How To Make a Classic Madeira Wine Sauce in 20 Minutes or Less
"A good base lightly flavored with Madeira will produce one of the greatest of all sauces." Raymond Sokolov, The Saucier's Apprentice
Madeira sauce is one of the classic French brown sauces prepared with Madeira wine, peppercorns and a few other important ingredients.
Basically, it can be looked at as a pepper sauce with Madeira wine added to it. It is typically served with beef and chicken but in today’s kitchens, you can serve it with most anything.
A Little History On Madeira Wine and Madeira Sauce
Let’s start with Madeira, a wine from Portugal first made back in the 1400's for export, especially to France where it was part of “their daily diet”. Madeira wine was prepared to hold up to the constant motion of the ship carrying it to its destination.
A little cane sugar as well as some distilled alcohol was added during the fermentation process resulting in sweet to dry wine with a tanish color.
The old way of making classic Madeira sauce took lots of steps and an extremely long time.
Starting with a roux of butter and vegetables like onions, carrots and celery; then adding beef stock and other vegetables including mushrooms and tomatoes; simmering, stirring and skimming for hours, then poured through a fine strainer only to have the whole process start over again with the addition of Madeira wine.
By the time you were done, you ended up with an intensely flavorful Madeira sauce but may have been frustrated by all time invested to make the sauce.
Good news - I have a recipe using a commercial demi-glace product that cuts down the time to prepare this sauce to 20 minutes or less.
Madeira Sauce Recipe
- Heat a medium sized sauce pan over medium heat. Once hot, add butter and then the shallots.
- Sauté the shallots until translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their moisture and become tender. This should take about 3 minutes.
- Add the peppercorns, thyme and bay leave to the sauce pan and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Now, add the red wine and reduce by half. This could take 3 - 5 minutes.
- Add the Madeira wine and bring the sauce to a boil. As soon as the wine comes to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer.
- Add the demi glace to the sauce and whisk until well blended together.
- Add the optional heavy cream if you are using it. Will add some extra richness as well as calories.
- Reduce this sauce until it is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon.
- Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Serve over your favorite meats and poultry.
When it comes to making great sauces at home, the kind that will wow your family and friends, stock reductions make all the difference. Whether it's a pan sauce using chicken, beef or fish stock that's reduced in the pan or starting with a prepared beef / chicken glaze, if you want to create a classic "restaurant quality" sauce, you need to start with a quality stock or glaze.
Making a great stock at home is not hard to do and I urge you all to start making your own stocks. Making a glaze like demi glace (veal/beef) or glace de poulet (chicken) is a lot more complicated and a job you may not want to tackle or at least not that often.
If you want to learn more about demi glace, what it is and how to make it at home, check out this demi glace link. There are also some links to a few commercial products I've tried and think are good alternatives to preparing it at home.
Alternative - Madeira Peppercorn Sauce
For those of you who love a nice "au poivre" sauce or peppercorn sauce in English, you can easily adapt the recipe above to make your own. Just substitute the ½ teaspoon black cracked peppercorns with 1 teaspoon drained green peppercorns in brine, coarsely chopped.
You can leave the mushrooms or exclude them depending on your preferences and now you have a delightful Madeira Peppercorn Sauce. This goes especially well with game meats like elk or venison.