Give us your easiest, no-hassle sauce recipes
October 10, 2019 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Looking for dead simple sauces I can make by stirring things together and then add to something that is already cooked/prepared. In other words, these sauces shouldn't require cooking, or much chopping, or hauling out appliances like the blender or the food processor. (Brief heating in the microwave is fine, as is chopping a small sprinkling of herbs or maybe pressing some garlic.) I want sauces I can put on something that is already cooked--not something I need to cook other things IN. So stirfry sauces are out.

I have little time for cooking and tend to prepare very very easy, very plain staples like baked chicken, baked salmon, roast veggies, etc. The other night I had a moment of inspiration and mixed together sour cream and jarred spicy harissa and hit it with some lemon juice and a pinch of salt. This turned our boring plain sweet potatoes and broccoli into something we couldn't stop dipping. I'd like to hear other combinations like this you've come up with. (Another example: tahini sauce from tahini, lemon juice, garlic, water, olive oil.)

Assume access to a well-stocked pantry of dried spices, vinegars, nut butters, etc., and willingness to procure any kind of ingredient, but little patience for dirtying extra dishes, cooking (so reducing something down is right out!), or a lot of chopping.
posted by CiaoMela to Food & Drink (45 answers total) 122 users marked this as a favorite
How do you feel about using a crock pot or slow cooker? I regularly make this slow cooker marinara recipe. Just start it in the morning, let it run for eight hours on low, and you get a good 7 to 8 cups of tomato sauce that freezes well.
posted by SansPoint at 11:36 AM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Turmeric tahini sauce from Bon Appetit, basically tahini, turmeric, olive oil and lemon juice, we add Aleppo peppers or smoked paprika. So good on grains and veggies.
posted by five_cents at 11:37 AM on October 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Jamie Oliver's Tagliatelle with Spinach, Mascarpone, and Parmesan is delicious, and you could put the sauce on something other than pasta.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:38 AM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I use 0% fat greek yogurt mixed with sriracha as a sauce for chicken in my wraps.
posted by NormieP at 11:38 AM on October 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Honey and sriracha (portioned to taste), add a little salt and maybe a dash of fish sauce if you have it lying around.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:42 AM on October 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thought of another one. The peanut sauce in this recipe is delicious and could go on just about anything.
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:44 AM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Melt half a stick of salted butter in microwave, stir in bread crumbs (and maybe a little garlic powder or dried herbs) until it is still runny but fairly thick. Microwave for another 30 seconds to a minute. Spoon over vegetables.

We always served this with cauliflower, but it's probably good on other things.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:50 AM on October 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

Pan sauces, reducing is good, but 2 - 5 minutes is plenty. You can take more time and make a better sauce, but the fast versions are well worth it. You only get a small amount of sauce, but it's flavorful. Meat or fish will give off juices while you make the pan sauce, add them back. Wine usually needs a few minutes, but brandy or sherry will need less, as you will use less. These are simplified versions a chef friend taught me.

- Saute boneless, skinless, seasoned chicken strips with butter on fairly high heat, cooking them in about 8 minutes, maybe less. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine or sherry, add some butter and cream or sour cream. You can dredge the chicken in a small amount of flour 1st if you want a thicker sauce. I use seasoned salt and thyme for this.
- Do the same with plain white fish, cod in season, halibut, whatever, that you have lightly dredged in egg then flour. Use a dish for the egg, pour out whatever you don't use, then use that dish for flour. Saute in butter, deglaze with lemon and a little more butter, if needed. This works with chicken, too. It doesn't make sauce so much as the coating grabs the lemon and it tastes like sauce.
- Simple steak au poivre is basically good steak with a fair bit of freshly ground pepper, pan-cooked until done, the pan deglazed with brandy and the thickened with a bit of cream/sour cream.
- You can make a simple creamy cheese sauce with an egg, cream and good parmesan, gently cooked and stirred vigorously. My friend labeled it Alfredo, but there are great battles over this term, so creamy Parmesan sauce. It dirties 1 pan and is fantastic on potatoes. Jarred alfredo, in my experience, is not worth it.

