A Glossary of Terms for Preparing Sauces
Most cookbooks have a glossary at the end to help you with key terms associated with the theme of the book. I think it is more helpful if we look at these important terms BEFORE we get started so you have a better idea of what I'm talking about.
A bundle of herbs (traditionally parsley, thyme and bay leaf), that is tied together and used to flavor various dishes. Simply take a small bunch of parsley and thyme add a bay leaf or two, and then tie it with cooking twine. Add the bouquet garni to your concoction while cooking and then retrieve it before serving.
To dissolve the browned bits on the bottom of a pot or pan with liquid, after searing and/or sautéing food, usually a protein. The liquid, (alcohol, stock, water, etc.) is added and with the heat on high, the bottom of the pan is scraped with a spoon to release the caramelized residue known as the fond. This intensifies the flavor of the target dish.
Ensure there is nothing immediately over your stove top. Low-lying cabinets or a microwave just over the stove are not conducive to flambéing.
FINISHING WITH BUTTER
Also known by the French term “monté au beurre,” finishing a sauce with butter adds viscosity and flavor as well as a glossy sheen. The butter must be cold or else it can break and will not incorporate properly into the sauce.
First, be mindful that when adding alcohol to a hot pan, it can self-ignite. This is even more likely with higher proof spirits.
Igniting the alcohol in a dish to caramelize the mixture and intensify flavor. The alcohol is added to the pan and ignited. On a gas stove this can be accomplished by tipping the pan until the flames ignite the alcohol. On an electric stove simply use a match. Allow the alcohol to burn off and the flames to subside on their own.
Flambéing can be a little tricky and you must keep a number of safety factors in mind:
Flambéing or not, you should also always have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen.
Have a large pan lid handy if you need to quell the flames.
A mixture of carrots, celery and onion, usually chopped, and used as a base flavoring for stocks and multifarious dishes.
To evaporate and thus concentrate a liquid by placing a pot over direct heat and simmering or boiling it.
Roux can be cooked to different stages by increasing the cooking time. The longer you cook it the browner it will become and the nuttier it will taste. However, it also loses thickening power with extended cooking.
An equal mixture of fat and flour which is used as a thickening agent. Butter is the most commonly employed fat.
Heat the butter in a pot or sauté pan on no more than medium heat. Once melted add the flour and stir for at least a few minutes to incorporate the flour and cook out he “floury” taste. The roux can then be integrated into the target dish.
A bundle of herbs and spices, (traditionally parsley, thyme, bay leaves and black peppercorns), wrapped in cheesecloth and tied, and used to flavor various dishes.
Cut out a square shaped piece of cheesecloth. Place all the herbs and spices in the center. Draw up the ends into a bundle and tie it with cooking twine. Add it to your dish while cooking and remove it before serving.
Cooking food quickly in a small amount of fat, usually in a sauté pan over direct heat. Heat the pan and fat before adding the food and do not overcrowd the pan or the food will not brown as well.
Browning or caramelizing the surface of a food with intense heat. This can be done in the oven via roasting or broiling, on a grill, or in a sauté pan. No matter what the medium, a universal rule is to heat the oven, broiler, grill or sauté pan fully before introducing the food. Below is a description of each method.
1) Roasting: The method of choice for large items such as a whole chicken or turkey, or a beef roast. Basically, all you need to do is place the food in the oven and let nature take its course. However, some chefs prefer to boost the heat temporarily at the beginning or the end of the cooking to ensure a good sear. Smaller items, such as a pork tenderloin or rack of lamb, can be seared in a sauté pan first and then finished in the oven.
2) Broiling: Broiling is placing food in close proximity to a very hot heat source directly above the food. Thick items are not appropriate for broiling as their surface will be overcooked by the time the center is done. Broiling is better suited to steaks as opposed to roasts, chicken cut into pieces, chops, and even some fish. Once the first side has seared, flip it, sear the other side and serve.
3) Grilling: One of the best thermal methods for the ultimate sear. Grilling is intense, direct heat. Like broiling, it is better suited to thinner pieces of food. Fully heat the grill. Then lubricate the grates with some oil. Place the food on the grill and do not move it until the first side has seared. Flip it and sear the other side.
4) Sautéing: Sautéing is cooking food quickly in a small amount of fat, usually in a sauté pan over direct heat. Again, make sure the pan has fully heated first. Add the cooking fat, allow it to heat up and then add the food. It should sizzle when it hits the pan. Do not move the food until the first side has seared. Flip and sear the other side. If the item is more than an inch thick, you may need to finish it in the less intense heat of the oven to prevent burning the exterior.
By the book, seasoning refers to the addition of salt, although in colloquial parlance, it can include black pepper as well. Always season the food prior to cooking, adding more later if necessary. Seasoning will incorporate better at the onset of cooking.
Straining is performed to remove unwanted items from a finished sauce, (such as whole herbs), and/or to produce a finer texture. For the former, any standard strainer will do. For the latter, you will require a fine mesh strainer such as a chinois.
Similar to sautéing but with less heat. The goal is not to brown the food, but merely soften it. Sweating almost always refers to vegetables being cooked in a sauté pan.
WINE FOR COOKING
As the old adage states: If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. There are plenty of decent, inexpensive, everyday wines that are more than suitable for cooking. Dry wine is most often utilized for cooking although there are some dessert recipes that require a sweet wine.
Never use cooking wine. It is made from inferior wine and is often too salty.
There are dozens more terms related to sauces and how to make them. I'll update this list as I come accross more of these terms but please send me some of your favorites too.