The Structure Of Sauces

The most frequently used sauces are based on stock.The quality of these sauces depends on the stock-making skills you learned in the previous section.

Thickening Agents

A sauce must be thick enough to cling lightly to the food. Otherwise, it will just run off and lie in a puddle in the plate.This doesn't mean it has to be heavy and pasty.

Starches are still the most commonly used thickening agents, although they are used less often than in the past.We discuss starches and other thickening agents in detail below.

Other Flavoring Ingredients

Although the liquid that makes up the bulk of the sauce provides the basic flavor, other ingredients are added to make variations on the basic themes and to give a finished character to the sauces.

Adding specified flavoring ingredients to basic sauces is the key to the whole catalog of classic sauces. Most of the hundreds of sauces listed in the standard repertoires are made by adding one or more flavoring ingredients to one of the five basic sauces or leading sauces.

As in all of cooking, sauce-making is largely a matter of learning a few building blocks and then building with them.

1. Starches are the most common and most useful thickeners for sauce-making. Flour is the principal starch used. Others available to the chef include cornstarch, arrowroot, waxy maize, instant or pregelatinized starch, bread crumbs, and other vegetable and grain products like potato starch and rice flour.These are discussed later.

2. Starches thicken bygelatinization,which,as discussed in Chapter 4,is the process by which starch granules absorb water and swell to many times their original size.

Another important point made in Chapter 4 is that acids inhibit gelatinization. Whenever possible, do not add acid ingredients to sauces until the starch has fully gelatinized.

3. Starch granules must be separated before heating in liquid to avoid lumping. If granules are not separated, lumping occurs because the starch on the outside of the lump quickly gelatinizes into a coating that prevents the liquid from reaching the starch inside.

Starch granules are separated in two ways:

• Mixing the starch withfat.This is the principle of the roux,which we discuss now,and of beurre manié, which is discussed in the next section.

• Mixing the starch with a cold liquid.This is the principle used for starches such as cornstarch. It can also be used with flour, but as we note later, the result is an inferior sauce.A mixture of raw starch and cold liquid is called slurry.

The cooking fats employed for making roux are as follows:

Clarified butter is preferred for the finest sauces because of its flavor.The butter is clarified (p. 178) because the moisture content of whole butter tends to gelatinize some of the starch and makes the roux hard to work.

Margarine is widely used in place of butter because of its lower cost. However, its flavor is inferior to butter, so it does not make as fine a sauce.The quality of margarine varies from brand to brand.

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