I feel saucy
May 2, 2011 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm a good cook, but one thing I've never even really bothered with are sauces. What are your favorite sauces that can be made at home, and so good that you would consider eating a turd if the divine sauce was poured on top.
posted by ducktape to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 235 users marked this as a favorite
Venezuelan guasacaca - basically a runnier tangier guacamole that you'll smother all over everything.

I also had a version of this at a Dominican restaurant that I'm pretty sure didn't have avocados. It was super garlicky, insanely tart, and so good the waiter bagged up an armful of little containers of it for us to take home. I would eat that stuff off of a stranger's hairy arm.
posted by sestaaak at 3:07 PM on May 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

There are a couple recipes for Mustard Cream Sauce on epicurious, but this one is to die for.
posted by cyndigo at 3:09 PM on May 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd eat anything if it had Hollandaise sauce on top.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:13 PM on May 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm no sauce aficionado either, but this is one of the few I make a lot.

I rarely measure anything, so I apologize for the lack of measurements.

1. Slice 2 portabello mushrooms and dice 1 small onion. (I peel the mushrooms and cut off the gills. Some people think this is too fussy or wimpy or something, but, well, it depends on whether you enjoy eating dirt.) Saute onions in olive oil in a big skillet for just a minute or two, along with seasonings such as ground thyme and crushed red pepper (feel free to experiment here). Then add the mushrooms and saute for about 10 minutes. Then, add white wine and/or vegetable stock (see step 3!), turn down the heat, and let it simmer for a while. If I have time, I'll add garlic to this pan at some point (not at the beginning).

2. Meanwhile, on a second burner, heat up some vegetable stock. (I generally keep some around -- this would need to be made in advance. There are lots of recipes out there; you can Google them.)

3. On a third burner, heat butter in a little pan, then stir in equal part flour. This is how you make a "roux." This just takes a couple minutes -- don't overcook.

4. Slowly pour the vegetable stock into the roux and stir together so it becomes the "sauce." Then pour the "sauce" into the mushrooms and onions. Continue cooking for a couple minutes so everything blends together, season with salt/pepper, and you're done. You could add parmesan cheese, but it's fine without it.
posted by John Cohen at 3:20 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The red wine sauce in this recipe is incredible. Important: don't use a wine you wouldn't drink yourself. Make sure to use low-sodium broths, otherwise the sauce will end up too salty after the reduction.
posted by halogen at 3:33 PM on May 2, 2011

Learn how to make the "mother" sauces and improvising off of those will take you far.

My personal favorite thing to do is make pan sauces. After searing or sauteing, throw some liquid in the pan to deglaze it. Add flavorants, reduce for a few minutes, and then add fat to "mount" the sauce. If you want something restaurant quality you're probably looking at about 2 tbsp butter per serving (so if you're cooking for two, that's half a stick of butter in the sauce). I tend to reduce that a little just because the thought of all that fat scares me a little. Instead of butter you can use heavy cream or other fats, or a combination.

Some pan sauce ideas: white wine and lemon (for fish or poultry), red wine with oregano (red meat), cognac (kill the heat, pour it in quickly, and flambee it, then add the rest of the ingredients), or just plain old chicken or beef stock.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:36 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tex Mex Chili Gravy (recipe below) from The Homesick Texan. There was a little taqueria in my California college town that made enchiladas with a very similar sauce and since we didn't know it was this miraculous chili gravy at the time, we called it "Crack Sauce" for its addictive nature.

1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon powdered garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cups beef broth, chicken broth or water

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and continue stirring for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it makes a light brown roux.

Add all the dry ingredients and continue to cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring and blending ingredients. Add broth or water, mixing and stirring until the sauce thickens. Turn heat to low and let sauce simmer for 15 minutes. Add water to adjust the thickness.

Yield: 2 cups

Preparation time: 20 minutes
posted by wuzandfuzz at 3:37 PM on May 2, 2011

I think that knowing how to make a good basic bechamel is critical. It's an extremely simple white sauce but then you can use it as a base and add anything at all to it.

Chimichurri is a sauce that doesn't look like much at first, but the minute you put it on grilled meats it becomes divine. (we're coming up on grilling season, mmmm chimichurri on skewered tenderloin)

If you don't already know how to deglaze a pan, it's a technique worth practicing. You can put together any quick pan sauce as backseatpilot mentioned, once you know the basics.
posted by pineapple at 3:42 PM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

peanut sauce, which is made out of peanut butter, garlic, chili flakes, sesame oil, and soy sauce in various proportions, is good on noodles, chicken, tofu, veggies...and pretty much anything else you'd ever care to eat.
posted by genmonster at 3:49 PM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

This isn't really a sauce, exactly, but it is a topping: carmelized onions.

