Saucy! Making a decent red-wine sauce defines a great cook
On the cover of her 1,200-page master work, “The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques and Science of Good Cooking” (1997), chef Madeleine Kamman whisks butter into a glistening, dark-brown, syrupy sauce, holding the saucepan outward, as if the reader were an onlooking student.
The photograph is a reminder that it's all well and good to know how to make a fluffy omelet or turn beet juice into “caviar,” but until you know how to make a decent sauce, you will never be a truly great cook.
I'm not referring to the squeeze-bottle dots, flavored-oil dribbles or immersion-blender purees that define many modern sauces, but they warrant future discussion. I'm talking about one sauce in particular, born of Italian-influenced French culinary tradition: the basic red-wine sauce for meat, an ethereal amalgam of an ultra-rich meat essence, a red-wine reduction, butter and herbs.
I have come as close as I can to perfecting this sauce, and the process has taken only about 30 years. It won't take you that long if you follow my directions and come to know that the secret to a great sauce for beef, lamb or veal is actually turkey.
Red Wine and Shiitake Mushroom Sauce for Beef
Red Wine and Shiitake Mushroom Sauce for Beef
This sauce is rich, so a 2-tablespoon serving is enough.
It goes beautifully with roast beef or any grilled or pan-fried steak. If there are scraps left over from trimming whichever cut of meat you use, use them for the essence and supplement with other meat. After the essence is done, you can use the cooked beef cubes as the base for a stew, soup or pasta, braising them in stock until tender.
Make ahead: The essence may be made 3 days in advance and refrigerated or frozen. The wine reduction can be made up to 2 days in advance. It's best to finish the sauce as close to consuming it as possible.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus 3 to 4 tablespoons for finishing the sauce
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups full-bodied red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir
1 to 2 large shallots, sliced (1⁄2 cup)
1 cup chopped leeks, white and green parts, rinsed well to remove any grit
2 medium-size cloves garlic, chopped
1 quart Mock Veal Stock (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound beef (such as sirloin or chuck), cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes and blotted dry with paper towels, at room temperature
Chopped chives or parsley, for garnish, optional
Heat the 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saute pan or skillet over medium-high-heat. When the butter foams, add the mushrooms and cook until they are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.
Combine the wine, shallot and leeks in a medium-size saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil; cook until only 1⁄4 cup of liquid remains. Remove from the heat and stir in the garlic.
Heat the stock in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat to warm it through, then reduce the heat enough to just keep the stock warm.
Have ready a pair of kitchen tongs and a small wad of paper towels. Heat the oil in a medium-size saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat until the oil just begins to smoke. Add the beef cubes in a single layer so that they are not touching each other. Let the cubes cook undisturbed for several minutes, until they are dark brown on the bottom. Use the tongs to turn the cubes over; let them brown well on the other side. Tip the saute pan or skillet so that all of the accumulated fat pools in one area, and use a flat-edged wooden spatula to move the meat cubes away from the fat. Grasp the wad of paper towels with the tongs and use it to soak up all of the fat from the saute pan or skillet without dislodging any browned bits from the bottom. Discard the paper towels, and return the pan to the heat.
Ladle 3⁄4 cup of the warm stock into the saute pan or skillet, and use the spatula to dislodge the browned bits from the bottom. Cook over medium-high heat for several minutes, until the stock reduces a little and becomes thick and syrupy. Add 3⁄4 cup of stock and cook until it is syrupy, stirring occasionally. Repeat with another 3⁄4 cup of stock, reducing again. Add the remaining stock and cook until it is syrupy, stirring occasionally. The entire process will take about 30 minutes and should yield slightly more than a cup of rich, deep-brown meat essence.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beef cubes to a storage container for future use, as desired. Strain the meat essence into a small saucepan through a strainer lined with a dampened flour-sack towel (see note) or cheesecloth, then strain the wine reduction into the meat essence. Cook over medium heat for several minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Whisk in 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter and cook for 1 minute. The sauce should be deep brown and syrupy, but not too sticky. Remove from the heat and stir in the mushrooms and chopped chives or parsley, if desired. Serve immediately.
