by Brian Kerr,
Executive Chef, Deschutes Brewery & Public House
I recently had surgery on my shoulder and was out of work for over a month. I didn’t just sit around idly wasting my time though, I took the opportunity to venture out into our city to try out some of the great burgers at various locations. I was really impressed by several of them, including those restaurants that say they serve the world’s best burger. I was recently dining at my favorite restaurant, Deschutes Brewery and Public House, and I wanted to see how our burger held up against the others in town. I ordered the Bond St. burger with caramelized onions, spicy mayo and sweet and smoky barbecue sauce, though I decided to keep the barbecue sauce off of it that day (I was wearing a new shirt.) I hate to say that I was disappointed in that burger, oh no! It was no fault of the chefs and cooks on duty that day, the fault was mine because I asked for no sauce!! It will be the last time I make that mistake.
Last time I wrote to you I shared a bit about sauces and how much I love love LOVE them! There is a sauce for literally everything you eat, did you know that? Sauces can be incredibly simple or complex, they can be store-bought, mass-produced, artisan-style, one-use or storable. The grocery is filled with sauces of all kinds but don’t limit yourselves to the condiment aisle or the dry and dusty powdered sauce bases. Trust me, YOU can make your own sauces. Not a natural born saucier? No worries, there are books, magazines and websites galore for novices and experts, for sweets and savory dishes, sweet sauces for dessert, or spicy dippers, creamy, thick, thin, smoky, salty, funky and foreign… the possibilities are endless. I am confident that with some practice and some simple guidelines you will be serving sauces with all of your meals.
Sauces were first made popular in ancient Rome where heavy, highly seasoned sauces were most likely used to cover the flavor and aroma of old, poor quality meats and fish. Marinades were also necessary to tenderize tough and chewy meats. Acids, wines, unripened grape juice and vinegar were used to break down tough meat fibers and were then transformed into sauces — for example, today’s sauerbraten. Today sauces aren’t designed to cover and hide the food on your plate but is made to enhance flavorings and seasonings that may already be present in the dish. The sauce is there to compliment your well-prepared food, not bury it. Contemporary sauces include jus, beurre blanc, compound butters, infused oils and vinegars, coulis, salsa and relishes, chutney, ketchup, mayonnaise, hollandaise, béchamel, glazes and marinades.
Go ahead and make a short list of your favorite sauces, maybe ones you make at home or buy at the store, or have enjoyed at your favorite restaurant. Ketchup. Tomato salsa. Vinaigrette. Guacamole. Hollandaise. Did they make your list? Can you make each of them and use them properly? How about flavored oils or compound butters, do you have any of those on your list? Romesco? Harissa? Nuoc Cham? Espagnole? Sound familiar? No? No problem, here we go!
The Flavor Principle
Crafting a great sauce is a trial and error venture. I have ruined more sauces than I care to admit, but with every failure comes a lesson and I have learned my share. Sauces, generally speaking, are not all that complicated but they do have some rules that you need to remember. There are at least three basic building blocks to a sauce and they all need to be in balance for the sauce to work with your dish. A well composed sauce should have some aspects of sweet, salty, sour, spicy detectable to the taster. Savory, bitter, astringent and pungent are other ‘colors’ of the flavor-principle rainbow. Sauces may begin as a marinade and be transformed into a finishing sauce, such as using the red wine, herbs and vegetables from a beef kebab marinade into a pour-over sauce thickened in a shallow pan or with a thickening agent like roux or cornstarch slurry. There are a ton of flavor compounds in a beef kebab marinade such as soy sauce (salty), Worcestershire (sweet, salty), garlic (pungent), fresh and dried herbs (savory), black pepper (spicy), lemon juice (sour), oil and mustard. I might enhance a sauce/marinade like this one by sautéing a yellow onion with a couple of cloves of garlic to increase its earthiness. I might add a tablespoon or two of rich tomato paste to add body and sweetness. I would even consider adding anchovy paste for an “I can’t quite put my finger on that rich flavor” flavor. With this simple sauce using ingredients that already live in my pantry, I can make a delicious backyard cookout with grilled corn and foil-package potatoes at a minimum of effort and cost.
