Monday, April 1, 2013

A Rainbow of Sauces

The second chapter in La Cuisine de Monsieur Momo is devoted to sauces, and it was hard to find one that didn't have butter. One thing about butter is that it is a thickening agent, and using olive oil doesn't produce the same results when you're dealing with sauces. The British/Colonial influence was apparent in this chapter (though in general the French had and have nothing but scorn for English food) in the use of Worcestershire sauce, curry powder, and Coleman's powdered mustard. There were a few sauce recipes that seem incredibly wasteful today, where you'd take a refrigerator's worth of fresh vegetables and meat and cook them down to only a cup or so of rich unctuousness, but there's a reason that French chefs were long known for their sauces. For the home cook, not so practical.

I chose a recipe for "Yellow Sauce" from Mademoiselle Léonie in Bern, Switzerland.
Put three tablespoons of good wine vinegar in a small pot along with pepper, salt, bay leaf, thyme, and spices [see note], and reduce it to less than half. Put a little bit of warm water in another pot. Whisk in one or two egg yolks, butter or oil, the reduced vinegar, minced tarragon, salt, and pepper. Cook until thickened over low heat or in a water bath.

Note: The word "épices" just means "spices" which could be anything really, but there's a traditional French seasoning called "quatre épices" which is a mixture of pepper, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves; it's also the name for allspice, so I was prepared to use a pinch of that. However, Sebastien's mother told me, after looking at the recipe, that she would interpret that word to mean "shallots" and so that's what I used.
There is no direction in the cookbook as to what this sauce should be served with, but it sounded like something that would go well with fish. I'd bought some cleaned mackerel at the store this morning, and baked it at 180°C (350°F, my favorite temperature for cooking pretty much anything) on top of lemon slices and drizzled with a bit of olive oil, while I whisked up the sauce. Since I didn't have any true wine vinegar, I used the white balsamic vinegar that I had on hand; this made the sauce turn out sweeter than it probably should have been, but I think the sweetness was nice, and it balanced out the lemon juice I'd tossed the lettuce in. Also, since the balsamic is darker than clear white wine vinegar - I am assuming white wine vinegar, though the recipe isn't specific - the final sauce ended up more of a beige color than the egg-yolk yellow I was expecting. Rather than using two pots, I whisked my egg yolk with two tablespoons of water and a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt in a small bowl, and scraped it slowly into the reduced vinegar, stirring madly so it didn't clump and curdle. You could probably get the same effect by replacing the egg yolk with a cornstarch-and-water slurry, about half a cup's worth, and not too heavy on the cornstarch either. But it was good, this sauce, and went well with the meaty fish, and even the chopped lettuce. I'll keep this one in my mental recipe file.

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