1. Slice up 4 good-sized yellow onions.
2. Melt 1/3-stick of butter and equal amount olive oil in a cast iron skillet.
3. Cook on very low flame/heat, stirring frequently, scraping up brown bits until onions are golden brown. Usually takes at least 45 minutes.

I serve this on steak, burgers, salmon, etc. I've also used the leftovers as filling in various sandwiches, the latest being toasted/grilled sourdough with gruyere. Yum.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 3:49 PM on May 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

This isn't even remotely fancy, but I just made it literally a half hour ago and was pretty impressed with myself. I made this to go with pork chops and a fennel and apple salad. I deglazed the pan with some cooking sherry and added some apple juice concentrate (yes, the stuff that comes in a can in the freezer aisle), fennel, nutmeg, a spoonful of fancy German mustard, and then reduced. Pretty tasty.
posted by phunniemee at 3:50 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, another vote for mustard cream sauce. I'll put it on nearly anything.
posted by scody at 4:04 PM on May 2, 2011

I really like the sauces section of the America's Test Kitchen Best 30 Minute Recipes book. Shows the basic technique and has lots of flavor variations.

As far as pasta sauce goes...the recipe under Garlic Chive Pappardelle for Garlic Chive pasta al lemone here. I could drink it through a straw. It's a delicate lemony cream sauce...just a little heat...oh. my. god.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:09 PM on May 2, 2011

wasabi cream sauce: sour cream + wasabi from those squeezy green tubes + lime juice + salt to taste. I usually eat with salmon cakes. but sometimes I think making the salmon cakes is an excuse to eat the wasabi cream sauce.
posted by changeling at 4:17 PM on May 2, 2011

I can’t think of a sauce I’d eat if it topped a turd, but here is an Italian trattoria-style savory sauce that I love, not least because the whole deal can be kicked out in 10 minutes. (If you’re cooking for two, don’t halve the other ingredients. The extra sauce can be used to top scrambled eggs.)

1/3 cup olive oil
4 thin (1/4” to ½”) sirloin steaks, about 6 ounces each
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups canned tomatoes with their juice (remove the seeds, or don’t)
1/3 cup loosely packed fresh oregano leaves
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the meat and cook until lightly browned on both sides, about 2 minutes. Transfer the meat to a dish.

With the heat still high, add the garlic and anchovies to the skillet and stir quickly about a minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the fresh oregano, then return the meat and meat juices to the skillet. Cook 1-2 minutes, stirring and basting the meat. Adjust seasoning. Serve at once.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:38 PM on May 2, 2011

Response by poster: I'm not ready to pick favorites yet, but damn that guasacaca sounds good!
posted by ducktape at 4:40 PM on May 2, 2011

In a blender, whiz up a couple of canned chipotles in adobo, along with as much of the adobo as you can get out of the can. With the blender running, add a couple tablespoons of honey, the juice of a lemon, and about 1/4 cup of melted butter. Blend until sauce is desired consistency, adding more melted butter if you need to thin it out. Adjust for salt and sweetness.

This is a great marinade for chicken. You can also put it on at the last minute as you grill/bake the meat.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:49 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love a good earthy tapinade. Put into a food processor:

A generous handful of basil leaves
A can of black olives, drained
A jar of pitted green olives, drained (don't worry about whether there's pimentos or not)
Five or six garlic cloves
A little bottle of capers, drained
A tin of anchovies in oil, with the oil
A can of tuna, also in oil
Juice of a lemon
Lots of the lemon peel

Whir this around while drizzling in olive oil (not too much) until it reaches the consistency you need. If you think there's too much oil, plan ahead by reserving the caper fluid. It's terrific as a dip on pita or use it over chicken breasts. Fantastic!
posted by carmicha at 4:56 PM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh and the tapinade above improves with age. Let the flavors meld in the fridge for awhile.
posted by carmicha at 4:57 PM on May 2, 2011



Not the recipe I use but it will do.
posted by lathrop at 4:57 PM on May 2, 2011

alfredo sauce. MAN do I love the stuff. It's really easy to make.
posted by Ys at 5:31 PM on May 2, 2011

