, CEC, CCE, is an associate instructor in the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C.

Photo: Lemon-tarragon aïoli spooned over an open-faced sandwich sporting a potato-crusted crabcake and a fried or poached egg atop a toasted English muffin illustrates the menu versatility of mayonnaise-based sauces. Courtesy of Phillips Foods.