Monday, June 1, 2015

Mother Earth and Mother Sauces

In planting my garden, it's bringing back memories of my favorite thing to eat in the early summer, baby red potatoes and fresh peas in a cream sauce. It has everything I love, potatoes with the fresh sweet taste of the peas and cream sauce. Who can go wrong with cream sauce! There is a reason why it's a mother sauce!

My grandmother used to make this from the early harvestings from their garden when I was a girl. My grandparents always had all kinds of fresh food at hand. I have never figured out if the fact that their entire back yard was under cultivation was due to my grandpa hating to mow or if he just really loved to grow things. I think that if there had been a zombie apocalypse in the late-70's or early 80's in Vancouver Washington, the whole family could have survived at least two or three years between the garden and the canned found they put up and stored in the garage. 

Back to Mother Sauces. We can credit a couple of men for inventing the concept of mother sauces. The first was Marie-Antoine Carême who initially defined four sauces. They were refined further by Auguste Escoffier. These are the main five used in classic French cuisine today: 

  1. Béchamel sauce - this your basic cream sauce and is the one I make the most and the one that sauced the potatoes and peas growing up. 
  2. Espagnole sauce - I'm not sure I've ever made one. I'll have to do some research on this one. It's basically a reduction of veal or beef stock with various seasonings, meat and vegetables added.
  3. Hollandaise sauce - one of my favorites! How else would we have Eggs Benedict or Lemon Curd!
  4. Tomato Sauce - this requires no explanation. 
  5. Velouté sauce - "Velvet" sauce. Made with a light stock such as Chicken or Fish and a blonde roux (equal parts by weight of butter and flour). The stock is kept light by not roasting the bones prior to making the stock which keeps the flavor as well as the color lighter.
My version of béchamel is as follows: 


  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt two or three tablespoons of butter. 
  2. Whisk in the same amount of flour, a sprinkle of white pepper and a pinch or two of salt. Continue whisking while it cooks. It's done when it smells like a freshly baked pie dough. 
  3. Remove from heat and whisk in a cup of milk. It works better if the milk is room temperature or slightly warmed. 
  4. Return to the burner over medium heat and continue whisking until it begins to bubble. Turn down slightly and continue to stir until thickened
Use less flour/butter for a thin pourable sauce and more for a casserole type sauce like Macaroni and Cheese. 

I add grated cheese (cheddar and Parmesan at the least, but usually whatever I have on hand) to make macaroni and cheese or vegetables, fresh or sautéed to make a comforting side dish. One of my favorites is to add blue cheese and toasted walnuts and serve over tortellini with fresh spinach stirred in at the last and some fresh basil as a garnish.