A good sauce makes any meal more exciting

By / Food / April 11th, 2018 / 7
Chimichurri sauce

There may be dissenters — hearty carnivores who like to scarf their meat naked and rare — but I’m pretty sure that most of us who still include meat in our diets will admit that a meal can always be made much more exciting when it’s napped or swamped with a great sauce. It’s simply the way we are. The taste of meat satisfyingly stays, but the real turn-on at the centre of the plate is the sauce that makes meat sing!

I’m dating myself, but what was the Sunday slice of prime rib, or leg of lamb, without a ladle-load of gravy? Cobbled together with drippings from the pan, flour and splashes and dashes of everything else that made it a totally delicious protein complement, great gravy was the luscious lubricant that really made meaty meals.

In a warm and friendly maternal way, the culinary community uses the word “mother” when referring to five classic sauces. Any of them do well as they are, but with some extras, they can become an almost infinite number of other tastes. Think of the possibilities that spring from good old béchamel; the potential of velouté and its close relative, espagnole. And what would a Benny be without Hollandaise, or a pizza or pasta, without an occasional tomate?

Sauces have evolved in national and regional ways into hundreds — or likely thousands — of tastes and textures. You have your favourites, and can find more in recipe books or online.

Chimichurri is a scary name for a simple mix of parsley, oregano, garlic, oil and vinegar. Voila! And gremolata? Again, parsley, crushed together with lemon zest and garlic. Surely nothing is simpler, but as always is with the best sauces and marinades, the whole is much more than the sum of its simple parts. What clever person decided to make a happy marriage of parsley, lemon and garlic? I only know that, in my greenhouse, versatile parsley gets the best of loving care year-round, so it’s always ready for anything: in a sauce or as a sprig to enhance presentation.

Gremolata sauce


I give credit to Simply Recipes for this one. Similar to pesto, this sauce originated in Argentina, and pairs well with beef and other meats.

1 cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 or 4 garlic cloves
2 tbsp fresh oregano leaves (can substitute 2 tsp dried oregano)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Finely chop the parsley, fresh oregano and garlic (or pulse several times in a food processor). Place in a small bowl then stir in the remaining ingredients. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate. If chilled, return to room temperature before serving. Covered and refrigerated, it will keep for 1 to 2 days.


A favourite with the Simply Recipes people. They say: “Parsley, garlic and lemon zest — the most basic of ingredients; yet together, they are cymbals in the food orchestra. Noisy alone, but perfect to accentuate a lamb stew or veal osso buco. Just as you are easing into a savoury, meaty bite, the slightly bitter tang of the gremolata will wake up your senses. A little sprinkle of gremolata is all that you need to take a dish from good to great. Scatter it over vegetables, lamb, pork, chicken or veal. Or even over some pasta with butter and parmesan.”

2 tbsp parsley leaves, minced
1 tbsp lemon zest, freshly grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced (about 2 tsp)

Super easy: toss together all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Caren’s 15-minute gorgonzola pasta

Serves 4 to 6

Caren McSherry, main purveyor at Vancouver’s splendid Gourmet Warehouse, gives us this very quick and easy one-pot sauce that will knock you over. How can anything that takes just 15 minutes to prepare taste so good? Caren prefers artisan or dried pasta — allowing your sauce to really cling.

1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
250 ml Italian Gorgonzola cheese
500 g pasta, any shape (cooked to desire)


1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the shallot and sauté until soft. Add the stock and increase the heat to a boil.

Boil the stock until it is reduced to about a 1/2 cup. Add the Gorgonzola cheese and turn the heat down to a simmer. Whisk until smooth and creamy.

Pour the sauce over cooked pasta, garnish with Parmesan, pine nuts and parsley.


This rich — note the 4 egg yolks — and wonderful sauce is a perfect accompaniment for steak, roast beef or steamed vegetables. It even works as a spread for a ripped-off chunk of baguette, hot from the oven.

1/2 cup white vinegar
3 shallots, chopped
8 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp tarragon leaves
4 egg yolks
250 g butter

Combine the vinegar, shallots, peppercorns, bay leaf and tarragon in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the mixture is reduced by half. Strain and reserve the liquid.

Cut the butter into small cubes. Place the egg yolks in the top half of a double boiler and gradually stir in the reserved liquid until combined. Place the pot over barely simmering water that is neither touching the bottom of the pan nor boiling (do not let it boil).

Slowly whisk in the butter a cube at a time. Once all of the butter has been added, the mixture should have thickened. At this point, the sauce can be poured into a serving jug or directly onto the food and served.


I sometimes wonder how many times I’ve made this so-adaptable white sauce — to pour over my cauliflower, add to pasta, to resurrect leftovers of all kinds. I always grate in lots of nutmeg. Warm the milk before you start.

