Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sauces 101

If there is one thing about French cooking that I truly understand, it's the pan sauce. We Americans call it gravy. Basically, it's any sauce that's made through this method:

1. Cook meat in a pan; remove to a warmed plate.
2. Deglaze pan (using broth, wine, cider, etc.)
3. Stir in flavorings, scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan along the way.
4. Stir in cream or butter.
5. Pour sauce over meat.
6. Mangez! (that means Eat! in French...)

Of course, for American pan gravy, you'd first add flour to the fat (instead of deglazing--you'd make a roux) and then add your broth, boil it up, little salt and pepper...and that's that. And that's all well and good, but man, there are better ways to do it.

I'm saying all this, of course, because of a meal we had last night. We've had it before--Nigella Lawson's Mustard Pork Chops--and every time, it is just sensational. And so easy! The sauce is magnificent--absolutely perfect for pork--and it makes me curious to try a few of my own variations on this theme. It seems easy enough. For the mustard sauce, you deglaze with hard cider or, if you're like us and don't keep hard cider on hand, white wine. You stir in a glob of grain mustard (one of the best and least-known mustards...so spicy and tangy!) and follow that with a third of a cup of cream. This time we actually had cream in the house but usually I do two tablespoons of butter and a generous splash of nonfat milk, which makes a thinner but still delicious sauce.

Some of the variations that come to my mind and must be tested:

(Using beef steak)
--deglaze with beer (probably an amber?)
--stir in tomato paste and spices/herbs (allspice? rosemary?)
--butter or cream

(Using beef or pork)
--saute mushrooms in the drippings
--deglaze with red wine
--stir in herbs (thyme?)
--butter or cream

(Using chicken)
--saute garlic in the drippings
--deglaze with white wine
--stir in lemon zest and thyme
--butter or cream (maybe even just milk--low fat even--for this one...nice and light)

For the moment these are all theoretical...which would make me feel silly, but this is a blog, not a cookbook. I would test them right now except a) I don't have a reason to cook so much meat and sauce and b) I'm writing this from a coffee house, not my kitchen.

Of course, I concede that these sauces are a lot higher in fat and calories than your average steak sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce, or what-have-you. But don't you get sick of the same old sauces, day after day? I know we do. And you can always lighten these sauces up a little by using less cooking oil for your meat (many of us tend to overdo it...more akin to frying than sauteing) and, depending on the flavors in your sauce, lightening up the dairy element at the end. Just don't tell the French I said that. Or the ghost of Julia Child. Or Paula Deen.


What about you? Do you have any killer pan sauces? Ideas? I'd love to hear them. If you do, go ahead and put them in the comments box...if you're willing to share, that is. It'll be like a recipe swap. And I promise to find a truly amazing recipe to share with you this week for my "Weeknight Wonders"...

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