Sauces! I don’t mean to shout, but I can get excited about sauces. Very often, the secret of a great tasting dish is in the sauce. A great sauce can enhance and accent the flavor of the meat it tops, or spice up the vegetable you serve it with.
If you learn how to make superb sauces, you can elevate your homemade recipes to restaurant-quality meals. In this article, I am talking about the silky and buttery Hollandaise and Béarnaise sauces, the Italian Bolognese sauce, and the classic Béchamel, otherwise known as white sauce. However, there are many more sauces to try at home: red wine and demi-glace reduction sauces; pan sauces (gravies); and other emulsified sauces (mayonnaise and aioli). Any sauce adds richness, depth, and, sometimes, most importantly, moistness to a meal. So, grab your whisks and start whipping the most memorable parts of your dishes.
Bolognese Sauce is the typical ragù of Bologna (Italy). I like to eat it on top of fresh homemade fettuccine, but you can serve it on top of any type of store-bought pasta (try penne, linguine, or even elbows). You can also serve it on top of cooked zucchini or other squash for a lower-carb option! Plus, you can make a double batch and freeze the leftovers for another time!
- 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 c. finely chopped onion
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 12 oz. lean ground beef
- 1 (14.5-oz.) can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1/3 c. whole milk
- 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- black pepper
- basil, oregano, nutmeg
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot; sauté 5 minutes until they just begin to soften; and then add the ground beef. Stir until the meat is crumbled and slightly browned, also about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried herbs.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the milk and simmer slowly for few minutes. Add tomatoes and vinegar. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. The sauce will be quite thick. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.
Serve the Bolognese sauce over hot, cooked, fresh fettuccine or whole wheat spaghetti (what amounts to about 8 ounces uncooked). Sprinkle the dish with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
You have probably seen the name Hollandaise sauce in your favorite restaurant for brunch. This is one of the five French Mother Sauces (sauces that over a hundred years ago were considered the foundation of many dishes or other sauces in French cuisine) and it has been popularized thanks to the all-time favorite brunch dish Eggs Benedict. The base of the sauce is butter and egg yolks, so it is pretty heavy, but a little goes a long way. Many people are afraid of Hollandaise, because it has a reputation for being difficult to make. But if you follow the instructions carefully and do not overcook the egg yolks, you should have no problem.
A similar sauce is Béarnaise, which is also a leading sauce in classic cuisine. It sits in the same Butter Sauce category as Hollandaise sauce. These are basically two variations of the same kind of sauce, but each one has its own family of small sauces. Both of them are warm, emulsified sauces, but there are a few differences as well:
Hollandaise is made with egg yolks, lemon/lime juice, salt, and warm butter. It is thickened by the emulsion between the egg yolk and butter. It is great drizzled on steamed vegetables.
Béarnaise gets its acidity from white wine and white wine vinegar. In addition, this sauce is flavored with shallots and fresh herbs. It has a stronger taste and it is best served on top of lean fish fillets or steaks.
- 8-10 servings
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 2 egg yolks
- 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1 stick)melted (warm, but not hot)
- 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt
Combine water and egg yolks in a small saucepan, stirring with a whisk until combined.
Place pan over low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens slightly (do not scramble the eggs).
Gradually add the butter, stirring with a whisk. The mixture will become thick.
Remove from the heat. Stir in lime juice and salt. The finished sauce should be thick, but pourable. If necessary, thin the sauce with a few drops of warm water. Serve warm.
Remember, sauces are a very valuable part of just about any meal. They should be smooth, with no lumps. They have distinctive flavor. They add color and appeal.
Béchamel Sauce is a starch-thickened sauce. The basic recipe always starts with a white roux (butter + unbleached flour). But you can make many variations, by adding cheese to the sauce, nutmeg, and/or onion. I used this Béchamel sauce as part of the filling for my savory homemade crepes. I mixed some poached chicken, wilted spinach, and Béchamel sauce and then filled my crepes. Then, I warmed them in the oven and served them with some additional Béchamel sauce and black Hawaiian sea salt. It is a restaurant quality meal, made at home.
(White Sauce) 4-6 servings
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 c. 2% reduced-fat milk
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Nutmeg and white pepper, optional
Place butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until it melts, stirring with a whisk.
Sprinkle flour over butter and make a white roux, stirring constantly for a minute.
Gradually add milk to flour mixture, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes or until thickened. Stir frequently. Add salt and spices at the end. Spice flavors should not dominate.
Keep it hot for immediate use or cool it and store it for later use. This Mother Sauce is great as part of a filling for savory crepes, white chicken lasagna, or any other casserole.
After you have mastered how to make Béchamel Sauce, you can try Mornay Sauce, Cream Sauce, and Cheddar Cheese Sauce. They are all small sauces (variations) of the basic Béchamel Sauce.
And remember, sauces are a very valuable part of any meal. They should be smooth, with no lumps. They have distinctive flavor. They add color and appeal.
They are the secret weapon of both the classic and modern cook! Use them wisely.