There are some very tasty curry sauces you can cook meat in, probably others, at your local grocer. Jarred hollandaise is heinous, but way better than no hollandaise. I learned from my Dad that A1 steak sauce is really great on a baked potato with butter. If you don't eat gluten, rice flour works well in sauces.
posted by theora55 at 11:57 AM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

+1 peanut sauce. Recipe above looks great, but honestly there are a lot of combinations that work. Melt some PB with a little water, something salty (soy sauce or similar); something acid (lime juice or rice vinegar or similar); and optionally something sweet (brown sugar, honey or similar) and something spicy (chile sauce or similar.) Stir til smooth over low heat.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:03 PM on October 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

I wonder if you'd be okay with this classic tomato sauce recipe? 3 ingredients: canned tomatoes, 1/2 an onion (not chopped beyond just the 1/2), butter. You simmer it for 45 minutes but you don't need to tend to it at all, and at the end all you do is scoop out the onion and throw it away.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:12 PM on October 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

I asked a similar question a year ago. Some of the answers might work for you.
posted by kendrak at 12:29 PM on October 10, 2019

Are you willing to wash a stick blender?

I make "pizza sauce" with one regular can of fire-roasted tomatoes, a handful of the decent shredded parmesan (or similar hard cheese, asiago etc, or you can go with feta), minced garlic (we use jarred), salt and Italian seasonings, shake of red pepper flakes; if you want something more like a vodka sauce put in a blop of sour cream. Blitz the whole thing with a stick blender until you reach your preferred smoothness. This usually goes over something that's about to be cooked or reheated, so I might toss broccoli in it before steaming/roasting/microwaving, or put it over chicken and bang a big handful of shredded mozzarella over it before roasting or reheating (cooked chicken + this sauce + cheese is how I pack leftover chicken for lunches sometimes), or for making tortilla pizzas.

Two Minute Toum, the powerful garlic sauce you get sometimes with Lebanese food.

Mayo + Thai sweet chili sauce = Bang Bang Sauce, Mayo + BBQ Sauce = more or less the same thing.

Japanese sesame dipping sauce, goma dare (see also the three common dipping sauces for shabu shabu here). Yakiniku sauce for grilled meat (also great on very roasted broccoli).

Avocado-cilantro sauce/dressing - you can play around with additional flavors on this. I use jarlic and the stick blender.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:32 PM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sweet cream curry dip/sauce: 1/2 Greek yogurt, 1/2 mayonnaise, liberal amounts of Penzey’s sweet yellow curry to taste, a bit of lemon, salt and sugar. Completely addictive!

Mayo + sriracha is the “spicy mayo” at sushi restaurants - great on seafood.

We buy jars of tomato sauce and pesto (Costco has amazing cheap jars of pesto) for precisely this purpose - last minute flavor boost to simple meals. Also just toss some standard storebought salsas on almost anything.
posted by amaire at 12:36 PM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I add some soy sauce and lemon to the srirache +mayo combo. Or if you don't mind MSG replace the soy sauce with Maggi.
posted by Duffington at 12:40 PM on October 10, 2019

Throw this in a jar, shake it, and pour it on your cooked noodles, warm or cold:

5 tbsp. cold water
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. sesame paste (not tahini; the Chinese kind is made from roasted rather than raw seeds - you could substitute peanut butter)
1/2 tbsp. black vinegar (i.e., Chinkiang vinegar)
1 tbsp. sambal olek (optional)

This is a go-to at our house. No chopping, blending, or cooking. We usually throw it on soba noodles, but udon and chow mein work too.
posted by Beardman at 12:56 PM on October 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

Microwaved hummus, thinned with a little water, is a go-to weeknight staple for me. Serve over vegetables and/or beans and rice.
posted by veery at 1:05 PM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

2 parts soy sauce, 2 parts mirin, 1 part sugar, it helps to simmer it down by 1/3 to thicken it up a bit. Or a bit of corn/potato starch to help with thickening. A blah teriyaki sauce. Add a part of sake for some more flavor. The combination of sake, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in varying proportions are so common in Japanese cooking shows that it just shows up everywhere.

2 parts mayo, 1 part mustard, 1 part honey - honey mustard.
ketchup, a bit of worcestershire - sorta BBQ like.

If you make some dashi (if you use hondashi, it's just a powder and water)...