Note: Flour-sack towels are large cotton towels available in stores such as Crate and Barrel and Target. They are less expensive than cheesecloth, work better and can be laundered.
Makes about 1 cup, enough for eight 2-tablespoon servings
Mock Veal Stock
This stock is extremely versatile, so it's a good idea to always have some on hand in the freezer. It's an excellent base for soups, Thanksgiving gravy and even refined sauces when used to make meat glazes from beef, veal or lamb. It's, therefore, a terrific substitute for recipes that call for veal stock and a lot less costly to prepare. Bonus: The neck and wings yield about 6 cups of picked meat.
This recipe yields closer to 5 quarts, but reducing it to 3 concentrates the flavor and makes the stock richer. Feel free to leave the stock unreduced or to reduce it even more. Concentrated stock takes up less room in the freezer and can easily be diluted by adding water.
Make ahead: The stock can be made up to 3 days in advance and frozen for up to 6 months.
Nonstick cooking spray
5 pounds turkey-wing portions (tips and wingettes)
5 pounds turkey necks
2 cups dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
2 beef bouillon cubes
4 medium-size whole cloves
10 black peppercorns
Stems from one bunch parsley, 2 large fresh bay leaves and 10 sprigs thyme, tied together with kitchen twine into a bouquet garni
Tops of 1 bunch celery, with leaves, cut into 3-inch stalks (2 cups)
4 medium-size carrots, each cut in half
4 large (3 pounds) unpeeled onions, cut into quarters
4 large leeks, white and light green parts, halved lengthwise, cut into 4-inch pieces and cleaned well (8 cups)
6 to 7 quarts water
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Place the wing portions skin side down in a single layer on the sheet pan and roast for 1 hour, until well browned.
While the wings are roasting, place the necks in an 8-quart stock pot, add water to cover and cook over medium heat until the water just begins to boil. Drain the necks and rinse them in cool water to rid them of any coagulated blood. Transfer the necks to a stock pot with a capacity of at least 14 quarts.
Transfer the roasted wings to the stock pot. Pour off the fat from the baking sheet, discarding it or saving it for another use. Place the baking sheet over two burners of the stove, then pour in the wine and turn the heat under the pan to medium. Use a flat-edged wooden spatula to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, letting the alcohol cook off from the wine for several minutes. Pour the liquid into the stock pot.
Add the bouillon cubes, cloves and peppercorns to the stock pot, then the bouquet garni, celery, carrots, onions and leeks. Add enough cool water to just cover the vegetables. Cook over high heat until the water just begins to boil, then reduce the heat to medium, adjusting it so the water is barely bubbling. Partially cover the pot and cook for 2 hours. The goal is to maintain the liquid at the same level from start to finish.
Remove the stock pot from the heat. Use a skimmer to transfer the vegetables to a large bowl, and use tongs to transfer the wings and necks to a separate large bowl. Allow to cool.
Strain the liquid in the stock pot through a large-mesh strainer into another stock pot. Use a ladle to remove any fat floating on the stock. (Alternatively, you can ladle the top inch of stock into a fat separator cup and then pour it back into the remaining stock, discarding the fat in the separator.) Discard any solids left in the strainer.
Clean the pot you used for making the stock. Line a strainer with a damp square of flour-sack towel that's large enough to overlap the strainer by several inches all around (see note), then use it to strain the stock back into the clean stock pot, pouring slowly as the liquid filters through the towel. Carefully move the towel around (never letting it fall below the edge of the strainer) so that clean areas of cloth will allow the stock to drain faster. Do this in several batches, removing the strainer when the cloth is clogged with scum or debris, rinsing it completely in very warm water and then returning it to the strainer. The cloth also should trap any fat that remains in the stock.
