This month, the Daring Cooks got a little saucy! Jenni from the Gingered Whisk taught us the basics of how to make the five mother-sauces and encouraged us to get creative with them, creating a wide variety of delicious, fresh sauces in our very own kitchens.
Selecting a challenge for the Daring Cooks is an almost impossible task, because you sort of have to be all things to all people. A fairly basic recipe may be appealing to the novice, but not of interest to the experienced cook; conversely, a complex and challenging dish that poses a true challenge to the experienced cook may be just frustrating and demoralizing for the novice. Moreover, the Daring Cooks hail from all over the globe – so what is commonplace for one may be truly exotic for another.
It was, then, a delight to find Jenni’s challenge awaiting us – in my opinion, something to teach, entertain and challenge anyone interested in the culinary arts. We were preseted with recipes for the classic French ‘mother’ sauces – Bechamel, Veloute, Espangole, Holandaise and Tomato. The mother sauce can be either incorporated into a dish as it is, or turned into any one of an array of derivatives.
Of the five sauces, I probably make bechamel and tomato most frequently, so decided to embark on Sauce Espagnole – the classic French brown sauce. Moreover, I made my own beef stock from scratch. This was pretty much an all-day affair, but the end result was a remarkable mushroom sauce. My only regret was not making more sauce! I also made a tomato sauce and incorporated it into a favorite pasta dish. Read on for all the gory details…
Sauce Espangole/Demi-Glace from scratch
1lb beef bones
1 small onion
1 celery stick
2 small carrots
Thyme, parsley, bayleaf
4 Black peppercorns
(Since this is quite the performance, I recommend you scale this up by a factor of at least 2, preferably 4 or 5 if you have a big enough stock pot…)
Roast the bones in a little oil for 30 minutes in a 400 F oven. Roughly dice the onion, carrot and celery and add to the pan; continue roasting for 30 minutes more. Towards the end of cooking time, slather some tomato paste over the bones:
Add everything to a stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and immediately turn down to a slow simmer. Add a sachet containing the herbs and spices (I confess I just added them to the pot, knowing I’d strain them out later. Cook for 4 hours, adding more water if necessary to cover the bones. I ended up with maybe 2½ – 3 cups…
Strain the stock – it should be brown but fairly clear (if it’s not, you probably let it boil too much…)
Now for the sauce espagnole…
1/4 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons diced carrot
2 tablespoons diced celery
½ oz butter
½ oz flour
1½ cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato puree
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter and saute the mirepoix (onion, celery and carrot) until it starts to color. Stir in the flour and cook 5 minutes until lightly brown.
Add the stock and tomato puree, cover and simmer 1 hour. Strain out the vegetables and voila, Sauce Espagnole! I took this a step further and made demi-glace, by adding back another cup of beef stock then reducing until thick.
For the mushroom sauce, I pan-fried some mushrooms with a tablespoon of finely chopped onion, and added the demi-glace along with a splash each of sherry and lemon juice. (I am not sure how many mushrooms, but I am sure I followed the Monkeyshines Rule of Mushrooms: There are never enough mushrooms…)
This may be the best sauce ever! I served it over a nice fillet steak…
Spaghetti Milanese with fresh tomato sauce
For my second attempt at the challenge I turned to a familiar recipe – the decidedly un-French Spaghetti Milanese. This was one of two spaghetti dishes that were part of my Mum’s regular repertoire growing up – the other, of course, being Spaghetti Bolognese. First the tomato sauce, for which I used some beautiful San Marzano tomatoes from the farmers market:
½ small onion
1 small carrot
1 rasher bacon (homemade!)
¾ – 1lb tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ tablespoon flour
½ cup chicken stock
sugar, salt and pepper
Finely dice the onion and carrot, and saute together with the bacon for 5 minutes (adding a little oil if the bacon isn’t particularly fatty). Add the flour, stir to coat the vegetables, then add the chopped tomatoes. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, add chicken stock and simmer 30 minutes. Add a dash of lemon, pinch of sugar and some pepper. If you use commercial chicken stock, you probably don’t need to add more salt.
Puree the sauce using an immersion blender and continue cooking for 30 minutes.
To complete the dish, slice some cooked ham, saute some sliced mushrooms (see Rule of Mushrooms above) and serve with the sauce over pasta, with some parmesan cheese.