Ingredients Chefs Use to Make Restaurant Quality Sauces
It's one thing to offer a book full of sauce recipes. It is quite another to open the swinging door to the restaurant kitchen and reveal chefs' secrets for sauce making.
What follows is an explanation of the tricks of the trade - the ingredients, techniques and equipment - that chefs have passed down to their apprentices, and that world class culinary schools now teach their students, that are the keys to making a successful sauce every time.
Consider these secrets a sauce making boot camp. Commit them to memory, or refer to these pages often, and you will be making restaurant quality sauces at home in no time.
How many times have you been to a restaurant, tasted one of their sauces and were struck by the amazing, deep flavor, the texture and/or the way it perfectly complemented the dish? And how many times have you tried to recreate a restaurant dish only to find the sauce somewhat lacking in the flavor or texture department?
Here are ingredients used in top restaurants to ensure flavorful, dimensional sauces, and you can use these secrets to replicate restaurant-quality sauces at home.
Cooking with Alcohol
Very few people enjoy a sauce that tastes heavily of alcohol. Using just a hint of a neutral alcohol such as vodka, though, can bring out flavors that water-based liquids cannot bring out. That's because some compounds are only soluble in alcohol.
It doesn't take much, either. Just a tablespoon or two of alcohol can bring out extra dimensions, especially in tomato-based sauces. (Think vodka sauce for pasta). Of course, there are also many liquors and liqueurs that have pronounced flavors that can be used to enhance sauces by lending more than just alcohol.
While most often thought of for dessert sauces--Chambord or Frangelico in chocolate sauce, Grand Marnier in caramel sauce, etc--berry liqueurs can bring a subtle fruitiness to sauces for lamb, game and pork.
Cooking with Shallots
Using shallots instead of garlic or onion - like garlic and onion, the shallot is a member of the allium family. With a taste somewhere between onion and garlic without any bitterness, shallots are a wonderful addition to a heated sauce or even a cold vinaigrette and are almost always close at hand in restaurant kitchens.
Buy only one or two at a time as they are used more as a seasoning and flavor-building ingredient than as a "bulk" ingredient.
Cooking with Demi-Glace
Demi-glace is one of the chef's secret weapon. Demi-glace is a sauce made by reducing veal stock and sauce espagnole, one of the mother sauces.
The traditional method of making it sometimes requires three days, and the payoff in flavor and texture in sauces that you add it to is tremendous. Most of us don't have the time to make our own demi-glace, however.
Fortunately, there are several good ready-made demi-glace products on the market. Adding just a spoonful or two to your recipe can elevate a ho-hum sauce to one of restaurant quality.
Fresh Ingredients Are Always Better
With the explosion of farmers' markets and gourmet food stores in this country, chefs and home cooks have ready access to more quality, seasonal ingredients than ever before. Let the seasons be your guide when you shop for ingredients, and you will be rewarded with bright, vibrant and fresh flavors.
Learn what sauces complement what foods, and you will be able to serve your family and your guests restaurant-quality meals every time they sit down to your table.
When it come to herbs, chefs know that fresh is almost always better. Many sauce techniques and recipes benefit from the addition of herbs late in the cooking process to add a fresh, green aroma and flavor. In these cases, dried herbs are not a good substitute since they won't have enough time to re-hydrate.
As a general rule of thumb, add dried herbs at the beginning of cooking and stir in only fresh herbs as a flavor accent at the end of cooking and again as a garnish to your finished dish.
Another reason to opt for fresh herbs over dried is that many tender herbs do not carry as much flavor as their fresh counterparts. This is particularly true of basil, parsley, mint and tarragon, all of which are often used in sauce making.