Recipes for a great sauce with really concentrated flavours.
August 21, 2018 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I had a meal in a fancy restaurant a few days ago and was really impressed with the sauces served with the food. I want to make sauces like that.

For example one course was a simply cooked fish with a mere drizzle of sauce that totally transformed the dish. This sauce had a really concentrated mushroom flavour. Another dish had a sauce with a strong citrus flavour.

I'm looked online but most of the sauces I've found feature lots of starch or cheese or tomato that are used to smother the food. I'm looking for recipes for sauces that are used sparingly. I'm happy to spend hours standing over the stove stirring. Recipes that can be frozen or refrigerated for a long time are especially welcome. Thanks.
posted by night_train to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
A good place to start would be to understand the 5 mother sauces of french cuisine.

Keep in mind that restaurants use way more butter and salt than you may be comfortable using in your own cooking .
posted by Think_Long at 11:09 AM on August 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

You could probably take one of those recipes that you found and get something close to the result you want by simmering it and letting it reduce down to at least half its original volume.
posted by wabbittwax at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You want to search for recipes for "reductions." You can get a basic reduction lesson here, but just Google citrus reduction or mushroom reduction or whatnot, and you'll find those drizzly sauces you seek.
posted by headspace at 11:11 AM on August 21, 2018 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Most popular online recipe sources tend to go for more "realistic," simpler recipes that home cooks are likely to use regularly, and sauces actually turn out to be a relatively complex, and, even more important for the online filter, time-consuming category. So this is where you want to turn to older cookbooks, e.g., Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

That said, the first dish was probably a reduction of some sort.
That link gives the basics.
posted by praemunire at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

posted by praemunire at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely start with the mother sauces.

However, modern chefs often use trickier techniques to create really unique sauces. For instance, they might create a reduction and then thicken with xanthan gum to turn it into a more saucy liquid without having to make a velouté or roux, etc.
posted by dis_integration at 11:15 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I found James Peterson's book Sauces to be much more valuable to me in terms of bringing sauce-making into my home cooking than some of the other recommended works in the genre (The Saucier's Apprentice being the classic, but any book on modern French cooking will cover it).

The first and most critical part is to make your own stocks -- you can't reduce commercial stocks to the concentration you need for intense sauces without them becoming inedibly salty. Stock is easy and fast to make in a non-venting (second-generation) pressure cooker, you can freeze it for a month or two (I use quart deli containers), and you can reduce it to demiglace, which will keep for a very long time in the freezer.
posted by j.edwards at 11:31 AM on August 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

I agree with everyone else; these sauces were almost certainly reductions.

A quick way to think about reductions is to realize that a lot of sauces are just solids dissolved in water. For example, maple syrup is just sugar in water. When it comes out of the tree as sap, it's still just sugar in water. The difference is that syrup has boiled off about 98% of the water in sap. (You can keep boiling even more to get maple sugar.) In a reduction, the flavors are literally more concentrated.

Try it yourself: Buy a jar of plain-old Ragu at the store, and let it simmer for a couple of hours. It'll be some of the most flavorful pasta sauce you'll ever have.

Aside from general recommendations, it might be helpful if you could provide more information about the restaurant or the names of the dishes.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:54 AM on August 21, 2018

Best answer: Pan sauces are the easiest thing to take your cooking to the next level.
posted by little king trashmouth at 11:58 AM on August 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Question: Did the mushroom flavor taste like fresh mushrooms or cooked mushrooms? I could easily be wrong but I am going to guess that, if it was a very concentrated fresh mushroom flavored sauce, it was created with a vacuum concentrator or as a distillation with a rotary evaporator. No reduction technique can match either because the comparatively high temperature of stovetop reduction will destroy the mushroom flavor.
posted by bz at 12:59 PM on August 21, 2018

Best answer: Restaurant sauces will often be passed through a blender, then passed through a fine mesh sieve (chinois). All the flavor, no particulate.
posted by gnutron at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This one is more of a dressing, but we treat it like a sauce. It has earned the name Boss Sauce at our house because it is indeed boss.

