Okay. So it was one of those days. Nothing fancy on the menu tonight. It’s hockey night. Kids in the door, chow down hard and fast, and out the door. What did they chug down? I did make Sourdough Ham and Cheese Panini’s tonight. I digress. Nothing spectacular on the menu, so we will start to cover some of the basics.
I want to go to the more “fun stuff” of sauces, but ya gotta start with the bare bones. Literally. Stock. Particularly, chicken and beef/ veal stock. Without those two most basic liquids of the culinary gods, you cannot build any sauces, or for the most part, not do too much of anything.
Let’s go easy first. Chicken stock. Simple stuff really. Chicken, water, a mix of veggies and herbs, and time. I do chicken stock at home as a dual purpose thing. I get cooked chicken, and I get a nice flavorful and rich stock. Since your average home kitchen cannot come up with a 40 pound case of chicken carcasses, we will get ourselves a bag of chicken leg quarters. You can usually get a 5 or 10 pound bag of random sized chicken leg quarters for a really cheap price. The traditional method calls for just the bones. Since you are using meat on the bone chicken, you will do this in steps.
Put the chicken in a cold empty stock pot. The biggest you have. If you are using all 5 pounds of the chicken, you will need two large yellow onions, 2 large carrots and 1 head of celery. Cut your veggies. You don’t have to be fancy. Peel the onions and cut into quarters. Cut the carrots into about 4 pieces, you don’t have to peel them. Cut the celery into about 4 or 5 cuts. Use the root and leaves. Next get 4 or 5 stems of fresh thyme, bay leaves and parsley. Put everything in the pot. Fill the pot until you have covered your chicken and vegetables. Now cook it. Low and slow. Bring your pot to a simmer and cover it. Cook it about 35 to 45 minutes. Come back and check to make sure the chicken is fully cooked. Now for the hot stuff. Wear a couple of pairs of latex gloves to help shield your fingers. Pull the chicken from the pot and pull the skin off, put the skin back in the pot. Pull the meat off the bones. Put the bones back in the pot.
Now we cook some more. Cover the pot and leave it overnight. You want to be able to pull the bones out of the water and have them be soft and easily breakable in your hands. Why you might ask? You are cooking the connective tissue and collagen from the bones and joints. What is collagen you might ask? Collagen is the protein that is contained in the bones and the connective tissues that binds everything together. When you slow cook the bones and connective tissues, you denature the proteins and allow them to permeate your stock. This gives it a nice rich texture and body. Now you have chicken stock mixed with bones and used veggies. Strain the whole thing in your finest strainer, and refrigerate your stock. Throw the rest away. No use for it anymore, you cooked all the good stuff into the stock. After the stock as sat overnight, the fat that was cooked out will have congealed at the top. Put it aside. You can cook with it. Cook with and enjoy your chicken stock.
Now for the more complicated variety. Brown stock. For this you will need bones. Beef or veal leg bones are your best bet. You can ask your local butcher shop to hold bones aside for you, they are usually happy to do so.
You will need the same pot as with your chicken stock. Your same vegetables prepared the same way. Here is the big difference. You are going to “precook” them all. Get a couple of sheet pans and layer them on to cover. Put your veggies on top of the bones. Now you are gonna roast them. Put them into your oven at 300 and bake them. It’s gonna take some time. If you can stand it, 5 to 6 hours. You are trying to brown and develop flavor in the bones. Your veggies will take color too. This is a good thing. If your veggies start to look too far gone pull them out and set them aside.
Now we proceed as with the chicken stock. Same herbs, same water. No issues with pulling meat this time. But, this takes more time too. You are cooking some pretty heavy duty bones. When the color is cooked out of the bones and the stock is dark and rich, you are done. Roll the same procedures as with the chicken stock, except you can still cook the bones one more time for a white beef or veal stock.
Guess what. You have large volumes of liquid to store. That can be a pain in the butt to deal with. There is a solution to that too. Cook it down more. Figure out how much you have to start with. You will need to know what your ratios are to make it stock again. Cook it down, uncovered until you can fit it into the container of your choice. Note your final volume so you can reconstitute your super concentrated and reduced stock or Glaze back to regular strength. You can use or freeze at your leisure.
What is next? The fastest stuff you can cook. Fish stock, or fish fumet. Caution. Your house will smell like a fish shop for a few days after you cook it. You will need the same basic stuff. You need bones. Ask your fish monger at either your local grocery or your favorite fish shop. If they filet their own fish, you can get the bones. They will give them to you. My favorite bone for fish stock is halibut. Why? Tends to be a bigger fish, more girth to the bones, and allows a slightly longer cook. You need the same veggies. Cut them a bit finer this time, you are not cooking it as long. Use the same herbs, parsley, bay and thyme. The difference is using 1 half a lemon and about half an ounce of peppercorns. Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. If you do use halibut, you can cook it for up to 2 hours.
