21 December 2010

Two For The Road : Classic and Modern Sauces

The pots continue boiling as Mr. B. attended yet another course on Classic and Modern Sauces. Here is his adventure in the world of culinary arts:

Bonjour, Chef.
Oui, Chef.
No, Chef.
Merci, Chef.

The professional kitchen runs like a military camp, I realized. Everything must be in order, in place, clean, precise. And you always refer to the person with the highest touque in the room as "Chef" pronounced with utmost reverence.

When I chose to take the "sauces course", it was based on the belief that French cuisine is founded by exquisite sauce, the very soul of each dish. And I was right. Until one actually witness how sauces were, it wold be hard to imagine that the few tablespoons of savory sauce with the piece of meat on one's plate actually started life with a huge tub of stock that was reduced, reduced and reduced for hours, hours and more hours. The most unforgettable quote I heard for the day was "anything will eventually reduce."

Day One of the program focused on making the 3 stocks that would be the basis of everything else we did - white chicken stock, meat jus and fish stock. The stocks were made of veal (or chicken or fish) bones, trimmings, vegetables, wine and spices and cooked in low fire for hours (never boiling) and skimmed, skimmed, skimmed. Eventually, these stocks were further combined with other other ingredients to form sauces for the dishes.

Fish stock was used to cook shells from prawns and expensive langoustines with added shallots, lemongrass, garlic, tomato, parsley and wine, further reduced until you get a savory sauce for Jumbo Shrimp and Langoustines a l'Americaine with Lemongrass Flavor.

Chicken stock was combined with cream and butter and slow cooked to form the sauce for Chicken Breast Sauce Supreme with Mushrooms.

The meat jus was used to make two kinds of sauces: with orange juice, sugar, vinegar and orange segments, it became the sweet-savory sauce for Magret Duck Breast a l'Orange; with red wine, shallots, peppercorn, thyme, bay leaf and parsley, it formed the dark, luscious Bordelaise sauce for Pan-friend Beef Tenderloin.

Day Two focused on various sauces for various uses: Pistou Sauce (the French version of pesto sauce with no parmesan and pine nuts) for pasta, risotto or fish; Sauce Poivade (dark savory sauce) for steaks; Bearnaise, Hollandaise, Mousseline and Mustard Sauce (which all came from the same family) for meat, fish, chicken or seafood stew; Mayonnaise, Tartare and Cocktail Sauces (again, the same family) for fried dishes or seafood; and Tomato Sauce for pasta, bread and steaks.

It was hard work with all the chopping, whisking, stirring, skimming, tasting and starting all over again, but at the end of the day, it was satisfying to see the sauce finally reduced to the right consistency, emulsify to the right thickness, and turn into the right color that blends with whatever one is spooning it over.

I shall never take sauces lightly ever again.


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