My 5-Step Method for Preparing Professional Quality Brown Sauces
As a home cook, one of the hardest things for me to accomplish when first starting out was making a rich, velvety brown sauce to serve on steak, lamb, veal, pork, or chicken. Then, I could put together a good pan sauce using the dripping after sauteing or roasting a piece of meat. Still, it never quite had that incredible intensity I experienced when dining out at a great restaurant.
It wasn't until I spent some time reading about sauce making and speaking with a few chef friends that I learned it isn't so much the "how to" but the "ingredients" that make the difference. Using my 5-step method to make a great brown sauce is easy if you have all the necessary ingredients, and I will give you some great resources to find them.
Spoiler Alert - The key ingredient for many of the restaurant quality sauces is demi glace (demi-glace)
What is a Sauce?
According to Food Lover's Companion, a sauce is "a thickened, flavored liquid designed to accompany food to enhance and bring out its flavor."
Now that can cover a lot of territories. It goes on to say, "In the days before refrigeration, however, sauces were more often used to smother the taste of foods that had begun to go bad."
I'm sure we have all had experiences that have proven this true, even in the days of refrigeration……Think back to your high school cafeteria.
But in the 19th century, the French created an intricate process for making sauces that are still being taught in cooking schools worldwide. This process involves numerous steps.
I highly recommend James Peterson's "Sauces" and Raymond Sokolov's "The Saucier's Apprentice" if you have the time. They are entirely devoted to just this subject.
Why is it so difficult to make great sauces at home?
As Chef Alton Brown says in his cookbook, I'm Just Here For The Food, "By and large, most home cooks don't do sauce…and that's too bad. Traditional sauces are indeed scary."
Preparing the key ingredients that go into a sauce takes a lot of time. It starts by making a stock with roasted beef and/or veal bones, reducing them for at least 12 hours, continuously skimming the pot, straining the liquid to remove the bones, reducing some more, adding a roux (a mixture of flour and butter used as a thickening agent). You now have a nice brown sauce or sauce Espagnole.
A professional chef will reduce this brown sauce further to make a demi glace, the mother of all sauces. These guys spend a lot of time in cooking school learning how to do this and take great pride in the sauces they can make with it.
These stock reductions are the foundation for hundreds of classic sauces being served in fine restaurants.
Why can't I just use a bouillon cube?
Unless you want to ruin an expensive cut of meat by covering it with a salty corn syrup reduction, I will stay away from bouillon cubes or any of those cheap packets of instant sauces you see in your local supermarket. Instead, look at the ingredients to see if what's inside is real or simply processed.
You can't build a solid house without a strong foundation. The same is true when making sauces.
What's a home cook to do?
Since making a great sauce at home depends on finding a good stock reduction or demi glace, I would like to offer you the following resources.
Make it yourself. A great experience but one most of us will not take on.
Make friends with your favorite upper-end restaurant chef and see if they will share some of their brown gold with you. Be prepared to beg or pay through the nose to get them to part with this stuff. Not likely, but worth a try.
Hire a personal chef to make it for you. You may have to subscribe to years worth of dinners, which isn't all that bad, but you will have your demi.
Buy it at a high-end gourmet store. If you search hard, you may be able to find stock reductions in the refrigerator section of some high-end stores. You won't get much, but you don't need a lot, and it won't be cheap.
Check out Amazon. Hey, they have everything else, so why not a good selection of commercial demi-glace products? Of course, they do, and below, you can see a selection of them that are all fine products but different in how they are made, what they are made from, and how much they cost.
My Quick & Easy 5-Step Method Quick Look
1. Sauté a shallot in butter
2. Deglaze pan with wine
3. Add demi glace
5. Season with salt & pepper
More Detailed Explanation
1. Sauté a chopped shallot or small onion in one ounce of butter (¼ stick) for 1-2 minutes until translucent.
2. Deglaze with ½-cup red wine and reduce to an essence (approximately one tablespoon of remaining liquid). Be sure to remove the pan from the heat before deglazing.
3. Add 8 ounces of demi glace.
4. Reduce the sauce until it is thick enough to coat a spoon.
5. Season with freshly ground pepper to taste.
(Optional) One last item that is optional but often used by professional chefs is a pat of butter. It adds a bit more flavor and shine to the finished sauce.
At this point, you have a delicious sauce that you can serve or use as a base and layer in more flavors by adding additional ingredients, including fresh herbs and spices, fruits, chutneys, relish, or cream.
If you are adding mushrooms or other ingredients that need to cook a bit, add them to the pan right after you add the wine and let them cook while the wine is reducing.
Some of My Favorite Sauce Recipes
- What Is the Difference Between Tomato Sauce and Tomato Paste
- This Is How to Make Spicy Ragu Sauce Over Pasta
- Bucatini all'Amatriciana Recipe
- New Mexico Red Chili Sauce Recipe
- Rigatoni with Mushroom Sauce Recipe
- Mango Chutney Recipe
- This Is How I Make Indian-Style Sauce Base
- How to Make Fettuccini With Store-Bought Tomato Sauce
My Top Choices for Demi Glace
Online Sources: Demi Glace
For those of you who do not want to make demi glace at home.Demi glace is the most important ingredient for making classic "restaurant quality" brown sauces. All the great French brown sauces use demi glace. But it can also be used in soups, stews and braises. It's something you can make at home but it takes a long, long time to do it right and if you make one mistake, it can easily be ruined. Lucky for us, there are now some great sources for commercial grade demi glace and I want to share a few with you now. Everyone has their preferences so I suggest you give each a try to find out which product you like best.
