Saturday 5 July 2008

Reductio ad perfection....

Delicious sauces are ridiculously simple to make. I know James Peterson writes at fascinating length on the subject, and I love the images he conjures up of egg-yolks and oils working together to make complicatedly-structured emulsions, for example .......but, away from the pages of his deathless prose, the actual practice in the kitchen is quick and easy and capable of completely transforming what might otherwise be a rather dull offering on the plate.

My approach to sauces is very straightforward: some 'cooking residue' (which can be either stock, or the bits left in the bottom of the roasting pan or the sauté pan - anything which has captured the flavour of whatever it was that was previously being cooked), some alcohol of choice (whatever you have to hand - I generally have port and vermouth ready to use in the kitchen in London, and marsala and house white in Italy, although you can also use a slug of whatever you're quaffing as Cook's Perk in the kitchen - and often , but not always, a slug of cream. That's the beauty of the process - the sauce can be adapted to whatever you happen to have available and might feel like including. Herbs? If you have them, why not? Cream? Yes, but not necessarily...

And the secret to success - if indeed it even merits being glorified as a 'secret' - is reducing and reducing and reducing the combined liquid until it is a dense, coating consistency in the bottom of the pan. It will cling perfectly to whatever it is that you're serving, and the flavours within it will be complicated and rich and delicious!

An example: last night we were having duck breasts for dinner. Before sitting down to the first course, I'd combined in a small saucepan a cup of beef stock, along with half a cup of port and a generous slug of cream, stirred together and left simmering gently on the stove. Having cleared the first course, I grilled the duck breasts (approx four minutes per side) and then moved them into an oven pre-heated to 220 degrees C; all the while the sauce was bubbling away, not quite boiling but simmering quite energetically, and required stirring perhaps once every couple of minutes. Five minutes or so in the oven, and the breasts were ready to come out and sit under foil for a couple of minutes so that the juices would go back into the meat and not flood out when it was carved; meanwhile, I raised the heat under the sauce and boiled it down stirring constantly, until a wooden spoon drawn through it on the base of the pan left a clear line, and the sauce was almost glutinous in texture. A quick check for seasoning and adjustment as needed* and then the breasts were carved and plated, and the sauce spooned over each serving - a spoonful of richly dense sauce per serving is quite sufficient.

Simple, and fantastic.....

*only ever add seasoning at the end when you're going to reduce a sauce in this way; if you put it in at the beginning, then as the liquid reduces, the seasoning becomes much stronger and more concentrated than you had in mind. It is also at this stage that you should add any chopped fresh herbs that you might want to use to add an extra flavour element to your sauce.

Tonight's Dinner:

Tagliatelle (fatta in casa) with a sauce of Tomato, Rosemary & Pancetta.

Salmon Fillet, in Walnut Cream sauce, on julienned Celery.

Fig & Quince Tarts.

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