Sauces that Make Your Food Better

Ellen SilvermanEllen SilvermanThere's something missing in your cooking, and if we were to take a wild guess, we'd say it was sauces. For those of you who have dreamt of going to culinary school but just never took the plunge, here's something you would've learned while there: how to make the mother sauces, and why they're essential to your cooking.

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A lot of people don't know the term "mother sauces," but it refers to the five basic and essential sauces that all other sauces stem from. They're the building blocks of what every young chef is taught during their training, because if you know the mother sauces, you know the foundations of pretty much any other sauce out there (the technical term for those other sauces are "small sauces").

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Times are changing, though. If you asked a traditional French chef what the five mother sauces are, he'd give you a traditional list (and maybe a few additional ones), but if you turned to a more modern cook, such as Martha Holmberg of Modern Sauces, she'd give you a different answer. That's because Holmberg is a modernist cook, and believes that some of the five mother sauces - which are béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and a classic tomato sauce - are a little outdated, and aren't as essential to your cooking as they may have been back in the day.

Without trying to disrespect the French men in toques, Holmberg defined a different set of foundational sauces (including some of the originals) that she believes are essential to cooking today. To her, a sauce is "something that brings all of the elements together [and] provides energy to the dishes," she explains, and adds "you can have a pork chop, sautéed greens, and rice on a plate, and then you drizzle a little cider-apple butter sauce on all of it, and now all of those things are [one] dish."

Released last fall, her book explores the foundations of the mother sauces and demonstrates why they are essential to know at home. By providing more than 100 sauce recipes in her book, Holmberg shows you all of the different ways you can bring your cooking together and add a piece of excitement to it, and all of those ways start with the mother sauces - her mother sauces. So, to give you a little taste of that culinary school you dreamt of going to, and to add some life to your cooking, Holmberg will tell you her five main mother sauces that you should know how to make, and where you can go from there.

Vinaigrette

This is not a traditional mother sauce, and we even doubted its place on her list until Holmberg proved us wrong. She calls this her "happy sauce," because it's bright, quick, and simple. The key to being as happy about your vinaigrette as Holmberg is about hers is to remember the three essential ingredients - acid, oil, and salt - and the number one rule: balance. Once you know how to balance the flavors of vinaigrettes, you can play around with what variations of the three ingredients you want to use. Be wary, though, because without one of those ingredients, "you'll be out on your [hiney]," warns Holmberg. This recipe is a classic vinaigrette recipe, with one addition to the ingredients, Dijon, which adds a spicy kick. To test your flavor balancing skills, try swapping in another type of acid (lemon juice, orange juice, or champagne vinegar perhaps?) and another type of oil. Or, of course, try Holmberg's variations.

Click here to see Holmberg's Classic Sherry Vinaigrette Recipe


Tomato Sauce

Holmberg believes that the tomato is the perfect food; its multi-dimensional flavor personality is its umami, and it has the ability to make something taste intense and savory, she says. When making a tomato sauce, which is mostly done using canned tomatoes, Holmberg stresses to remember to cook the sauce until the point where that umami comes out. And because tomatoes are generally sweet, balancing the flavors with salt, a touch of heat, and acid is important as well (like with any of the other sauces). Holmberg's classic marinara is a starting point to whatever tomato-based dish you're trying to make: pastas, casseroles, stuffed peppers, or Tuscan poached eggs, which is what she makes with her spicy and bold tomato sauce.

Click here to see Holmberg's Bold and Spicy Tomato Sauce Recipe


Hollandaise

A classic (and one of the mother's), hollandaise sauce is the emulsification of eggs and butter. It's a tricky one, because you have to manage egg yolks with heat and emulsify them perfectly with fat. If anything is done incorrectly, your hollandaise will break, resulting in a runny, yellowy mess.

With hollandaise sauce you want billows, says Holmberg, and they should be as voluptuous as possible. Creating hollandaise sauce is alchemy: managing heat and yolks, properly emulsifying, and seasoning it well with salt, pepper, and acid. In Holmberg's "steak sauce" hollandaise, all she is doing is making a basic hollandaise sauce up until the point where she adds the soy sauce mixture at the end, proving that once you know how to make the foundational sauce (like with any of the mother sauces), you can add anything you'd like to it to make it something other than eggs Benedict.

Click here to see Holmberg's 'Steak Sauce' Hollandaise Recipe

Click here to see more Sauces That Will Make Your Cooking Better

-Anne Dolce, The Daily Meal