Savory Choice's Demi Glace
More Than Gourmet's Demi Glace Gold
Man...ya lost me, to make good sauce at home add 8 oz's of demi glace? What? Where in the double hockey sticks do I get demi-glace?
So, let me re-read and re-comment, ok. so I can buy it or make it myself? OK if I get some beef or veal bones and have a spare 12 hours and read some old school recipe I might be able to make it up myself? If so, can I freeze it in one dinner batches for later use? Either as a brown sauce or a demi glace?
The Reluctant Gourmet
Hi Arnie, if you do make it yourself, there's no reason why you can't freeze it. If you want to make it in one dinner batches, you might try freezing it in one of those plastic ice cube trays, then you have them at the ready. It's a lot of work to make it yourself but that's what they use in top end restaurants for making classic sauces. If you decide to purchase a commercial brand, you are close but it's not "hockey sticks", but pucks. You can buy the Demi Glace Gold in 1.5 ounce puck size containers and 1 puck reconstitutes into about 8 ounces. There on links on the page for where to purchase them.
I am stuffing pork tenderloins and my husband is going to cook them on the greenegg. I will not have any drippings so I would like to know how to make a cider reduction sauce. Thanks so much.
Russ "Chef Ruckus" Adams
You would use the same method as the author describes, just omitting the pan drippings, since there are none, or replacing them (a couple of slices of finely chopped rendered bacon would be a perfect replacement), and then substituting your cider for the wine.
Hope that helped.
G. Stephen Jones
Thanks Russ for your explanation.
I am loving this site! Thank you thank you thank you!!
Hi Chef, thanks for the site.
What do you think about making demi glace with commercial stock? I've read recipes that suggest carmelizing mirepoix, deglazing with wine, reduce, add commercial stock, reduce.
I've done it once and tastes pretty good but I haven't tried your real thing recipe.
Thanks for any thoughts.
The Reluctant Gourmet
Chris, for home cooks I think your idea is a good one. As you can see from my site, I prefer to buy a commercial brand like Demi Glace Gold because making it from scratch is a huge effort most home cooks are not interested in trying and I don't blame them. I'll have to try your shortcut method. Sounds good.
Isn't a Demi glaze the same as a bone reduction? I'm confused at what I made after simmering bones for 2 days.
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Shaun, demi glace is made from simmering bones but there is a little more to it as shown in the recipe http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/demi-glace-recipe/
What you made by simmering those bones for 2 days is a stock reduction which is used to make demi glace and if you continued to reduce that reduction down to a glace, it would work well for making incredible sauces but wouldn't be considered a classic demi glace.
Chef, you mention adding mushrooms "or other ingredients" as an option while reducing the wine. What are some examples of some other ingredients. I imagine capers might be one. What else? Just looking for a variety of ways to mix this up based on what I might be serving the sauce over. Thanks!
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Chris, thanks for your email. I appreciate your calling me "chef", but I am not. Just a home cook who enjoys food and writing about it. Capers are a great example of what you can add to a sauce reduction to work with what you are preparing. The other night, I added some apple butter to serve with pork chops but I could have used some diced up apples too. If I were serving lamb, I might add some mint or some rosemary. Duck, some orange zest or pieces of orange. The list goes on but this gives me a great idea for a post. Thanks.
Thanks for posting info about More Than Gourmet Demi-Glacé. I recently purchased some of their all veal, rather than the Gold, and was surprised by how solid it was. I used to purchase from my culinary instructor, but moved too far to get from him. The instructions mentioned adding water, but was concerned that would make it more an Españole not Demi. Glad to know it’s going to be same consistency as what my instructor makes. Making this sauce, Bordelaise, tomorrow night for some fillet mignon steaks I have! Yummy!!
G. Stephen Jones
Thanks for letting me know Laura.
Mary Jane Isaacs
I'm making a classic demi glace from roasted veal bones and mirepoix. I am going to reduce it down to 1 quart, refrigerate then cut and vacuum pack for the freezer. My intended purpose is to defrost it and serve as as the "sauce" for a prime rib roast. Question is: do I add anything to it as I heat it up ( such as additional liquid) prior to serving? Thanks in advance for your reply.
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Mary Jane, are you making the demi glace and then reducing it?
I have a jar of veal demi glace from Williams Sonoma. It is a very thick paste. Surely I would not use 8 ounces of this, right? What would you recommend so far as quantity?
G. Stephen Jones
Hi Mariah, I just visited their site and they don't provide any reconstitution ratios so I'm not sure. They say "Add a spoonful or two" to sauces, soups, etc. but they don't show you how to make a sauce from scratch. I'll have to pick up a jar and play around with it to see how it works. I can say if you make a pan sauce (see https://www.reluctantgourmet.com/simple-pan-sauces/) you can add a spoonful or two to the pan sauce and you'll have a delicious sauce.
I really wonder about some of the people who comment; they don't take the time for actually follow the recipe or don't read what's written. Yes, no one wants to spend 12 hrs making a traditional demi glace and as you showed them there are several alternatives. One you didn't give them was from D'Artagnan; they have a couple of nice demi glace that are reasonably priced.