2 soy
2 sake
3 mirin
bit of sugar sometimes

1 dashi
2 soy
1 mirin
1 sugar

ohitashi (marinated spinach)
8 dashi
1 soy
1 mirin

white fish
3 water
1 soy
3 sake
1 mirin

tempura dipping sauce
4 dashi
1 soy
1 mirin

10 dashi
1 soy
1 mirin

(that was cribbed from Dining with the Chef on NHK World)

Sweet n Sour Sauce
yield: 1.5 cup

1 c pineapple juice
1/3 c water
3 Tbs vinegar
1 Tbs soy sauce
1/2 c packed brown sugar
3 Tbs cornstarch

reduce stirring constantly until thick

Burger Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoons sweet relish
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika

I used to collect sauce recipes before I got boring/lazy and just put the teriyaki or sriracha or wasabi, or other just generic condiments.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:21 PM on October 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

A basic white sauce is easily made in a microwave. Melt 2T butter in a large Pyrex measuring cup or similar. Add 2T flour a pinch of salt. Add 1 cup milk, and cook 30 sec, stir, cook 30 sec, stir, etc until the milk boils and the flour cooks and thickens the sauce. At that point you can add ingredients to make other sauces such as grated cheddar to make a cheese sauce. The microwave method is pretty much immune to getting lumps which is common when done in a sauce pan
posted by SemiSalt at 1:22 PM on October 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

My favorite sauce: A-1 + sour cream + Montreal steak seasoning.

Plain Greek yogurt + olive oil + diced cucumber + some herbs = tzatziki.

Apple cider vinegar + liquid smoke + crushed red pepper = Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue sauce. (I got this from here on Metafilter.)

Ketchup + mayonnaise + garlic = Raising Cane's sauce. + relish = Thousand Island. Swap out the ketchup for Catalina dressing and you've got something similar to Steak n Shakes' Frisco Melt sauce.

Mayonnaise + yellow mustard + Worcestershire sauce + garlic powder = panini sauce; my mom used to make it to put on roast beef paninis.

Sour cream + adobo paste = delicious Tex-Mex condiment. I use it mainly on burgers.

Adding cream to pasta sauce is a pleasant result. Works with both marinara and pesto.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:47 PM on October 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Idk if prepared sauces will work for you but we cook very similarly and I just dump a little bit of this Trader Joe's Almond Butter Turmeric Salad Dressing on top. Don't let the name salad dressing fool you; it goes very well with hot or warm roasted veggies and proteins, and microwaves well!
posted by stellaluna at 1:51 PM on October 10, 2019

I regularly make this slow cooker marinara recipe.

SansPoint, you either mis-pasted, or that's the world's weirdest lead-in to a sauce recipe.
posted by zamboni at 1:52 PM on October 10, 2019

Laksa soup / paste
Just add dan of coconut milk
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:14 PM on October 10, 2019

*Tahini + olive oil + hot sauce of any variety + optionally acid (lemon juice or vinegar) + optionally sweetness (maple syrup, sugar, honey).

*Same but with peanut butter. This would probably also work with almond butter or any other nut butter as well but I haven't tried.

*Miso butter - mash miso and butter together with the back of a fork on a cutting board. You have to mash for a bit to mix the flavors well, but not too long.

I think you could probably mash other stuff into butter in the same way e.g. herbs, garlic.

*Yogurt + garlic (probably better if made a day or two ahead because the flavors will meld better, but I'm sure it would keep in the fridge. I have mostly only done this same day.)

*Yogurt + roasted eggplant but that's not exactly off the shelf

*Yogurt + tahini or peanut butter

*Pomegranate molasses + cumin + oil to thin it a bit if it's too thick.

Relish + mayo (I think this is tartar sauce, yes?) though maybe not on veggies.

In general I'd guess that any thick flavoring + oil to thin it + extra flavorings or herbs + acid + + heat to flavor + optionally sweetness is going to work pretty well. I've done a lot of random mix-and-matching with whatever is in the fridge/on the shelf and some have come out odd but I don't think anything has actually been bad.

