Day 4 – Sauce

“We’re saucin and saucin and saucin.” – Our theme song that we played today while doing dishes.

Today was about technique. Today was about retaining information. Today was about lots of butter.


Let’s rewind.

While walking into our demo classroom, I was hit with a shock of toasty butter, bubbling on the test stove, alongside many mis en place items. It surely looked as if some exciting demos were to come.

Chef Chris Douglass, a self-taught chef since 1978, and current restaurant owner of both Ashmont Grill and Tavolo in Dorchester, MA did not disappoint. He created a spectacular show of five diverse sauces. The way he cooked with such humble ease made it look like magic. We were soon to find out for ourselves what challenges were in store…

Chef’s sauces.

Chef Douglass carried a completely different energy from the previous chefs we had met. He was kind, much softer in speech, and had twinkling eyes. For some reason, with his grey tapered beard, I expected him to have a French accent and was surprised when he spoke with an American one.

The first thing he said to us was, “Don’t worry about what you don’t know.”

Today for the first time, I thought about SAUCE independently. While tasting Chef’s different sauces, I was transported immediately to different dishes. The hollandaise took me to an eggs benedict. The chicken veloute reminded me of a chicken pot pie. The bechamel brought me to a mac and cheese.

It was time for us to try on our own. We each were responsible for making Aoli, Hollandaise, Bechamel, Veloute, and Beurre Blanc .

Despite his gentle demeanor, Chef Douglass ran the kitchen at a rapid pace, giving us a multitude of important technical details. As he walked by, he picked up on every little nuance of where our sauces were going right or wrong.

Sauces are quite delicate and must be handled with care. Speed of whisking, amount of heat, when to stir, when to add liquid, all require specific attention to details. Too much heat and your eggs curdle. Too little heat and you don’t cook the flour in the rue properly. Sometimes you want color. Sometimes you don’t. Clarified butter. Cold butter. Lots of butter! As I said, so many details, and so. much. butter.

I almost wrecked my aoli by adding the initial oil too generously, but luckily it was saved in time by Chef. My first hollandaise fell apart and I had to re-start, as did almost everyone in our class. The veloute, made with mushroom stock, tasted somewhat like a gravy. The creamy bechamel was made from milk that we had flavored with onion and clove. And my beurre blanc “broke.” 3 out of 10 of us managed to produce a decent beurre blanc.

Broken Beurre Blanc

Goodness! Today was definitely a challenge. I am still learning the ropes. Remembering the steps and procedures, combined with finding things in the kitchen, combined with being brave enough to take initiative to act, all added up to quite a plateful. Amidst the chaos, I dropped my glass water bottle on the floor, causing it to shatter into a million pieces. (Luckily, I improvised with a plastic quart cup serving as my water-bottle for the remainder of class.)

Not to mention, today we had to present our sauces in front of each other, which for me was rather intimidating. After every sauce, we would gather together and Chef would taste and critique them, as well as share with us his own amazing sauce creations. However, after the first presentation, I relaxed and realized, this was a loving environment, a place to laugh and learn from our mistakes.

Chef Douglass – bring the sauces up!

Some things to note:

  • Sauces enhance the dish. Appearance, flavor, and texture are the three most important factors to consider for your sauce.
  • Don’t blame the pan or the timer or the oven. Be the master of your heat, of your tools.
  • Never add black pepper to hollandaise, as it ruins its pale yellow appearance. For heat, add cayenne pepper.
  • Emulsion means to hold things in a solution.
  • One egg yolk can hold approximately one cup of fat.
  • About saffron: Toast over heat and bloom in water before adding it to a sauce to bring out the essential oils. It is an expensive ingredient, so a little goes a long way.
  • Cross-contamination is not only dangerous for transferring harmful pathogens, but can also transfer unwanted flavors. Make sure you clean your board of any onion/garlic/etc. flavors before using it to make a new dish.
  • Always add thinner ingredients to thicker ingredients. Ex) Add milk/stock to rue, not vice versa.

I have so many more details, but I think this is sufficient for now. Chef promised that we would make some of these again, to review.

Today was a full day and we did not leave until 45 minutes after our scheduled 6pm departure. So many saucy dishes to clean.

On the flip side, buttery sauces make great hand moisturizers for this dry winter weather.


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