Cookbook Review: Sauces
This is the third of three newsletters I've written about some of the best of this spring's new cookbooks.
I started with Victoria Wise's Sausage, which is accessible and puts a favorite artisanal food into easy reach of the home cook. Then I advocated for David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert; it's inspiring, comprehensive and some of the best work yet from a popular-for-a-good-reason food writer.
My third choice is a little different. And it may make you feel like you're out of your comfort zone, which is exactly why I chose it.
Michel Roux: Sauces ($24.95, hardcover with color photographs, Rizzoli New York) is Michel Roux's update of his 1996 classic. Chef Roux, whose U.K. restaurant has held three Michelin stars for 24 years, has also written a number of single subject cookbooks including Eggs and Pastry.
I recommend this cookbook despite knowing that for many home cooks, making sauces is not a big aspiration. If we get flummoxed by Thanksgiving gravy, taking on langoustine butter or rouille is not how we think of modern home cooking. But hear me out.
First, sauces include much more than Hollandaise and the other great classics of French cuisine. By Chef Roux's definition, they also include salsas, chutneys, infusions, flavored oils, chocolate sauces, salad vinaigrettes and more. By this measure you are probably already making sauces in your everyday cooking but just don't call them that.
Second, by mastering a selection of sauces you can easily add versatility and flavor to your cooking. I'm always advocating that if you buy the best ingredients you can cook them simply and then add variety by partnering with other dishes or with a sauce. Or as Chef Roux puts it, "Sauces are the cook's alchemy, magically enhancing the dishes they are served with in an extraordinary way."
Third, if the idea of mastering sauces make you feel insecure, facing the demon will help you become a more confident home cook. They're not difficult, but some take precision.
155 Versatile Recipes
Michel Roux: Sauces is a small (6 1/2" x 8 1/4") hardcover with a glossy jacket. On its cover is a close-up photo of a voluptuous ribbon of a white sauce draping off of the tip of a wire whisk. Its 304 pages include 155 recipes divided into 14 chapters:
- Stocks & Marinades-- stocks made with veal, chicken, fish, vegetables, and more; marinades that are sweet and sour for fish, made with ginger and soy for red meat, and others
- Infusions & Nages -- tomato water and others, plus nages (a kind of very light sauce) made with parsley and lemongrass and others
- White Sauces -- classic béchamel, mustard and white wine, sorrel sauce, turning velouté into caper sauce with anchovies, and others
- Emulsion Sauces -- the great classics including mayonnaise, aioli, gribiche, tartar, hollandaise, and others
- Vinaigrettes, Flavored Oils and Butters -- vinaigrettes made with citrus or garlic, plus chive oil, chile herb oil, and 9 flavored butters
- Salsas & other Piquant Sauces -- Made with pineapple, red pepper, tomato and basil, yogurt, and more
- Vegetable Coulis -- light, colorful sauces made with cucumber or asparagus or eggplant or other vegetables
- Sauces for Fish & Seafood -- classic pairings of vermouth sauce, nantua sauce, watercress sauce, and others
- Sauces for Meat, Poultry & Game -- from light lamb jus to hearty chasseur
- Savory Fruity Sauces & Chutneys -- peach sauce to serve with game, sweet and sour sauce for dipping seafood, onion and green apple chutney to pair with a chunk of cheddar, and more
- Coulis & Other Fruity Dessert Sauces -- an essential stock sugar syrup, 11 fruit coulis, and sauces made with bananas, hot apricots, and orange and butter
- Custards & Sabayons -- crème anglaise, classic sabayon and variations on them both
- Chocolate & Other Rich, Creamy Sauces -- classic rich chocolate sauce, butterscotch sauce, and others
- Matching Sauces to Foods -- a 5-page separate index
The last chapter is particularly useful. You can buy two pounds of beautiful green beans on your way home from and as suggested by the sauce-matching index, turn them into your dinner's centerpiece with the addition of basil vinaigrette, cucumber vinaigrette, herb salsa or Roquefort vinaigrette.
Having learned some sauce making in culinary school, I applaud the book's extensive color photograph by Martin Brigdale. That's because sauce making is one of the most acutely technique-intensive aspects of cooking. I don't mean it's hard to do. But it's particular. And when you don't know what something is supposed to look like when it's an emulsion, or a demi-glace, or coulis, how can you get it right? The book's many photos really help and are very reassuring.
If you still think that sauces are too fussy for how you want to eat, or too complex for how you cook, the only way to tell for sure is to make one. We've been given permission to publish one of Chef Roux's recipes and we've chosen his Herb Salsa. See our link to the recipe. It's made with a little boiled potato to give it substance but its flavor comes from tarragon, chervil, parsley, mustard and lemon juice, and it will give new life to pasta, steamed cauliflower, or a piece of grilled fish.
I think if you take a look at Chef Roux's book you may be surprised by what it could add to your every day cooking.