*Caramelized onion but that does have to cook for ages - but it will keep in the fridge for a long time. I suspect it could be done in an instant pot or similar. You can then also mix it with various flavors as above. (I haven't done the mixing, just making a big jar of caramelized onions)

I put a * next to the ones I've actually made and like. The others are just suggestions :)
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 2:18 PM on October 10, 2019

Oooh, you could also use orange or lime juice instead of lemon juice or vinegar. Orange is of course less acidic. And "vinegar" could be any type though honestly I've never noticed a big difference between various types (white, red, cider, rice). Maybe this will affect whether you trust my taste or not :)

Orange goes well with miso and ginger too.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 2:20 PM on October 10, 2019

Black bean garlic sauce (like you find in a jar in the "Asian"/"World" section of the grocery store) thinned out with some combination of wine/sherry, vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil is pretty great on a lot of different things. There's probably a correct ratio, but I usually just wing it by taste.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:04 PM on October 10, 2019

I haven't used this with cooked things, but I really love this Japanese-inspired salad dressing, which depending on how much water you use is solid enough to be used as a dip. I think it would be very nice with some lightly steamed green veg, though I mostly have it with crudités.
posted by Cheese Monster at 7:31 PM on October 10, 2019

I asked on mefi a few years ago how to eat more marmite and someone was like toss veggies in it. Game changer.

Marmite thinned with some melted butter is amazing on roasted veggies, especially cauliflower, and also on noodles. Angel hair pasta tossed in butter and marmite is one of my favorite I am dead tired and need food now meals.
posted by phunniemee at 8:19 PM on October 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I do a lot of this. I do love cooking, but often don't have the energy, and having a few go-to throw-together sauces or condiments makes me feel like I'm still doing proper cooking, only without having to go to so much effort.

My very favorite salad is roughly-chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, maybe some onion, and a dressing made of a dollop of sour cream, a couple cloves of garlic (chopped, or even easier, pressed), a squeeze of lemon juice or a glug of white wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Some fresh parsley or chives if I have them around. I usually find myself licking the last bits of the dressing from the bowl, it's so good.

I make a pseudo-remoulade that's great on steamed green veggies or crab cakes or shrimp: a dollop of dijon mustard, a dollop of sour cream, a bit of mayo.

Another excellent dip for green veggies: a dollop of sour cream, a smaller dollop from a jar of prepared horseradish, a squeeze of lemon, salt & pepper.

Substitute ketchup in place of the sour cream above and you have cocktail sauce for seafood that's much better than the stuff sold in jars (plus you can add as much or as little horseradish as you like).

Throw some cream cheese into whatever pasta or one-pan thing you're making for an instant cream sauce (works best toward the end of cooking).
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:46 PM on October 10, 2019

It's hardly even a recipe, but I use equal parts soy sauce and vinegar for dipping lots of things into. If I'm feeling fancy I add a little of any of: sesame oil, chilli paste, fish sauce, sugar/honey, or fresh herbs, but honestly just the mix of the two things is good alone too.
posted by lollusc at 3:43 AM on October 11, 2019

Oh, also, for a dead simple rich sauce for pasta or something, heat up some red wine, and melt some blue cheese in it. That's the whole recipe.
posted by lollusc at 3:44 AM on October 11, 2019

(You can do it by microwaving, or by throwing the red wine and cheese into the pot after you drain the pasta and just stirring it around until warm and well mixed). If the latter, you only need a few spoonfuls of wine.
posted by lollusc at 3:45 AM on October 11, 2019

Mayo + Miso + smoked chilli powder makes for a delicious easy sauce
posted by mmascolino at 5:08 AM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also dead simple: drizzle Italian Dressing on stuff like veggies and chicken.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:12 AM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dead simple pantry salsa: a few canned chipotles en adobo, and some canned tomatoes, and some salt. Blenderize together, and then cook down in a hot pan with some oil. If you like the chipotle flavor but don't like much heat, you can fish their little seeds out before you use them.

To make fancier but not shelf-stable:
  • Use fresh tomatoes.
  • Add some onion which you've fried in oil.
  • Add some garlic.
  • Instead of using them raw or fried in oil, char the tomatoes/onions/garlic on a hot dry pan before you use them. (For the onion, you want to do, like, an entire half an onion face-down on the pan and just char the surface. For the garlic, char before peeling.)

posted by nebulawindphone at 6:36 AM on October 11, 2019

A simple mustard vinaigrette is a magical sauce for meat or vegetables; it's greater than the sum of its parts. If you don't want to fuss with a whisk, I give you permission to just put this in a bottle and shake:
* Half-cup of olive oil
* Tablespoon and a half of red wine vinegar
* Tablespoon of lemon juice
* Tablespoon of Dijon mustard (we use Maille, the smooth kind, not stone-ground)
* Pinch of kosher salt