All those savory sauces sound amazing. A good simple sweet "sauce" is creme anglaise - it turns a simple dessert into something divine. Pour it over berries, french toast .... om nomnomnomnom.
posted by bunderful at 5:33 PM on May 2, 2011

I gotta throw in a line for the Indian flavor profile! Combine plain yogurt or buttermilk with your favorite combination of: coriander, cardamon, red chili powder, garam masala, curry powders, white onion, garlic, parsley, mint, tamarind, the list goes on. Makes an easy sauce to cook with chicken, lamb, paneer (Indian cheese), salmon, or tofu.
I am also fan of Sriracha based sauces, including Japanese spicy mayo, or combined with dark sugar, ginger, garlic, onion, and fennel seed for a Thai marinade.
posted by msk1985 at 5:46 PM on May 2, 2011

Not just for gyros!
Tzatziki Sauce

Like many mentioned, it goes good with every type of grilled meat or seafood. Particularly lamb. However I've put it on salads, raw or cooked veggies, and it goes good with pasta too! Toss it with some warm pasta and veggies. . .
posted by patrad at 6:11 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Basic cream sauce:

melt but don't overcook butter in a pan
mix in heavy cream (or whole milk)
grated cheese to thicken (I like parmasean)
heat to a simmer

toss in any or all of the following;
minced garlic
chopped basil

salt and [white] pepper to taste
posted by jander03 at 6:28 PM on May 2, 2011

I forgot red chile sauce.

Stem and deseed a few handfuls of dried red chiles. (Hatch, NM, chiles preferred, but you could also use Ancho or Pasilla. They have a different flavor, though, so be warned.) FYI, you want to take the seeds out because they're a pain to strain, but leaving them in won't noticeably affect the heat.

Split the chiles open, and toast in the oven for 5 minutes at 400, or until you can smell them.

Pour boiling water over the chiles just to cover, weight with a plate, and let them sit for 30-45 minutes, or until totally pliable.

Blend chiles with enough soaking water to make a puree, along with a clove or two of garlic and a good pinch of salt. Add more water to get the desired consistency. Strain well -- a chinois is perfect, but a regular fine-meshed kitchen strainer works too. Just keep pushing the puree through the strainer until all the liquid is out and you're left with skins. Salt to taste.

The sauce is traditionally served just like this -- with enchiladas, pork, eggs, etc. -- but I like to add a squeeze or two of fresh lime juice to round out the flavor.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:36 PM on May 2, 2011

Man, I loves me some pesto! I grow my own basil every summer, largely so that I can freeze it and eat fresh pesto all year long. I make it with half the usual amount of olive oil, then use it to sauce pizza that's then topped with tomatoes, shrooms, and whatever else you like.

I've also recently gotten into Asparagus Pesto, which is also wonderful and has sort of a buttery flavor (in with the garlicky).
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:57 PM on May 2, 2011

Spiced Peanut Sauce:

Heat 1 1/4 Tbsp sesame oil in a medium saucepan. Stir in 1.5 tsp ground cumin, 1/2-3/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, and a pinch of cayenne. Let the spices cook in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup peanut butter, 1 1/4 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce, 1/2 tsp salt (depending on the saltiness of your PB), 1/4 tsp black pepper, 3-4 Tbsp brown sugar, and about 1 c water until sauce is desired thickness. Warm over low heat until heated through, whisking hard if it separates (which has only happened to me once in many many times of using this recipe).

Serve over stir fry, random steamed veggies, cooked rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, etc. Use as a pizza sauce with chicken, carrots, scallions, and cilantro. Eat with a spoon the next day when no one's looking. Nummy.
posted by vytae at 7:58 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lemon Curd

2 large or 3 small lemons
2 large or 3 small eggs
1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. lemon juice

Grate rind of lemons and mix with well-beaten eggs. Add lemon juice.

Melt butter with sugar in microwave dish, covered. Add the rest of the ingredients to the butter mixture and stir well. Cook in microwave 2 minutes, stir, cook for 2 minutes more.

Fill jar(s) with water and heat in microwave 3-5 minutes to sterilize. Fill jars with curd (2 small or 1 Kerr pint). Cover with saran wrap or foil, then lids. It will thicken after cooling. Keep in fridge.