Let’s do a little flavor principle experiment, you may have to run to the store for a couple of ingredients, but there are only four of them. You will need fish sauce, fresh limes, thinly sliced red chili peppers, water and sugar. (sweet, spicy, sour, funky!) The experiment we are undertaking is finding balance between these five ingredients so they work harmoniously together. Squeeze the juice from the lime into a medium sized glass bowl, go ahead and do two limes. Add some tepid water to your lime juice. Stir a teaspoon of sugar into the lime juice until it dissolves and do keep track of your additions. How does the lime and sugar mix taste? Is the sweet and sour in balance? Does it taste like limeade? Do you have any more limes? Add two teaspoons of the chili pepper. Add a tablespoon of fish sauce. Give it a little stir and taste it. Is it awful? Probably! Citrus vary in sour intensity which is why we added water to the lime juice. Sugar helps to trick your brain into thinking that the spice isn’t quite as spicy as it should be. Fish sauce adds the authenticity of the Vietnamese culinary landscape to the sauce, and chili because if it wasn’t there it just wouldn’t be the same. This recipe is really only a guideline, every ingredient that goes in should be the best quality you can get. BUT, there is variation to each of these ingredients as there is variation in the taster — making this sauce is a personal journey for you and your guests and you can make it as sweet, sour, spicy or as funky as you like. I trust you will like this sauce and will want to fry up some crispy spring rolls or roll some fresh vermicelli and tofu salad rolls with lettuce and carrot real quick!!
At the pub we served a dry-aged ribeye steak with Obsidian Stout steak sauce, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. The sauce is much more complex than the Nuoc Cham recipe above, but don’t let that deter you. Have you got a great steak or tenderloin roast, perhaps some venison you want to serve to guests, but not sure if A-1 will stand up to it? This recipe is the one for you. If you don’t have the time or space to make our steak sauce, I urge you to come down to the pub and order one of our beautiful steak, medium doneness of course, and enjoy it with any of our craft beers, ciders or whiskeys.
OBSIDIAN STOUT ~ SHALLOT CREAM SAUCE
4 oz butter
4 oz minced shallots
1 oz minced garlic
Warm the butter in a large sauté pan till melted. Add the shallots and garlic and cook over medium heat until soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes, or however long it takes.
6 fl oz Obsidian Stout beer
6 fl oz beef broth, richly flavored
Deglaze the pan with the stout and the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer aggressively for 5 minutes
1 cup rich tomato puree (we make a tomato jam at the pub instead of canned puree. It’s just a can of tomatoes cooked with a little sugar and salt till thickened, then pureed.)
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp sea salt
Add the tomato, salt and pepper. Return to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and thickened a bit and has become shiny.
8 fl oz heavy cream
Add the heavy cream, return to a simmer and cook till lightly thickened.
2-4 Tbls chilled butter
1/3 cup finely chopped curly parsley
Remove the sauce from the heat and add the butter, stirring continuously until the butter is fully incorporated. Add the parsley and give it another stir. Taste for seasonings like salt and pepper. If it tastes flat you could add a tbls or two of balsamic vinegar to punch up the flavors.
By the way, did you see how we got sweet, bitter, savory, spicy and umami in the recipe?
In conclusion, I urge you to have or prepare a sauce for all of your favorite proteins, fruits and vegetables. Be prepared in your kitchen with heat-proof spatulas and scrapers, at least two different sizes of whisks, a double mesh fine strainer, cheesecloth, soup bases, foreign ingredients like curry paste and fish sauce. Butter, flour, corn starch, spices, seasonings, onions, garlic, ginger….on and on. As always, have fun in your kitchen, learn a few guidelines and rules, taste everything and dip, dredge, bathe, baste and spread. Enjoy!!