Just when I head out of town with no blogs to post for several days, my aunt Jean comes through with a blog about a cooking class she took at her country club in Columbia, Mo., covering the Five Mother Sauces of gourmet cooking.
Brad Faith is the Chef at the country club where I play golf. He periodically offers an evening cooking class for members. You know that I am not a cook; my kitchen is just a way for me to get to the backyard; and my stove will never wear out. But, this sounded like fun, and they said you received complimentary wine while you cooked ---- so how bad could it be?
The focus of the evening was Sauces 101--the five “mother” sauces of French cooking. These are apparently the base for any other sauce you want to make. They are: Espagnole sauce/demi-glace Veloute Béchamel (white sauce) Tomato sauce Hollandaise sauce
Six of us were in the class. They set up three cooking stations so we paired up. I picked one of my golfing buddies, Marylou, because I knew she would help me rather than laugh at me.
Right off the bat, I knew I was in trouble. There was a FOUR cup-measure container FILLED with melted BUTTER at each station (actually “clarified” butter – yes, there is a difference). And, there were two ingredients in the first recipe that I had never heard of before – mirepoix and roux. I started sipping my first glass of complimentary wine.
Now, he had told us ahead of time that there was no way we could make all these sauces in the three hours of class time. So, he had done some prep work. One was the “beef stock” – and from what he told us, it sounded like it must have taken him a minimum of 12 hours to cook that up. It started out with beef bones – did you know that the closer to the ground the bone is, the more flavorful it will be; for example a leg bone is more flavorful than a rib bone? - and stuff got added, and then cooked down; then something else got added, and cooked down; and it kept getting repeated until it ended up being this brown, gelatin-like glob. After describing this whole long, arduous process, he says “or you can buy this at a gourmet store,” this tiny little white plastic jar with beef base in it.
That’s for me! I’m not spending 12 hours in the kitchen when it can be bought in 15 minutes.
The mirepoix was easy – 2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part carrot, sautéed in butter until softened. (He used whole vegetables, and didn’t wash any of them – “more flavorful that way”.) It turns out that roux is also simple – it is just a thickener. Equal parts butter and flour, cooked until brown. You can have “blonde” roux (which is just barely cooked, and still yellowish) or “brown” roux (which is cooked longer, until it turns brown).
Espagnole sauce is just a basic brown sauce – we might call it gravy if we weren’t trying to impress others with our cooking prowess. It consists of mirepoix, tomato paste, beef/veal stock, brown roux and sachet d’epices (spice bag – parsley, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, peppercorns).
The Demi-glace is just the espagnole sauce with more beef stock added, and then cooked down, “reduced”, by half.
The Veloute sauce (my personal favorite – probably because Marylou and I were awarded “best in class” on this one) – is just butter, mirepoix, blonde roux, chicken stock, and sachet. You can also make it with fish stock or vegetable stock, depending upon what you are pouring it over.
Bechamel – the classic white sauce. It is just butter, onion, blonde roux, milk and a pinch of nutmeg. And we don’t have to worry if we get lumps, because you strain it through cheese cloth. (We did pretty good on this one too!)
Tomato sauce – you know this one. Olive oil (finally no butter), onion, garlic, and tomatoes (he showed us how to core and de-seed tomatoes using a melon ball cutter!). Cook it down for hours and hours and hours to get rid of all the liquid.
Hollandaise --- holy cow! The grande dame of sauces and her persnickety nature is shown in the care that must be taken to make this sauce. Egg yolks and slowly drizzled butter that have to be carefully and continuously whisked as you dip the metal bowl in and out of a hot water bath. We had to continually trade off as our arms got so tired from the constant whisking. If it gets too thick, add a teaspoon of hot water. If it gets too lumpy – well, the old strainer might come in handy again. Man-oh-man, that was a lot of work! After we finished, one of gals whispers in my ear “I make my Hollandaise using the microwave and my blender, it’s not nearly this hard!”
Then we gals have another glass of wine, and he cooks some things for us to sample using some of the sauces. He reduces tarragon and vinegar, and then adds that to the hollandaise sauce – and pours it over beef tenderloins. He sautés mushrooms in white wine, and adds that to the veloute sauce – and pours it over grilled chicken breasts. Then adds cheese to the béchamel sauce and pours that over steamed cauliflower.
Now we get to taste the fruits of our labors (and have another glass of wine).
By the next morning, my stomach is just ROLLING – I think it was a little too much butter for me, but boy it was GOOD!