Friday, January 23, 2009

A Few Basic Sauces

I thought I would post a few recipes for basic sauces.
These sauces can be the difference between an ordinary dish and a spectacular dish.
For example:
In my last post 911 Chicken Cannelloni I used a Bechamel sauce dear friend from A Slice of Concentrated Love suggested I use a Mornay sauce next time-
which I think is a great idea and it would push my dish from yummy to spectacular.
So here are a few recipes that you should keep on hand- I think they are all fairly simple and the results are well worth it.


Béchamel Sauce

This common white sauce uses roux to thicken milk or cream. The roux is cooked for about 3 minutes to keep it "white." For lump free sauce, remove the roux from the heat before stirring in the milk. Warm the milk in the microwave before adding to the roux. This will spare the muscles in your hand, as you won't have to stir the sauce so long before it comes to a boil. Use a whisk to incorporate the milk into the roux and stir until it is lump free. Return to the heat source and bring to a boil.

Home cookbooks say to just boil the sauce for 1 minute to cook out the flour flavor. Professional cookbooks encourage you to reduce the heat after bringing the sauce to a boil, then continue to simmer the sauce for 15-30 minutes, stirring, to remove the flour taste. What you actually do will depend upon your time limit and personal tastes.

If your sauce is lumpy after your best efforts, you possibly didn't beat it enough before cooking, brought it to a boil too quickly, or didn't stir it enough during cooking so that it stuck to the pan bottom. To repair, pour it through a strainer or process the sauce in a blender. Return the strained or blended sauce to a clean pan and heat to the boiling point.

The recipe below makes white sauce of medium thickness. For a thinner sauce, use 1 tablespoon butter to 1 tablespoon flour. For a thicker sauce, use 3-4 tablespoons butter to 3-4 tablespoons flour. Bechamel can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Béchamel (Basic White)
Makes 1 cup

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup milk, warm

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Blend in flour, salt, and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbly. This is called a white roux. Remove from heat. Stir in warm milk and whisk until mixture is smooth and lump-free. Return to heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for at least one minute.

Veloute Sauce
Veloute sauce is a thinner, lighter white sauce than béchamel because it uses chicken or fish stock instead of milk or cream. It is often referred to as a "blonde sauce." Ideally, the consistency of veloute should be thin enough to pour or a sauce that thinly coats the back of a spoon. Serve over chicken, fish, veal, or with rice.

Since it is so similar to béchamel, be sure to read the tips above to ensure a successful sauce. If you find that after cooking, your veloute is too thin, you possibly didn't use enough flour, added too much liquid, or didn't reduce (simmer) the sauce long enough. Either reduce the sauce further or thicken with butter. If your sauce is flavorless, what quality of stock did you use? Perhaps your sauce has not reduced enough for the flavors to concentrate. You can either perk up your sauce with a dash or two of lemon juice (or other seasonings) or reduce it further to bring out more flavor.

Store veloute in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes 1 cup

2 cups chicken or fish stock
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Bring stock to a boil; set aside. Melt butter in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat. Create a roux by whisking in the flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring continually, for 2-3 minutes, until the roux is bubbly and begins to darken slightly. Remove from heat. Whisk in the stock until smooth. Return to medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking continuously. Reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 5-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set over a double boiler filled with warm water until ready to serve. If not serving right away, dab butter on top of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming.

Variation: Supreme Sauce (to serve over chicken)
Stir 1/2 cup thinly sliced mushrooms and 2 tablespoons heavy cream into heated veloute sauce. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Strain the sauce into a clean pan set over medium heat. Whisk or swirl in 1 tablespoon chilled butter, a teaspoon at a time. Remove from the heat. Add lemon juice to taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Brown Sauce
For hearty meat entrees, noodles, and wild like bear or venison, brown sauce outshines other sauces. In addition, it is used to create more complex sauces. The technique to master here is the browning of the flour or the creation of a dark roux. By using clarified butter, you eliminate the possibility of the butter turning bitter or burning before the flour is browned. If you prefer to use regular butter, however, just watch it closely. To make a dark roux, melt the butter in the saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour until smooth. Continue cooking over medium heat for 8 minutes, stirring constantly or until the mixture becomes chestnut brown.

