You Saucy Thang, You!

By / Food / December 20th, 2011 / 1

For the last 20 or so years, I’ve cooked our Christmas turkey on the barbecue. While the revellers are inside knocking back nogs and roasting virtual chestnuts before an enclosed gas fire, the bird, largely unattended, slowly and surely becomes the golden-brown, moist and tender centrepiece of the season beneath the barbie lid, hissing away in the Vancouver rain.

Except for one small inconvenience — see below — this bird-on-the-barbie thing works very well. I fire up just one of the machine’s two gas elements, and the turkey sits above the unlit other. This means that the bird cooks in a heated ‘oven’, but not over a flame. The juices are deliciously contained, and on cue a few hours later, we’re into Christmas dinner.

The inconvenience is that because there’s no roasting dish, there are none of the pan drippings needed to make gravy — the delicious, rib-sticking glue that really brings Christmas together. The gravy, the sauce, the jus is the finishing touch that has made magnificence of ordinary meals for hundreds and probably thousands of years.

What’s a holiday dinner without gravy, a poached egg without Hollandaise, a salad without a vinaigrette, a chip without dip? A bland and boring world it would be without sweet and sassy sauces: without béchamel, beurre blanc and béarnaise; crème fraîche, mornay, chocolate cream, sabayon. How about demi-glace, velouté, and those sisters of good taste, chaud-froid blanc, brun et rouge? And dare we forget a dollop or three of the comforts of cuddly custard or mmm … mayo?

I have read that sauciers hold a place in the kitchen second only to the executive chef, that they work “with an adroitness and finesse worthy of a magician.” Amazing when you consider that the ingredients for so many great sauces are as simple as amalgams of flour, fat, stock, cream, eggs, the occasional tomato, and enough of an assortment of seasonings to make each one unique. Pretty simple stuff? The magic is putting things together to make miracles of complex, delicious, complementary taste.

In the case of my holiday turkey, the “gravy” begins with a simple roux — flour gently browned in a pan, stirred with butter, whisked and enhanced with the liquid reduced from the turkey’s cooked giblets, enriched more with soy, a touch of Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and a splash of Burgundy purloined from the revellers in front of the fire. Like the turkey, it always seems to work.

While the great sauciers will always cook up (or down) the bones and the bits; the shells, claws and bones of sea creatures; the onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and various combos of bouquet garni, to build stocks that get their sauces going — most of us, for any number of good reasons, cheat. Supermarkets and specialty stores are well stocked with inexpensive pouches of the tastes we want, and sometimes need. The range these days is wide. Pick a culture, and there’s a mix to make beef, poultry or pork taste better, or at very least, different. But as always, check the labels and make informed choices.

I will continue to do turkeys on the barbecue. But I will also accept the ongoing opportunity to make meals that really sing — enhanced with the treasures of tastes and textures of what we know and love as sauces. 


chimmichurri sauce
This recipe comes from chef friend David Hawksworth, who opened Hawksworth at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia in Vancouver this spring. The hotel, an icon on downtown Georgia Street since 1927, has been completely redone, and David’s restaurant is one of its star features. He says that this sauce is served with all lunch and dinner beef dishes at the restaurant, and “its vibrant fresh flavour is a refreshing change to a normal beef jus. The sauce has its roots in South America, in particular Argentina, where it is matched with grilled red meat.”

2 bunches parsley
1 bunch cilantro
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic
Pinch chilli flakes
400 ml olive oil
50 ml sherry vinegar
Pinch of salt
Juice of half a lemon

Using a blender or a mortar and pestle, grind raw herbs, shallot, garlic and chilli flakes to form a paste.
Slowly add olive oil to achieve sauce consistency that holds on the back of a spoon.
Adjust seasoning and acidity levels with sherry vinegar, lemon and salt. Store covered in fridge for up to two days. Please note that this sauce is best served day of as it will slowly lose its vibrant green colour and fresh flavour.

white sauce
The gravy mentioned above begins this way. The only difference is that I hold the milk, substitute the liquid used to boil up the giblets, and add soy, Worcestershire sauce and a splash of red wine for additional colour and flavour.

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
Nutmeg, freshly grated

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring over low heat for a couple of minutes.
Pour in the milk, whisking to keep it smooth. Slowly bring to a boil as you keep whisking. Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour. Check it now and then to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

black bean and garlic sauce
The musty smell of black beans repulses many. Disturbing notes of a leftover from an old and disused cellar, or worse! But mash them up, add garlic, tumble them in a sauce with beef, and they’re marvellous.

l/4 cup black beans
l/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
l tsp wine
Peanut oil
2 tbsp minced garlic
l cup chicken broth
1 tsp cornstarch

Wash black beans, rinse under cold water, drain and dry. Place into bowl, mash with wooden handle or large knife or cut finely with chopping knife. Sprinkle with salt, sugar, soy sauce and wine. Set aside.
Heat wok to high, add peanut oil, stir fry garlic for 5 seconds. Add bean mixture, stir fry 1 minute. Add broth, cook for 3 minutes, thicken with cornstarch, and serve hot with bite-sized wok-cooked beef pieces.

crème fraîche
I often make up a batch of this delicious topper. There is any number of “authentic” recipes — one that uses buttermilk — and mine always remains simply the same. It lasts in the fridge for about a week, depending how many times you bake a pie in the interim!

1 cup whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

Combine the 3 ingredients, stir together, and ladle the mixture into a glass jar. Leave at room temperature for a day, then serve, or store in the fridge.

mint sauce
I don’t know why mint sauce complements lamb so well, but it does. Mint is so easy to grow — it will take over your yard if you’re not careful — and the sauce is simple to make, and very forgiving.

1 handful of mint leaves
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp boiling water
1 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Crush the leaves in a mortar and pestle, or pulse a couple of times in a blender, and cover with the sugar to absorb the juice.
Add the boiling water, which will dissolve the sugar. Add the lemon juice. Cook your lamb to medium or less.

hollandaise sauce
Sure, it’s a bit tricky. Do it the wrong way and it can end up as scrambled eggs. Or it can “break,” and the only way to bring it back is with an ice cube, and even then it’s dicey. But hollandaise, no matter which recipe you choose to guide you, is worth a botch or two to count as experience in the crafting of one of the truly great ones in the sauce family. What makes it so great? Egg yolks help, and so does all of that butter. But I think it’s the emulsion of those two and the snap of lemon that puts it over the top. I’ve used Rosso and Lukins’ New Basics recipe for years. Others make it much too complicated. And yes, if the sauce separates or curdles, add an ice cube and whisk until it melts. The sauce should regain its composure.

8 tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick)
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Fill the bottom of a double boiler with water and bring it almost to a boil. Then lower the heat so the water is hot, but not boiling.
Mix the egg yolks and lemon juice together in the top of the double boiler — I use a round-bottomed bowl, as it makes whisking easier — until smooth.
Very gradually whisk in the butter in a slow, steady stream. Add the cayenne, salt and pepper.
Continue whisking until the ingredients have come together in a thick and beautiful sauce.
Makes a cup that can be reheated in a double boiler. Bennies for breakfast?


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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