Add more lemon juice if you want it more tart.
posted by kthxbi at 8:39 PM on May 2, 2011

My current favorite: Hella Garlic Tahini Sauce. In a mixing bowl, whisk together a generous glob of tahini (between 1/3 and 1/2 cup), a large pinch of salt, the juice of one or two lemons (depending on how tart you like things), and enough water to make it a suitable salad dressing-thickness. Add an antisocial level of finely grated or crushed garlic (I like using a fine Microplane) and whisk thoroughly. Stays good in the fridge for several days, with the garlic mellowing as time goes by.

(And for the record: lemon curd is hollandaise with sugar; hollandaise is unsweet lemon curd. No wonder they're both like ambrosia.)
posted by Lexica at 8:47 PM on May 2, 2011

In 2T butter, cook three or four cloves of minced garlic until it's gone soft and sweet. Add the juice of one lemon, plus a teaspoon or two of chopped capers. If you'd like to add a little thyme, add some thyme; if not, not. I eat this on everything--pasta, tofu, chicken... If you eat fish, it'd be good on that, too.
posted by MeghanC at 9:57 PM on May 2, 2011

One of my all-time favorites is zhoug, which is spectacular with eggs or grilled veggies. Kind of like chimichurri, only with heat instead of tang.
posted by cali at 9:58 PM on May 2, 2011

Simplest bbq sauce ever:

Two tablespoons each of honey/golden syrup, ketchup
One tablespoon of soy sauce
One teaspoon of molasses, balsamic vinegar

Heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring til mixed. Use as sauce for ready-cooked stuff, or a glaze whilst bbq-ing!

Simplest white wine sauce ever

Some white wine
Some creme fraiche or cream (depends how rich you like it)
crushed garlic

Heat for as long as you want depending on how thick you like it. Great with all kinds of fish!
posted by greenish at 4:14 AM on May 3, 2011

I'm a good cook and quite experienced with hollandaises and bechamels and the tricks to making a killer pan sauce. But I was completely blown away by the same magical beurre blanc that transformed Julia Child's life.
The recipe doesn't sound like all that much, but I gave it a shot once with simple poached fish and the reaction was obscene.
God, now I have to make it again tonight.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:52 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Salsa Verde: Parsley, capers, garlic, anchovies, vinegar & oil (1:4). With grilled meat or fish, yum!

Pesto: Basil, pine nuts, parmesan / peccorino, lemon, garlic, oil.

"Pan Sauce": Deglaze the pan you've cooked meat in with marsala, add a little lemon juice and some butter. Season really well. Oh blimey!

Aïoli. Requires sunshine and friends.

Bonus: It's not really a sauce as such, as you use it to stuff fish that you then grill over charcoal, but, chermoula. Oh my.
posted by col at 8:19 AM on May 3, 2011

1. Nthing the suggestion that you come to know and love "pan sauces." If I am in the mood for a quick, delicious meal, this is one of the things I turn to. A basic formula: fry meat in some butter and olive oil (then take out the meat), use about a half cup of flavored liquid to deglaze the pan (for two people), finish with butter or cream (roughly 2 TB butter per person, or equivalent). E.g., we make what my wife calls "tequila lime chicken," which you will be shocked to hear contains tequila, lime, and chicken (and also cilantro). (Make a pan sauce with tequila, plenty of lime juice, and a little bit of chicken stock. Add plenty of cilantro.)

2. Mole. Pretty much the opposite of pan sauces in their complexity and ease, but totally worth it every now and then. There are many different moles, with many different ingredients; buy a couple of Rick Bayless's cookbooks (e.g., "Mexican Kitchen") to learn some of them. A common thread is toasted chilies, which are then pureed and mixed with the other (also usually fried) ingredients. (Many of them don't contain chocolate, but some do!)

3. wing sauce. yummmmm. (Frank's red hot plus butter.)

4. I've posted this pasta recipe here before.
posted by chalkbored at 9:28 AM on May 3, 2011

With a "basic cream sauce" like jander's, try (instead of basil) adding tarragon and/or freshly ground nutmeg.
posted by John Cohen at 12:38 PM on May 3, 2011

A sweet one:

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Peanut Butter Sauce. Four ingredients: Heavy cream, decent milk chocolate, peanut butter, golden syrup.

Something about the creamy sweetness mingled with the saltiness of the peanut butter.

I cannot make this sauce while alone, and I cannot think about making this sauce while alone.

Oh wow oh wow. Completely trashy. Quick to make, and amazing on ice cream. I literally have to stop thinking about it right now.
posted by dimon at 12:53 PM on May 3, 2011


Combine 1 yolk, ½ teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of water (or lemon or vinegar). Slowly pour 1 cup of oil (vegetable or olive) into the combination while whisking. Easiest is to whisk by hand blender in a large coffee mug or a mortar and pestle with a few drops of oil to begin with.