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups warmed milk
White pepper
Nutmeg, freshly grated 
Heavy cream (optional)

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring over low heat for 2 to 5 minutes. Pour in all of the warmed milk, whisking constantly to blend and smooth the mixture. Increase the heat and continue whisking as the sauce comes to a boil. Season with a little salt.

Reduce the heat to very low, and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring now and then to prevent sticking. When the sauce reaches the desired consistency, add white pepper and nutmeg. Taste for seasoning, then whisk again until the sauce is perfectly smooth. For a richer taste, add a bit of cream.

Keg teriyaki marinade

Chef friend Kurt Landert developed the Keg’s teriyaki marinade recipe 40 years ago, and now, as a Keg owner, his kitchen team still uses the same recipe to give the restaurant’s “teris” their distinctive tenderness and taste. His shared recipe was for a BIG batch — almost four gallons of soy sauce and four pounds each of ginger and garlic! The quantities below have been approximated for home use. The recipe is forgiving, and I know that chefs like you will tweak the numbers from time to time, as do I.

1 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup cooking sherry
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 green onion
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced

Place the soy sauce, brown sugar, sherry and vegetable oil into a saucepan. Pulse the green onion, garlic and ginger together in a food processor.

Add the ground ingredients to the saucepan, mix, bring to a boil and then simmer for half an hour. Cool and refrigerate overnight. Strain and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Marinate steaks in this sauce for 4 hours before broiling.

Spaghetti with tomato and basil and ingredients for making pasta

Tomato basil sauce

When I first clipped this recipe into my book, I said that it would be tremendous with something like a baked spaghetti squash half. Or with steamed zucchini. Or just about any vegetable. In truth, I put it together to use up the basil that was going crazy in the garden. Freshly ground pepper and maybe a touch of dry mustard may be added for additional taste.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Garlic clove, chopped
4 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup basil, finely chopped
Dash of cayenne
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan, add the garlic, tomatoes, cayenne and basil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the tomatoes are cooked through. Add the cream and the cheese. Whisk the sauce until smooth.

Black bean and garlic sauce

There are few flavours more distinctive than that of black beans. Their musty smell repulses many — a leftover from an old and disused cellar, or worse! But mash them up, add garlic and tumble them in sauce with beef, they’re marvellous.

1/4 cup black beans
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp wine
Peanut oil
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 cup chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 tsp cornstarch

Rise the black beans under cold water. Drain and dry them, then place in a bowl and mash with a wooden spoon or cut finely with a chopping knife. Sprinkle with salt, sugar, soy sauce and wine. Set aside.

Heat a wok on high, then add peanut oil and stir-fry garlic for 5 seconds. Add the bean mixture, and stir-fry for 1 minute before adding broth or water. Cook for 3 minutes then thicken with the cornstarch. Serve hot.

Salsa rajas

Heat? I’ve had this forever, and make it whenever I crave a sauce with a clean, warm taste. Serve over chilies, or any dish that might like some warm.

Small onion, chopped
Garlic clove, chopped
4 green chilies, seeded
1 large can tomato sauce
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp oregano
Salt and pepper
Water or chicken stock
1 tbsp cornstarch

Sauté the onion and garlic in a saucepan until the onion becomes transparent. Blend the onion, garlic and green chilies, and return this mixture to the saucepan. Add the tomato sauce and spices. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Fill the tomato sauce can with water or chicken stock and add the cornstarch. Pour into the saucepan and simmer a few minutes longer before serving.

Crème fraîche

A sauce? Not really. Think dessert, and a mixture that’s more edgy than whipped, heavy cream, and a bit richer than sour cream. But regardless as to how you “read” its taste, crème fraîche is very versatile, and a delicious addition to apple pie, and just the right topping for rich chocolate and/or fresh fruit desserts. Perfect for blue and other seasonal berries that have been seasoned overnight in some sugar and an ounce or two of your favourite liqueur. (Perhaps cassis?) For your initial adventure, you may wish to try just 1/2 cup of whipping cream and the same of sour cream. It will keep in the fridge for a week or so, but if you only make a small quantity, there won’t be any left to worry about!

1 part whipping cream
1 part sour cream

Whisk the creams together in a bowl. Pour the mixture into a jar, cover with a lid and let stand in a warm place for 12 hours. Stir and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.

Make your sauce stand out by preparing your own homemade pasta – try this recipe from our Prep Kitchen.
Prefer your pasta gluten free? Here are four ways to make vegetable noodles.

Our West Coast wordsmith Duncan Holmes likes to cook all parts of the meal—hot and cold apps for the eyes; big, generous mains, where timing, color and taste come together on sparkling, white plates—and there’s always enough for seconds. But it’s at dessert time when he really shines. Not with precious fancy dancy, but with a melt-in-your-mouth-pastry apple pie. Granny Smiths, of course, and French vanilla ice cream.

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