This sauce freezes well for up to 3 months.

Basic Brown Sauce
Makes 3 cups

3 tablespoons clarified butter
1 large carrot, scrubbed and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
1/4 cup flour
6 cups brown stock
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 bouquet garni
1/3 cup tomato puree

In a heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add vegetables. Sauté until golden, but not brown. Dump in the flour and stir over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until flour and vegetables are well browned, but not burnt. Stir in stock. Add garlic, bouquet garni, and tomato puree. Simmer for 60 minutes or until the sauce is reduced to half, stirring occasionally. Strain. Cool, chill and skim off any fat before using.

Served warm over eggs, fish, or vegetables, hollandaise is considered a hot emulsified egg-yolk sauce. Mayonnaise would be a cold emulsified egg-yolk sauce, for a point of reference. While in mayonnaise egg yolks are whisked with other room temperature ingredients, in hollandaise, the yolks are whisked with liquid over heat. The trick is to cook the sauce ever so slightly without curdling the eggs. Water simmers in a double boiler where it should never be allowed to touch the bottom of the bowl in which the sauce is made. The temperature of the water should never rise above 150 F., either. You don't want the sauce to be too hot because it will coagulate the eggs and make it impossible for the butter to emulsify with the liquid.

If in spite of all your efforts to monitor the heat, your eggs and liquid cook too quickly, the sauce may separate. This can also happen if you add the butter too briskly. You don't have to throw out the sauce. Just start again, reserving the separated sauce for the clarified butter. Over low heat, in a double boiler, beat 1 egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water until light. Remove from the heat and stream in the separated sauce mixture gradually while whisking. Be aware though that if your eggs have coagulated, your sauce is history. Toss it and begin again with much lower heat!

Perhaps your sauce is too thin after you've completed all the steps. You may have not reduced the initial liquid enough or perhaps you didn't add enough butter. To remedy, add more butter.

Hollandaise should be served warm. To keep it that way, place the sauce in a bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of hot water (just barely over lukewarm), ensuring the bowl bottom doesn't touch the water. If hollandaise is spooned onto really hot food, the sauce may separate; for this reason, it is almost always served separately from the food it is to complement. Store any extra sauce in the refrigerator. You can use it as a sandwich spread. It should never be reheated.

Hollandaise becomes the basis for rich sauces like béarnaise sauce, which complements meats and salmon.

Makes 3 cups

4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon peppercorns, crushed
4 egg yolks
1 cup unsalted
clarified butter, cooled to room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt to taste

In a small pan, bring the water, vinegar, and peppercorns to a simmer over low heat. Continue simmering until the mixture reduces about a third, about 2-3 minutes. Strain the reduction into a glass or stainless steel bowl; cool.

Place the bowl over a pan of just-simmering water; add the egg yolks and stir until the mixture is lemon colored, thickened, and smooth. Keep the heat low. Do not allow the mixture's temperature to rise above room temperature or the eggs may coagulate. Slowly pour in the cooled, clarified butter, stirring constantly until the sauce becomes thick and fluffy. Stir in the lemon juice and salt. When the whisk is lifted from the sauce, a ribbon of sauce should trail down from the whisk.

Bearnaise Sauce
This is a classic sauce that goes well over most grilled dishes. This is one of the most versatile sauces in the world.
Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

  • 1 cup butter, melted and hot
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry tarragon


Put onions, vinegar, tarragon and pepper in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to about 1-2 teaspoons of liquid. Stir constantly. Remove from stove and let cool. Put egg yolks and cooled mixture in a blender. Process for about 1 minute or until completely blended. Melt butter. Turn blender to high and slowly add the butter. Start out very slow. Serve immediately. This can be a tricky sauce so go slow and watch it very carefully. The sauce will get thick as you add the butter. Do not let it cool after it is mixed because it will separate.