Variants: Add Chili and Lime. Add Saffron, Garlic, Cayenne for Rouille. Add Garlic for Aioli. Add Curry for amazing egg salads. Add Shallot and Lemon. Add Anchovy, mustard, capers, pickles for a Remoulade. Add Tomato and Red Bell Pepper for Andalouse.


Combine any 3 parts oil with 1 part vinegar. Classic vinaigrette is ¾ cup oil, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 1 tblspn Dijon, and a ¼ tspn salt.


Classic: 3 parts olive oil, 1 part red wine, 1 tblspn Dijon, and ¼ tspn salt.

Asian: Steep ginger in oil. Add rice wine vinegar and ground mustard.

Chimichurri: Red wine vinegar, olive oil, parsley, oregano, red onion, garlic, jalapeño, paprika.

Piri-Piri: A west african hot sauce. 1 clove garlic, 3 tblspns chopped red chili peppers, 1 tblspn Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup white wine. 1/4 cup olive oil.

Hot Tomato: Sautee tomatoes with shallot and oil, vinegar, and mustard. This is good on fish.

Tangy Avocado: ½ veg oil , ½ cup Mayo, ½ avocado, cilantro, little lime juice and Worcestershire,. Great for roasted vegetables and / or potatoes.

Avocado Basil: 1 Avocado, 1 Garlic head, 2 Limes, ½ cup Basil, ¼ cup Olive oil.

Miso Ginger: ¼ cup oil, ¼ cup rice wine vinegar, 3tbspns Miso, 1 tbspn dark sesame oil, 1 inch of ginger, 1 Carrot.

Red wine variants: Sugar, honey, or balsamic. Shallot, parsley, or chives. Roasted pureed garlic, shallot, beet, tomatoes. Chopped nuts

Citrus variants: Sugar, honey, or balsamic. Grapefruit, a little lemon and OJ. Lime Peanut: Puree ¼ cup lime juice, minced shallot, ¼ cup peanut butter, ½ cup peanut or vegetable oil. Red chilies, lemon, mint.

Mexican variants: Rice vinegar, little Mayo and Parmesan. Cider vinegar, Pickled chili. Lime, Cilantro, Chile. Roasted & Blended Garlic, Chiles, Balsamic. Chile Adobo, Balsamic, Oregano. Roasted Dried Guajillo Chiles, Garlic, Sherry

Combine 1 part citrus and 1 part chili with ¼ cup water and / or lots of seasonings (e.g. tomatoes, onion, and garlic).


Classic: Blend 2 Chilies, 2 tblspns Lime juice, 1 Garlic clove, 1 can diced Tomatoes, and ½ an Onion.

Garlic, Onion, Cilantro, Diced Tomato. Roasted Garlic, Tomatillos, Chiles en Adobo, ¼ cup water. Fresh or Roasted Garlic, Tomatillos, Chilis, Cilantro, ¼ cup water. Roasted add ½ an onion.

Gremoulata: A mix of lemon, garlic, and parsley. Smear on anything.

Guacamole: Even a lone bashed avacado is great on any meat. I love it on Trout.

Reduction: Throw some wine and / or stock in a pan after searing. Reduce till thick. Optionally add shallots or garlic. A good tip is to keep some stock frozen in an ice-cube tray. Simply pop two or three into your pan. Also, scrape the brown bits on the bottom of your pan reducing the sauce. These are highly flavorable.
posted by xammerboy at 3:42 PM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have been making super-lazy white wine sauce lately. I never get regular wine sauces to reduce until thick--it just seems like liquid all the way down for me. So here is my solution:

1. Saute some mushrooms in butter until they look like delicious sauteed mushrooms.
2. Turn down the heat to lowish, make an empty spot in the middle of the pan, put some more butter (a reasonable chunk, maybe a couple tablespoons) in the middle of the pan and put about the same amount of flour on top of the butter chunk you just put in the pan.
3. Mix until the butter is melted and you can't see any more dry flour. The butter-flour mix should be a nice yellow color. Mixing in the mushrooms with the flour/butter mixture is also no problem.
4. Add about a mug-full of broth and some amount of wine. No more than you put in of broth, but less is okay.
5. Boil until it looks saucy.
6. Put on noodles.
7. Eat.
posted by that girl at 10:24 AM on June 2, 2011

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