I listen when sauce-seekers speak. They tell me about their sauce-making problems while standing in line at my bank or supermarket. Sometimes they tell me in emails. Part of the problem might be the diversity of sauces found on today’s restaurant menus. Perhaps more choices have resulted in increased confusion.
Sixty years ago, sauce generally meant a classic French mixture, from basic flour-thickened bechamel to satiny emulsions such as hollandaise, to the labor-intensive, stock-based brown sauces of Escoffier. In the ’70s and ’80s, nouvelle cuisine heralded flourless sauces such as beurre blanc, as well as sauces fashioned from pureed vegetables.
By no means have these sauces disappeared, but they’ve had to share the limelight with a whole new cast of sauces. American tastes have broadened, and sauces can be cold or room-temperature concoctions, salsas and dipping sauces, mixtures whipped up in a bowl rather than a saucepan. Here are four easy sauces that fall into the latter category.
Aioli is the tasty Provencal garlic mayonnaise that is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle. I use a food processor to speed up the preparation. In France, it is served in the middle of a large platter, surrounded by cooked, room-temperature vegetables — such as new potatoes, baby artichokes, eggplant, and green beans. Fish, usually salt cod, and hard-cooked eggs are often included.
But over the past several years, aioli has become de rigueur as a topper for everything from hamburgers to grilled oysters to French fries. I like to add pureed roasted red bell peppers because of the flavor boost they bring. Serve it atop crab cakes or slathered on toasted bread as a garnish for fish soups. If you like a little more attitude, you can add 1 to 1/2 teaspoons chili powder and/or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin. See cook’s notes for more variations. The choice is yours.
Yield: About 1 cup
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
Optional: 2 to 3 pieces roasted red bell pepper, drained, patted dry, sold in jars at most supermarkets
1 cup mayonnaise
Pinch of cayenne pepper, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: For a spicy, slightly smoky version, add a spoonful of pureed chipotle chilies (chipotles are smoked, red jalapeños). Small cans of chipotles are sold in most supermarkets in the Latin American specialty section, or in Latin American markets. The chilies are packed in a tomato-based adobo sauce. I puree the adobo sauce and the chilies together in a small food processor. The leftover chipotle puree can be frozen for future use.
Or to top seafood, I add minced fresh herbs (such as minced basil or parsley) and a pinch of minced lemon zest (colored portion of peel).
1. With the motor running, add garlic to a food processor fitted with a metal blade; process until minced. Add roasted red bell pepper and process to puree. Add 1 cup mayonnaise and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Process until well-combined, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary. Refrigerate, airtight, up to 2 days.
Use It: Serve it on cooked crab cakes or slathered on toasted bread as a garnish for fish soups. Divine as a dip for French fries, fried zucchini, or chicken wings, as well as kebobs. Spoon it on grilled or broiled fish augmented with fresh herbs and a pinch of lemon zest.
This alluring sauce is a staple in Argentina, where it is served with the country’s legendary grilled steaks. If you like, use half of the sauce as a marinade for beef such as skirt steak, hanger steak or flank steak before grilling — refrigerate the marinating meat in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight. Serve the grilled beef with the remaining sauce, discarding the marinade.
Yield: About 2 cups
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed
3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled, minced
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 red Fresno chili or red jalapeño, finely chopped (remove seeds before chopping for a less spicy sauce)
2 cups minced fresh cilantro
1 cup minced fresh Italian parsley
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Combine vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, garlic, shallot, and chili in a medium bowl. Flight stand 10 minutes.
2. Stir in cilantro, parsley, and oregano. Stirring with a fork, add oil in thin steam.
Use It: Serve with grilled lamb, pork chops, or beef (steaks are especially good), as well as roasted chicken or salmon. It’s also delicious spooned over sautéed shrimp, grilled kebobs, or roasted vegetables. Stir it into cooked grains for a scrumptious salad.
Source: “The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit” (Andrews McMeel, $45)
A Spanish Romesco Sauce is a culinary jewel. This thick red-hued sauce can turn chicken, no matter the cut, into an irresistible dish. Salmon, too. This version is a thick, coarse mixture of roasted red bell peppers, toasted hazelnuts, cubed bread, sherry vinegar, garlic, smoked paprika and extra-virgin olive oil. If you want a smaller amount, cut the recipe in half.
Yield: About 1 1/2 cups
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
1/2 slice hearty white sandwich bread, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed; see cook’s notes
2 large garlic cloves, peeled, cut into thin slices
1 cup jarred roasted red bell peppers, drained, patted dry
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar; see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon of honey
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Cook’s notes: I use Trader Joe’s whole roasted unsalted hazelnuts. Much, but not all the skin is removed — don’t worry about it. If you are using whole hazelnuts that are not roasted, put the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a 350-degree oven for about 10 to 12 minutes (keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t burning), shaking the pan to rotate nuts halfway through roasting. Transfer nuts to a clean kitchen towel and draw up the sides of the towel and let sit for about 1 minute. Using the towel, gently rub the hazelnuts back and forth to release their skins (not all the skin will probably come off). If you can’t find sherry vinegar, you can substitute red wine vinegar.
1. Place 1 tablespoon oil, bread, and hazelnuts in a 12-inch skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until bread is toasted on both sides, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds.
2. Transfer bread mixture to food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped, about 5 pulses. Add red peppers, vinegar, honey, paprika, salt, cayenne and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Pulse until finely chopped, 5 to 8 pulses. Sauce can be refrigerated, well-sealed, up to 2 days.
Use It: Spoon it onto grilled or broiled pork chops, lamb chops, or chicken breasts or thighs. It is delicious atop roasted slices of French baguette. It is delicious spooned over roasted vegetables.
Source: Cook’s Country magazine
Quick Green Goddess Sauce-Dip-Dressing
Classic Green Goddess contains anchovies. This milder version omits the small salty fish, using the traditional bounty of fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice, adding sour cream along with the mayonnaise.
Yield: 1 3/4 cups
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
3 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, peeled, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Whisk all ingredients together in a serving bowl until smooth and creamy. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to two days.
Use it: Employ as a dip with vegetables, sturdy crackers, or crostini. Spoon into the cut portion of baked potatoes or serve over roasted asparagus. It’s lovely spooned on grilled fish or roasted boneless skinless chicken thighs. Cut hard-cooked eggs in half; place cut-side up on a plate and put a dollop of this sauce on each egg. If you want to use it as a dressing of romaine lettuce, thin it with enough milk to make it thick but pourable.
Cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected]