Mother Sauces, Part Deux

The last installment of my mother sauces series was so long ago you probably didn’t guess that this was going to be a series.  However, I use this béchamel base all the time and it seems criminal not to share how easy and useful it is with those who are not already aware.  Again, exact ingredients can vary slightly among the greats, including a particularly complicated version by Escoffier which recommends adding veal bits then straining them out, but the very basic details are straight forward:

White roux

In a saucepan, add 1 part white flour to 1 part melted butter (e.g. 2 Tbs. butter, melted, plus 2 Tbs. flour).  Stir over low heat until combined and thick, about 1 minute [this is called making a roux].  Whisking constantly, add approximately 16 parts milk (i.e. 1 cup milk to every tablespoon of butter) in a slow stream until fully incorporated.  If you like, you can warm up the milk with aromatics before blending with the roux – for example: nutmeg, bay leaf, thyme, or onion.  This will infuse your sauce with a great depth of flavor; just be sure to strain the solids out before mixing the milk with the roux.  Let sauce simmer over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce coats the back of a spoon (i.e. the sauce doesn’t slip right off of the spoon, and when you drag your finger through it, the trail stays put).

Bechamel thickenedThis has so many incredible applications, including recipes such as:  Cauliflower Gratin, Baked Potatos with Gruyere & Broccoli Sauce, and Wild Mushroom Lasagne.  I have used it too as a base for my creamed spinach (which is really a mornay sauce), and for my macaroni and cheese (though I may be replacing that recipe with this one as my new favorite).

Bechamel squash puree

From the béchamel base you can add cheese to make a cheese sauce, cream to make a cream sauce, or any sturdy vegetable to make a gratin.  I often boil and mash winter squash then stir in a sage-infused béchamel to thin it out a bit and make for a more flavorful puree.  A thin béchamel with lots of garlic aromas (like a Soubise sauce) can make for a killer shrimp pasta or the perfect topping for fresh mushroom ravioli.  Let your imagination be your guide, but do try this to find out how easy and versatile it really is.

Green Peppercorn Sauce

Peppercorn SauceA while back, I introduced you to the nouvelle cuisine of my father-in-law and his famous Chicken Marsala.  I have cooked that one over and over by now, adapted it for Veal with a couple of my own touches, and eaten the original chez Chip numerous times.  But I have not, until now, had the opportunity to taste the just-as-famous but considerably more elusive Green Peppercorn Sauce.

And wow, did this ever live up to its reputation!  A blanket of thick, rich, slightly tangy sauce, draped over a perfectly cooked filet mignon – I drool just writing about it.  Chip allowed me to photograph his process last night, but made me swear that I would give the recipe full credit to Williams-Sonoma, who included it on the tag that came with his jar of beef demi-glace.  This recipe is also a great way to use up some more of the green peppercorns called for in my last post!

Green Peppercorn and Cognac Sauce, from Williams-Sonoma recipe developers and product marketers

2 tablespoons clarified butterimg_0297
4 filet mignon, each 6 oz., 1 1/2 inches thick
1 shallot, minced
¼ cup cognac
 cup heavy cream
 cup beef demi-glace
1 tablespoon green peppercorns, well rinsed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp, cut into small pieces

In a large saute pan over medium heat, warm the clarified butter until nearly smoking. Place the filets in the pan and sear until nicely browned underneath, about 5 minutes. Turn the filets over and continue cooking until nicely browned on the other side, about 5 minutes more for medium-rare, or until done to your liking. Transfer the filets to a warmed platter, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cover loosely with aluminum foil.

img_0313Pour off all but 1 Tbs. fat from the pan. Set the pan over medium heat, add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Off the heat, add the cognac. Return the pan to medium heat, bring to boil and cook until the cognac is almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. The cognac may ignite, but it will burn off. Add the demi-glace, cream and peppercorns and whisk to combine. Cook until the mixture is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the butter and whisk until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper, and pass the sauce alongside the filets or pour over them just before serving. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Filet with Peppercorn Sauce

The Mother of all Sauces

hollandaise sauce for broccoli

This post will be a quickie, but if you know what is good for you, you’ll bookmark it or print it or just emblazon the recipe in your memory.  Today I am imparting to you a sauce that has been handed down to me from my father.  My dad was never the cook of the family, though he was, and is, the unchallenged executive chef in charge of the grill, the pancakes and the hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise is part of a group of 5 recipes called the Mother Sauces, including Veloute, Bechamel, Espagnole (or Brown Sauce), and Tomato.  From these basic recipes, you can modify and tweak your sauces to your own taste preference and delightful concord with your main dish.

Now, Antonin Careme and Escoffier may differ slightly with my dad about how to proceed with this dish, but I can tell you that my ratios are easy to remember, there’s no clarifying of butter required, and the end results are sublime.  Lemony hollandaise draped over steamed asparagus, eggs benedict, or roasted salmon is a true treat on an Easter morning or for an elegant Sunday Brunch.  Modified slightly into bearnaise sauce, you have the perfect accompaniment to any type of dry-cooked beef – roasted, grilled, or pan seared – and an excellent dipping sauce for french fries.

Hollandaise SauceMaster Sauce – Hollandaise

1 stick of butter
2 egg yolks
juice of 1 lemon

Melt the stick of butter in a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  Set aside to cool slightly.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and lemon juice until fully blended.  Set the butter over a medium-low burner and, while whisking the butter constantly, pour the egg yolk mixture into the pan slowly.  Your whisking should stay constant and should try to cover the whole bottom surface of the pan so that no part of the sauce cooks more quickly than any other.  Keep cooking and stirring until you begin to feel and see the sauce thickening up.  Remove the pan from the heat and continue to whisk for another minute or two.  Pour the sauce into a warmed gravy boat or creamer.  If at any point the sauce begins to separate, this means the sauce has gotten too hot.  Immediately remove it from the stove and whisk to see if you can bring it back together.  If it isn’t working within 30 seconds or so, put an icecube into the pan and whisk until the sauce cools and comes back together.  Then remove the ice cube.  Once the sauce has separated once, it is much more fragile than before and you should not attempt to thicken the sauce further.  Once you get the hang of the process, it is actually quite easy.  Some results will be thicker or thinner depending on how much liquid your lemon produces and the size of your yolks, but you will eventually develop an instinct for the correct proportions.

To make Bearnaise:bearnaise sauce ingredients

Bearnaise is very similar to hollandaise in method, but the flavor is very different.  Rather than using the juice of a lemon, you will make a flavorful reduction.

1/3 c. finely diced shallots
1/2 c. tarragon vinegar, champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar
1/2 c. white wine
1-2 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon or 1-2 tsp. dried tarragon, plus more for finishing.

Pour the above ingredients into a small sauce pan.  Bring to boil, then simmer over low heat to reduce the liquids to a scant 2 Tablespoons, approximately 5 minutes.  bearnaise sauce reductionRemember that the solids take up a lot of room in the pan, so eye-ball accordingly – you want the liquid, strained of all solids, to equal just less than 2 Tablespoons.  Proceed with the Hollandaise recipe above, replacing your reduction liquid for the lemon juice.  When the sauce is finished, stir in a couple of teaspoons of fresh tarragon (or a 1/2 tsp. of dried) for color.

With bearnaise, you want to make sure you get the tarragon flavor correct.  If you use tarragon vinegar, use the low-end amount of fresh or dried tarragon.  Taste the sauce before you stir in the tarragon garnish, and adjust your amount accordingly.