Sauces: Pan Sauce and Beurre Blanc

Flickr creative commons license by jeffreyw

Want to elevate your cooking? If you’re mostly a basic cook but want to find simple ways to make your cooking even better, then I’ve got a single word for you: sauce. Sauces are great ways to add flavors to your foods.

If you were all budding chefs studying cooking in depth, I’d go into detail here about the mother sauces: there are five (or six – depending on who you ask) including:

  • Velouté – A stock-based white sauce.
  • Béchamel – A flour, milk, and butter white sauce.
  • Espagnole – A rich brown sauce
  • Hollandaise/Mayonnaise – An egg yolk and fat emulsion
  • Vinaigrette – 1 part vinegar, 3 parts oil, and other herbs/spices
  • Tomato

From these sauces, many others are born. For example, if you add tarragon to hollandaise, you get béarnaise. If you add some gruyere to béchamel, you’ve got a great topping for mac n cheese or scalloped potatoes.

That’s really all I am going to say about the mother sauces today. Instead, I’m going to talk about some simple sauces you can make to add flavor to cooked meats. So, instead of having a plain steak, you could have steak with a wonderful port wine sauce. Instead of a plain piece of fish, you could have halibut topped with a delicate beurre blanc.

Pan Sauces

What we’re really talking about are pan sauces, and here’s what I like about them. Once you’ve cooked your protein in a pan, you can use the drippings in the pan to make a really fantastic pan sauce. To make a pan sauce.

  1. Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside, tented with foil. I like to cook many of my proteins in an ovenproof saute pan just so I can then use it to make a fabulous sauce.
  2. Put the pan over medium high heat on the stove top. If you’ve cooked some really fatty piece of meat, you may want to remove some of the clear fat from the pan before you do so.
  3. Add some aromatics such as shallots, onions or garlic and saute in a little oil leftover from cooking.
  4. Add an acidic liquid or alcohol to the pan such as vinegar, lemon juice, white or red wine, etc. As you add this to the pan, scrape up all of those amazingly flavored brown bits to incorporate them in the sauce.
  5. Toss in some chopped herbs. Let the sauce simmer on the stove for a bit to reduce by about 50 to 75 percent.
  6. Once the liquid has reduced, add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces. I add the butter a piece at a time, whisking it to emulsify. This will thicken your sauce and add richness.
  7. Taste your sauce and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  8. Serve immediately over your protein.

Beurre Blanc

This is one of my favorite sauces for seafood. I particularly like it over seared sea scallops. It has a delicate yet delicious flavor that really enhances the sweetness of the scallops.

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces and chilled until very cold
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  1. Simmer shallots, wine, and vinegar in a saute pan, cooking until liquid has reduced by about 80 percent.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat momentarily, whisking two pieces of butter (one at a time) into the pan.
  3. Return the pan to low heat and continue whisking butter in a piece or two at a time until it is completely incorporated.
  4. Taste and season. Serve immediately.
  5. You can change the flavors in this by adding herbs such as basil or by adding a little citrus zest.

Ginger Maple Applesauce

Homemade ApplesauceYesterday was the perfect fall morning at the Olympia farmers’ market. There was a crisp chill in the air, which significantly reduced crowd size. Still, given the offerings available this time of year at the market, the chill was worth it. Along with a dizzying array of organic apples from Washington’s bumper apple crops, there were large ears of corn, juicy plums, chanterelles, squash, pole beans, red and white raspberries, concord grapes, and many others. One of my favorite types of produce from fall in Washington State is pluots. A cross between a plum and an apricot, the pluot is like a juicy, sweet plum. If you come across these tasty stone fruit, give them a try. I think you’ll love them.

As far as I am concerned, however, the star of the show for fall is apples. I love apple season with a passion approaching my love for writing. In fact, as soon as the days grow shorter and the leaves start to change color, I begin cooking with apples. The dogs love it. They gather at my feet as I peel and chop, accepting tiny slices of apple they chew with great gusto. (Tip – never give your pets apple seeds, which contain traces of cyanide.) At the market yesterday, the variety was amazing. Braeburn, Fuji, Jazz, Lady Alice, Gravenstein, Pink Lady, Rose, Honeycrisp…it’s an apple lovers paradise.

I enjoy baking apple pies, crisps, cakes, and turnovers. I also like making a simple applesauce, which I will be making today from the organic Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, and Jazz apples I bought yesterday.

When cooking with apples, I take a minimalist approach. I like to let the flavors of the fruit shine through. This doesn’t mean lots of sugar or heavy spices. Instead I use just enough to enhance the natural flavors of the apples instead of overpowering them.  Some of my favorite spices to use include fresh grated nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and fresh grated ginger. I also usually use just a touch of lemon zest and lemon juice to prevent the apples from turning brown and bring out the tart notes.

Another trick for baking with apples is using a few different varieties in one dish. For instance, in my pies I often mix Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples. In fact, Pink Lady apples are my favorite eating and baking apples, followed closely by Honeycrisp.

Today, I will be making a simple applesauce. Recipe below.

Ginger Maple Applesauce

  • 4 Pink Lady apples – Peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 4 Honeycrisp apples,  peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 4 Jazz apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 T. fresh ginger root, grated
  1. Place apples and water in a large pot and simmer on the stove top, covered until apples begin to break down, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and stir, mashing apples together.
  3. Stir in ginger root and maple syrup.
  4. If you prefer a smooth applesauce instead of a rustic one, cool and process in a food processor or food mill.