Like a lot of Americans on a Wednesday night, I’m sitting on my couch thinking about the multiple variations of sauces and truthfully? I’m getting a little overwhelmed that I haven’t even scratched the surface of sauce making. There are just so many! Red sauce, brown sauce, white, blonde, fish sauces. Savory sauces, sweet sauces, sauces with vegetable bases and sauces made from thick hunks of bone, barbecue sauces, dessert sauces. Should I go on, or are you too getting a little twitchy in the eyes from all these sauces?
Well stop, because we’re not going to think about those complicated sauces now. Instead we are going to focus on the 5 basic sauces in cooking and the importance they’ve played in the food world. But before we do that I’m going to give you a saucy little of history lesson on the beginning of sauces.
Sauces have been around for a really, really long time. Even longer than your Grandma’s been making her lumpy brown turkey gravy. Let’s take a little time warp back to the Roman era when the rich Romans had their outrageously fancy and questionably sanitary food orgies, shall we? Back in 200 AD food was fresh and nobody had ever heard of polysorbates, nitrates, benzoates and other preservatives you-really-shan’t-ates, which meant nothing but pure, unadulterated nutrition for the masses. In addition to a lack of contemporary ways of bastardizing and mummifying perfectly good food, there were minimal ways of preserving these foods by means of effective refrigeration. As you can imagine, this meant their unsullied fruits, vegetables and meats went REALLY, REALLY bad REALLY, REALLY fast. Now there weren’t slaughter houses and butcheries producing tens of thousands of pounds of meats daily for these people to be frivolously wasteful with their leftovers, so they needed to improvise. What was the next best option? Covering that mess in sauce, of course.
That’s right, boys and girls! The origin of delicious, delectable, divine sauces were more or less a vehicle to make sure that Gaius, who was eating a large helping of the beef that Corvinus brought to the big org a few days back, had no clue he was actually eating damn-near rancid beef tenderloin. And it was actually quite effective. So effective in fact that this method of covering up any hint of jus de rance lasted centuries before modern refrigeration did away with that purpose. Now cooks make all these crazy sauces for the sole purpose of adding extra dimensions to our food as opposed to adding it for palatable necessity.
Later down the history timeline in the 19th century there was a famous French chef named Marie-Antoine Carême who came up with the four first mother sauces (velouté, espagnole, béchamel and allemande). Mother sauces were the basic sauces from which many derivations and variations were to sprout. It was said that any chef worth his or her salt should learn and master these sauces and thus he or she could then develop their own savory sauces from these bases to pair with thousands and thousands of dishes.
Nearly a century later, another well-renown French chef by the name of Auguste Escoffier was like, “Yo, Carême. Your sauces are tasty and all, and it’s cute that you’re a dude and comfortable with a first name like ‘Marie-Antoine’ but I can totally one up you, son.”
And that he did.
Escoffier then determined that there are to be FIVE mother sauces from that point on instead of the original four. He went so far as to change the recipe altogether for Allemande sauce and threw in an additional surprise, all of which I’ve listed below.
5 MOTHER SAUCES
- Velouté – veal, chicken or fish stock thickened with a lightly browned roux.
- Espagnole – veal or beef stock thickened with a dark brown roux
- Béchamel – cream or milk based thickened with a white roux
Allemande– (deceased) veal, chicken or fish stock thickened with egg yolks and heavy cream.
- Hollandaise – successor of allemande, typically an emulsion comprised of egg yolks, lemon juice and butter.
- Tomate – um, it’s made of tomatoes.
And much like any true family tree, all of the complicated and overwhelming variety sauces I described at the beginning of this post (with the exception of dessert sauces) can be traced back to its basic beginning. This declaration of the 5 mother sauces thus changed gastronomy forever.
Sadly, before this post I’d never made these sauces before without the help of those just-add-water-or-milk cheat packets. I’ve thrown those sauce packets out the window years ago when I began truly reading labels and understanding what ingredients meant for my body, and given that this is a blog about eating responsibly and healthily, we’re going to forget that those packets even exist. Besides, what kind of cook could I call myself if I didn’t know the freakin’ MOTHER SAUCES? GOSH.
As the title of the post would suggest, this is about making Hollandaise sauce which happens to be the so-called most challenging mother sauce to make. We’ll get to why that is in just a moment.
For Hollandaise, the only ingredients you will need are:
- 6 egg yolks
- 3/4 cups of melted, unsalted butter
- 1.5 tbsp lemon juice
- Salt for taste
So few ingredients! This means it’s easy peasy, right? Wrong. Hollandaise is notoriously difficult to make because it consists of very carefully heating up the egg yolks to promote emulsion of all the ingredients while trying not to scramble them into a chunky, disgusting wad of unusable sauce. By emulsion I mean forcibly combining ingredients that otherwise would not combine. Egg yolk is very difficult to mix with butter and lemon juice given the oil/water compounds present, but adding the components together slowly and whipping continuously and vigorously allows these three to join in delicious matrimony. It’s not incredibly difficult if you have a little bit of patience and a good whiskin’ arm.
The first step is to beat together the lemon juice and egg yolk in a glass or stainless steel bowl until the yolk becomes lighter in color and thick. Bring an inch of water to a light simmer in a saucepan and place the bowl on top of the sauce pan and mix continually. Very slowly drizzle in the melted butter while whisking to ensure proper emulsion of the egg yolks and butter. If you add to much, they will separate and you will have a difficult, if not impossible, time getting them to cooperate after that. Continue to add while also working quickly, being sure to not cook/scramble your yolks. Once the butter has emulsified with the yolk completely, continue to whisk for another minute before removing from heat and you will notice the mixture will grow to nearly double in size. It will be very thick, smooth and buttery. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to a warm spot while you prepare whatever dish you wish to serve with the hollandaise.
This sauce goes extremely well with eggs (as is proven with eggs benedict), grilled/steamed asparagus, or any dish you deem worthy of this creamy concoction. I may have gone a bit over the top with my dish, but I grilled fresh asparagus and topped them with a sliced hard boiled egg before dribbling the sauce over top.
Only I didn’t stop at the hard boiled egg. I…may have pan-fried the hard boiled in panko before slicing to give it a little more depth. This may be American indulgence manifested, but if Paula Deen can wrap a greasy burger between two Krispy Kreme donuts and get away with it, then what harm is a little fried, hard-boiled egg?
NEXT POST: Mother Sauces Part II of V: Espagnole.