Mornay sauce

Mornay sauce is a classic French sauce named after the Duke of Mornay in the late 16th or early 17th century.

The name itself is interesting, because Mornay is a mixture of melted cheese in a béchamel sauce, a cream sauce made from a roux.

Yet, béchamel sauce had not been invented when Mornay sauce was first made. Thus it’s commonly thought that some sort of cheese sauce predated béchamel and was called Mornay sauce, but was later improved upon by mixing cheese with béchamel.

The classic Mornay sauce is composed of a mixture of gruyere and parmesan cheese, usually in a half and half ratio to cooked béchamel. The cheese melts quickly providing a delicious, savory sauce. The French may use Mornay sauce to top steamed vegetables, or on seafood and poultry dishes. It can also be mixed in with pasta to make a variant of macaroni or alfredo. Some people use a Mornay sauce as part of the layers of lasagna.

You can certainly change the cheeses you add to Mornay sauce to get different flavors in the end result. White cheddar is a common substitution, resulting in a sauce that will make some of the best macaroni and cheese you’ve ever tasted. Children who are picky about vegetables may enjoy them more if they are topped with white cheddar Mornay sauce.

When making Mornay sauce, you must use hard or semi-hard cheeses. Cheese like brie, or blue cheese are not the best choices. You can get away with some jack cheeses, and also hard goat cheese. Just don’t try cream cheeses or fresh mozzarella as these won’t melt into that wonderful creamy consistency. Also the French tend to avoid any but white cheeses when making Mornay sauce. If you want to keep the sauce authentically French, don’t add orange or yellow cheddar cheese. On the other hand, some children may be bigger fans of an orange colored cheese sauce than they are of a white sauce.

Mornay sauce is not exactly a low fat sauce — a butter roux mixed with cream or whole milk, and whole milk cheese is going to pack some calories. You can lighten the calorie load a bit by using a low fat milk to add to the roux, and by using good low fat cheeses. Try a little bit less of the sauce than you might normally use, too, since this will lessen the overall calories. Sauces in France are used as accents to meals but not meant to obscure the flavors of good, fresh food.

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped onion
  • 3 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup hot milk
  • 1/8 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 cup gruyere
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg


Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat; add chopped onion. Cook over low heat until onion has softened. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, until smooth. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly. Add remaining ingredients; cook, stirring, until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Beat egg yolk in a small bowl; add about 1/4 cup of the hot liquid to it, stirring constantly. Pour egg yolk mixture into the hot liquid; stir until the sauce is smooth and hot. To reduce the risk of curdling, a double boiler can be used after the onions are cooked.


Mary said...

It's so nice to have these all in one accessible spot. Thanks!

Susan said...

I hope they are helpful.

A Slice of Concentrated Love said...

Oh wow I'm having flashbacks to my Culinary Techniques class! lol

A Slice of Concentrated Love said...

P.S. about the orange peels. I keep them in a ziploc bag or if you have an old jelly jar. I have them up in my spice cabinet and they are keeping pretty good.

noble pig said...

Mmmmm. Mornay...not sure if I've ever tried it, now I'm curious. Thank you for this.

Bunny said...

You are the greatest Susan, thank you for taking the time to post this!

Robin Sue said...

Susan this is a fantastic resource for sauces. Most do not even know there is a difference or what some of them are. Thank you for posting this list and recipes. I am going to bookmark, this is GREAT!!

Anonymous said...

very nice :)

Mary said...

Susan, there is an award waiting for you to pick up on my site.

Anonymous said...

Susan, you say I made you cry, but your comment made ME cry! haha
You have a good heart. This is what will make things the same. I know. Different, yes. But the same, no?
Big hugs to you. Keep doing your wonderful blog :)

Michele said...

This is a great post! Very helpful and informative!