(All measurements are approximate, of course, but you're aiming for about 3 tablespoons of acidic ingredients per 1/2 cup of oil.)
posted by desuetude at 8:03 AM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

willingness to procure more unusual ingredients like gochujang

Hello! Gochujang isn’t an “unusual ingredient”, it’s a ingredient that you aren’t used to. Your framing is offputting, as it articulates by extension that the people who use gochujang in everyday cooking are also “unusual”. Please do not say this. Thank you!
posted by many more sunsets at 8:29 AM on October 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

This sauce can't be beat over fruit: One tub vanilla yogurt (6 or 8oz; full fat, low fat, or fat free), 1 T honey, 1 t lime zest.
posted by DrGail at 9:21 AM on October 11, 2019

1dl sundried tomatoes
250g cherry tomatoes
1 dl almonds
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili flakes

- dump ingredients and blitz in a blender or one of those zoom zoom sticks. a surprisingly yummy, quick pasta sauce!
posted by speakeasy at 9:47 AM on October 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

3 stir-fry sauces
posted by theora55 at 11:21 AM on October 12, 2019

Mod note: Couple comments deleted. Point made about being careful not to describe ingredients as "unusual" or similar terms. Let's leave it at that rather than getting into more of a sidebar, and stick to offering answers to the OP's question about sauces.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:03 PM on October 12, 2019

I would look at non-dessert "Tray Bake" recipes... Often they use the pan, post-roasting, to create a quick sauce. For example, there are a bunch of recipes of varying complexity here.
posted by Jacob G at 10:57 AM on October 14, 2019

I use the pickling liquid from my pickled red onions to make a vinaigrette. I use the pickled red onions on salad or fish tacos and the vinaigrette on salad. You don't have to dice or chop the onion, just cut in slices and separate the rings. Then I squeeze 4 or 5 limes (depending on size) over the onions. I may add a splash of white vinegar if the limes do not produce enough juice. Add a bit of sugar (to taste) and salt (to taste) and a smashed clove of garlic. You can add a smidge of cumin and fresh cilantro if you like. You will know when the liquid is ready as it turns dark pink. Delicious.
posted by zerobyproxy at 1:08 PM on October 14, 2019

Soy sauce plus anything sweet like jelly or syrup is good on stir-fries etc. If you cook it you stir it in at the last minute and let it thicken so the sugars don't burn. You can make it pretty runny (more soy sauce) if you want to let things cook in it a while, or more thick if you just want it to be a sort of last minute glaze.

If you add garlic/chili paste to the above it is especially good with sweet things like sweet potatoes. Also good dipping sauce.

Mayonnaise, lemon, and capers are amazing mixed together and spooned onto salmon.

Balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, olive oil and salt is my favorite salad dressing and would be good to toss roasted brussels sprouts into.

Rice wine vinegar and soy sauce in equal parts is great on rice.

Mayonnaise, lemon juice, and smushed garlic = aioli. Making it yourself is overrated (I'm glad Metafilter doesn't have down-voting)

Mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and enough black pepper to make it look like a speckled quail's egg is good with beef.

Homemade barbecue sauces are easy and fast in a pan - ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, paprika. Garlic and onions if you feel like it.

Finely chopped cucumber, salted, rinsed, and squeezed + dill, lemon juice, and sour cream.

Powdered garlic and powdered onions are wildly underrated -- they can make the difference between a sauce that is made by sitting around a bit and a sauce that is made by chopping things up and letting it sit for hours or overnight.

If you reduce cheap-o balsamic vinegar by half and pour it back in the bottle it becomes thick and delicious to trickle onto roasted vegetables. It's nice to have around.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:13 AM on October 21, 2019

Mod note: Edited the post text at OP request
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:08 AM on October 22, 2019

Response by poster: Hi all, thanks so much for the many comments, we have lots of sauces to work through!

Please note that I did ask LobsterMitten to edit the text of the question after talking with helpful Mefites who chimed in about the "unusual ingredients" phrasing that appeared in the original post. I wanted to leave this here so that the comment by many more sunsets wouldn't be totally without context. I really appreciate the thoughtful comments as I continue to reframe my thinking/word choice.
posted by CiaoMela at 9:18 AM on October 22, 2019

« Older Dictionary or thesaurus which gives reading level...   |   Alternative Face Protection For Skiing Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.