Blog of an aspiring foodie

Random thoughts on sauces (BACKPOST)

Posted by beer_chris on 27-October-2003

Sauces are really extraordinary things. They concentrate flavor, and bring out the subtlety of a combination of ingredients. Even when paired with strongly flavored dishes (sometimes especially so), they can bring out subtleties in their constituent ingredients that can compete with the strongest flavors. I was reading an essay by Steingarten (Return) that discussed the best components of Thai food. One of the maxims of Thai cooking (and of most Asian cooking, I guess), is the tenet of hot, sour, salty, sweet – that great eating experiences must consist of these 4 standard flavor combinations. I think sauces are effective because they deliver flavors within these rules – a good roux is salty, from the butter base and seasonings, is slightly sweet, from the natural sweetness of the flour, is sour, from the toasting of the flour, and is hot because of pepper. Another key component is the fat base on which all of this is delivered. Whether built up from the 'fond' (a topic for another blog entry) or made from butter or cream, it's the fat that coats our mouth and pushes the flavor subtleties into our consciousness. Perhaps pectin is the fat of jellies – that thick, viscous coating that enables transportation of the flavors.

Good dishes just wouldn't be the same without the fat-rich, flavor rich sauces that go with them. Eating a piece of prime steak is an experience, but eating it with a pan sauce can be heaven, depending on the creativity and experience of the chef.

That brings up another good point, that sauces can be the prime source for creativity for the chef. A great chef can take a standard recipe dish, something we've all had many, many times, and make it stupendous, a wonderful culinary experience, by adding a sauce that melds and combines the pure flavors of the dish with some new, exciting ones in the sauce. Perhaps that's why gravy is so much a part of home cooking – good gravy makes the meal. Bad gravy doesn't necessarily detract from it, but it doesn't add that extra 'oomph' that makes good food great.

More pontification and experimentation required in this area.

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