Part deux. Roux. Pronounced roo. Simple stuff really, flour and butter. It’s all a matter of color. Use equal parts of each. If you use 1 tablespoon of butter, use 1 tablespoon of flour. Roux is the thickener of choice for the vast majority of professional chefs. You go into any kitchen you will find a big batch of roux sitting on a shelf or in the cooler. Start with the butter. Over medium heat, melt your butter. Keep it cooking until the bubbling has stopped. Why? You are cooking the water out of your butter. American butter, by law, must contain at least 80% butter fat. So considering the 1 or 2 percentage that is butter solids, that leaves 18% on average water. When you mix flour and water, you get glue. You don’t want glue in your roux. Hey. That rhymes! Okay. Now for the roux. When the bubbling is done add your flour to the pan. Start whisking. Keep whisking. You are coating the individual flour granules with the butter fats. Keep the roux cooking at a low and slow pace. You will start to see it change colors. This is good. You are developing flavor.
There are 3 plus 1 basic colors of roux.
- And plus 1 for our Cajun friends, Black
White roux is the “youngest” of your roux. Cook it just long enough to cook the raw flour flavor out of it. Blonde roux is just that. Cook it until it just takes on a nice straw like color. Brown roux is the next step. Cook it until it is light brown. Each roux will have a distinct nutty aroma. The longer the cook, the more potent the aroma. Last but not least is Black roux. Cajun stuff. Brown roux cooked until it is just on the right side of not being burned. This is a major flavor and thickening component in the classic Cajun dish, Gumbo. Mmmmmmmm gummmmboooo….. Sorry. Homer Simpson moment there….
You have your roux. You have your stock. Now we can make sauces.
What did the ol’ culinary instructors beat into the impressionable minds of the lowly first year culinary students? Sauces. Not just any sauces, but the “Mother Sauces.” What are the Mother Sauces? They are the base for any and everything in French cuisine. Established by Georges Auguste Escoffier, the grand-father of the modern French cuisine, the mother sauces consist of the following:
- Sauce Veloute
- Sauce Bechamel
- Sauce Espagnole
- Sauce Tomate
- Sauce Hollandaise
From these sauces, there are as many varieties of small sauces as there are chefs that cook them. Since I have droned on for a while now, we will look at two of our five sauces today.
Sauce Veloute is the most basic of the 5 sauces. It’s simple stuff. Roux and stock. Use the blonde roux that you have stashed aside. For every 8 ounces of blonde roux, use 2 ½ quarts of your reserved chicken, fish or white veal stock. Heat your roux over a medium pan, then gradually whisk in your stock. Increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. After it does boil, the traditional recipe call for reducing the heat to a low simmer and cooking for an hour, adding stock as needed to get your consistency. When you are done cooking, strain it through your finest strainer. This sauce is not traditionally seasoned, as it is almost always an ingredient in another recipe.
Sauce Bechamel is the second level technical stuff sauce that the home cook can make. You want to make or use your reserved white roux. Instead of using stock, you will be using milk. The roux part was easy. To make your sauce you will need a small white or yellow onion, 1 or 2 whole cloves and a bay leaf. For every 8 ounces of roux, you will need a half gallon of milk. Set your ratios from there. You will want to scald the milk. That means you are going to put it in a pot and boil it. After it boils, turn it off and let it cool a bit. Into your nice hot white roux, you are going to gradually whisk in your hot milk. Be careful. It will steam and spatter if you have your pan too hot. Now that your milk is incorporated, you will add your onion, clove and bay leaf. Cook your sauce for up to 30 minutes to impart the flavor from the onion and spices. Strain it well, and season it with a pinch of salt and a little bit of fresh nutmeg and white pepper. For my southern readers, this may sound like your traditional old fashioned white gravy. You are right. That is pretty much what it is..
Okay. What do you do with these sauces?
- Stir in mushrooms while cooking, strain it and finish with a little chopped parsley and lemon juice to taste and you have Sauce Poulette
- Add a little tomato puree and you have Sauce Aurora
- Sweat some white onions with paprika and reduced white wine, stir in your veloute and you have Sauce Hungarian
The options keep going from there….
- Finish your sauce with tempered heavy cream and you have Cream Sauce
- Stir in Gruyere and parmesan until just melted and finish with a little butter and thin as needed with a little milk and you have Sauce Mornay
- Stir in cheddar cheese, dry mustard and a splash of Worcestershire and you have cheddar cheese sauce
Again, the variations are as varied as the chefs that cook it.
Get creative with your sauces! And remember as always. Taste what you cook!