1 small shallot, minced
2 strips smokey bacon, cooked pretty crispy, chopped
Big dollop of ssamjang (like, a tablespoon maybe?)
Glug of apple cider (2-3tablesooonds? I dunno)
Neutral oil (canola over here).

Everything but oil goes into a blender, blend it all into a paste and slowly drizzle the oil until emulsified (let’s say 2/3c or so). I usually don’t strain it, but you can. You can also cook it and reduce it down a bit into more of a glaze, but you want to watch it. It isn’t the most stable emulsification.

We treat it like a dressing, condiment or sauce and use it in many of the same places you would use sambal, but it’s not as intense so you can use more. We also use it as a marinade for chicken or sometimes pork. Extra good on hot dogs.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:10 PM on August 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Adding to the chorus of reduce, reduce reduce. Ignore rouxs and other thickeners for now, its an easy way to make a bland, but thick sauce.
Simmer some tasty things together and reduce reduce reduce reduce. Maybe puree.
posted by Grandysaur at 3:52 PM on August 21, 2018

Nthing reductions and purees, yes, but also a specific application of butter. Ice-cold, full-fat butter, diced, way more than you think should possibly go into your sauce, whisked in right before service. The technique is called monter au beurre, or "mounting the sauce".
posted by okayokayigive at 4:03 PM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Double cooking stocks and liquids would up the intensity as well. Like, use homemade beef stock (made with roasted bones) as the base liquid to make beef stock again (w/ new, roasted bones). And then reduce that sucker down. Or go another round, even, YOLO.

For the mushrooms, I imagine using the liquid from soaking dried mushrooms, reducing it, and using that to cook new mushrooms in, and then puree and sieving as gnutron suggests above would result in a very mushroomy sauce.

Michael Ruhlman talks about making veal salt. I imagine you could maybe do a similar thing by grinding very dehydrated mushroom into mushroom powder, then stirring that into a mushroom stock/sauce.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 4:04 PM on August 21, 2018

Oh also! In the same vein as the veal salt, I had this kale salad once that had bacon powder sprinkled on top. It wasn't tiny particles of bacon, it was this fine white powder that tasted intensely bacon-y. I suspect it was made with taipoca maltodextrin and bacon fat, as described here.

Mushrooms and citrus aren't fatty, so it probably wouldn't work for those particular sauces. And I'm not sure how well that powder would dissolve into another liquid, but it may be worth exploring!
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 4:21 PM on August 21, 2018

Best answer: I spent a lot of time working in restaurants. The two biggest tricks were using a shit ton of butter as mentioned above - like, fist-sized knobs of butter for one or two plates' worth of sauce - and using demi-glace for brown/red sauces. Good restaurants make their own demi, but you don't have to. It's astonishing how much umami flavor demi gives you. Reduction is probably the 3rd big trick. For instance, we made a lobster stock out of roasted lobster shells, boiled, and then reduced by half and half again to 25% of original volume. It was very strongly lobster-flavored.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on August 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Many thanks to all who took the trouble to answer. I came across some wild mushrooms on my morning walk today and I've got some beef bones roasting in the oven. Now that I know what I'm looking for I can find recipes like this that I really want to try.
posted by night_train at 9:32 AM on August 22, 2018

You can also try de-glazing. After you cook a steak, or any piece of meat in a pan, remove the meat and add a quarter cup of water, or wine, or stock. Take a spatula and move the browned bits from your cooked meat in the pan while you reduce the liquid. Takes about 30 seconds to create a strongly flavored sauce this way. You can also add butter, cream, shallots, garlic, etc. But just water with the browned bits is very good.

My own cooking secret for a steak would be to paint it with butter. Not a lot. Just enough. Butter and beef go amazingly well together.
posted by xammerboy at 12:20 AM on August 23, 2018

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