Once all the stock has been strained, cook over high heat until it has reduced to 3 quarts, which should take 30 to 40 minutes. For a more concentrated stock, reduce it further.
Have ready an 8-quart stockpot and an ice bath large enough to allow the pot to rest in ice water a third of the way up the side. Strain the reduced stock into the pot through a strainer lined with a square of flour-sack towel, as before. Place the pot in the ice bath and allow the stock to cool, stirring occasionally. The stock is now ready to be stored in the refrigerator or freezer, ideally in 2-cup portions. The stock should be free of fat, but if there is any floating on the top when you use it, scrape off the fat and discard it.
Pick the cooled meat from the bones. (Keep dark and white meat separate if you wish.) Discard the bones and skin. Strain any liquid left in the vegetable bowl, and save it for a soup or pasta. Do not add it to the stock you just made. Discard the vegetables.
Makes 3 quarts.
Mustard and Tarragon Sauce for Veal
This sauce is made with a meat essence that takes the place of demi-glace, a combination of two sauces (sauce espagnole and brown sauce) made with veal stock. Rather than use veal stock, whose preparation is costly and time-consuming, this recipe calls for using rich, but neutral, turkey stock to make the essence. To obtain the veal flavor, small batches of stock are added to well-browned cubes of veal and reduced to a concentrated glaze. Mustard provides acid for the sauce, reduced cream balances the acid, and tarragon and chives add extra flavor.
If there are any scraps left over from trimming whichever cut of meat you use, use them for the essence and supplement with other meat. After the essence is done, you can use the cooked veal cubes as the base for a stew, soup or pasta, braising them in stock until tender.
The sauce is rich, so only 2 tablespoons are necessary per serving. It goes nicely with pan-fried or grilled veal chops, scallopine or veal roast. Leftover sauce can be reheated over gentle heat.
Make ahead: The meat essence may be made three days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to six months. The cream can be reduced a day or two ahead. It's best to finish the sauce as close to consuming it as possible.
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound veal (such as shoulder), cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes and blotted dry with paper towels, at room temperature
1 quart Mock Veal Stock (see related recipe)
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon chopped chives
Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until it has reduced to 1⁄4 cup, about 10 minutes.
Have ready a pair of kitchen tongs and a small wad of paper towels. Heat the canola oil in a medium-size saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat until the oil just begins to smoke. Add the veal cubes in a single layer so that they are not touching each other. Let the cubes cook undisturbed for several minutes, until they are dark brown on the bottom. Use the tongs to turn the cubes over; let them brown well on the other side. Tip the saute pan or skillet so that all of the accumulated fat pools in one area, and use a flat-edged wooden spatula to move the meat cubes away from the fat. Grasp the wad of paper towels with the tongs and use it to soak up all of the fat from the saute pan or skillet without dislodging any browned bits from the bottom. Discard the paper towels and return the pan to the heat.
Ladle 3⁄4 cup of the warm stock into the saute pan or skillet, and use the spatula to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Cook over medium-high heat for several minutes, until the stock reduces a little and becomes thick and syrupy. Add 3⁄4 cup of stock and cook until it is syrupy, stirring occasionally. Repeat with another 3⁄4 cup of stock, reducing again. Add the remaining stock and cook until it is syrupy, stirring occasionally. The entire process will take about 30 minutes and should yield slightly more than a cup of rich, deep-brown meat essence.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the veal cubes to a storage container for future use as desired. Strain the meat essence into a small saucepan through a strainer lined with a square of dampened flour-sack towel or cheesecloth. Stir the mustard and reduced cream into the sauce and cook over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes without allowing the sauce to boil. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped tarragon and chives. Serve immediately.
Makes about 1 cup, enough for eight 2-tablespoon servings.
Former chef-restaurateur David Hagedorn is a contributing writer to The Washington Post.
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