Hittin' The Sauce

Rome: 257 B.C.

    [voice over] Dateline: Rome, 257 B.C. Romans, rich and poor alike, are crazy about garam. The sauce, which they put on everything, is a disgusting concoction containing wine, water, salt and fermented fish entrails. Thatís right, folks, fish guts. This sauce tends to seek out and destroy the flavor of any food it comes in contact with, which might just be the whole idea.

Monastery: 1195 AD

    [voice over] 1195 A.D. Sophisticated medieval pallets favor sweets sauces that showcase the spice rack. The more exotic cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace, cloves, mustard, honey, and of course, exotic herbs, the better. And of course, for thickening, thereís always plenty of stale bread to go around. Perfect for an aprŤs joust dinner party.

Antonin CarÍme's Kitchen, France: 1813 A.D.

    [voice over] France, 1813. When it comes to hittin' the sauce, nobody touches the great Antonin CarÍme, whoís developed a system of sauces based on a handful of ďmotherĒ sauces: white and brown sauces made from stock, bťchamel for milk, tomato and hollandaise. Upon this foundation, CarÍme believes that hundreds of small sauces can be constructed. As for the father of sauces, well, CarÍme considers himself to be the Father of all sauces.

    [modern AB pops his head in the window of Antonin's kitchen and climbs in] Today, the average American gets his or her sauce from a bag or a box, which is a real shame, because you donít have to be a world-class chef to whip up world-class sauces. Armed with a couple of decent tools, a handful of basic ingredients, and a quarter cup of know-how, and you too will be able to convert the liquid of your choice into seriously Ö

[cut to the opening montage]

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing
            Thingís Date

    [reading] ďA sauce is a flavorful and somewhat viscous liquid designed to be ladled, spooned, brushed or squirted, onto an accompanying food. Although recipes for over a thousand different sauces are on record, most stem from only a few dozen different mass Ö" [gets slightly disgusted and closes dictionary]
    Now, the way I see it, there are only two sauce families, okay? There are stand alone sauces like hollandaise sauce or raspberry coolie, which are produced in complete isolation from the foods they are going to go on. And then there are ready-made sauces like gravy or jus, which are born out of the foods that are going to be served on, beside or under.
    Now, since the average American meal will probably profit the most from a ready made sauce, thatís where weíre going to start.

AB: Hi, Thing! Nice looking steaks you got going there. Youíre cooking those in a little butter, I can see. Very continental.

Go to www.foodtv.com for complete recipe.

AB: Um, howíre you planning on finishing those?
THING: [retreats and brings up a bottle of steak sauce]

    Ah, yes, B2 steak sauce. Nothing else like it. Nothing edible, at least.


AB: Look, Iíll tell you what, Thing, weíll put this away and, Iíll tell you what. You just give me ten minutes and Iíll make you a steak sauce so good that it will your head spin.
  T: [goes limp, dejected]
AB: Oh, sorry. I didnít mean it. Um, here. [hands T the steak sauce] And Iíll even take care of the steaks, okay? Okay.

    Lip smacking, though they may be, molecule for molecule, these steaks are not the tastiest things in this scene. These are. [brings a magnifying glass down onto the pan after the steaks have been removed] Those little brown bits in there are what the French called fond or foundation and from them, a mighty pan sauce can be built.

    Step one: we must dissolve these bits or deglaze them with a water-type liquid. Now, water definitely qualifies as a water-type liquid, but it doesnít bring a lot of flavor to the party. Which is one reason, I always keep beef and chicken broth on hand. Yes, the packaged stuff. By the way, this is broth, not stock, okay? Stock is made from bones; this is made from meat. Three quarters of a cup should do the trick.

3/4 Cup Beef Broth

    As the liquid boils, scrape with a whisk or a wooden spoon to break those brown bits off the bottom of the pan so that they can dissolve. Now weíre going to let this reduce, still over high heat, for a couple of minutes. Why? Well, as water leaves the party, the concentration of flavor elements, and lip smacking gelatin are concentrated. So weíre going to hold off until the end to season. Remember that. If you salt now, itís going to be too salty later.

The words sauce and salsa both come from the Latin word for salt - 'sal'.

    By dissolving the fond and reducing this broth, we've got the start of a good sauce here, but weíve got miles to go before we eat. The next addition, a flavorful aromatic liquid. Now, there are possibilities a plenty. But I really like alcohol for this, for this simple reason: you can add a very little amount and get a whole lot of flavor, which is good, for a reduction sauce.
    Now, when it comes to beef, I donít think that thereís anything better than cognac, and Iím going to add three tablespoons before I let it reduce further. And hereís an important thing to note: when youíre cooking with alcohol, remember, you can cook out some of the alcohol, but you can never cook out all of the alcohol. Now, I donít think Thingís going to be out driving tonight, but itís just a good thing to keep in mind.
    Also, I want to add another layer of flavor in the form of green peppercorns. They look a lot like capers, but theyíre not. They are packed in brine though. And to carry the flavor, and also add more volume and body, weíre going to go with three quarters of a cup of cream. Now, thatís starting to sound like sauce!

    Cognac, and green peppercorns and the cream. There. Now thereís nothing to do but allow this to cook down to the correct consistency.

3 Tbs. Cognac
3 tsp. Green Peppercorns,
    Drained & Slightly Crushed
3/4 Cup Heavy Cream

    See, as water leaves the pan, the fat and remaining solids come closer and closer together, thus thickening, until the sauce reaches this stage. Thatís called nappe. [tastes] Perfect! But too strong to eat by itself but thatís exactly what you want. Otherwise, it would be soup. Which is not to say that you canít turn sauces into soups, but thatís another show. Time to plate.

THING & THING'S DATE: [dining on the steaks and sauces]

    Ah, leave it to a rich creamy pan sauce to turn an everyday hunk of cow into date food.

AB: You kids enjoy, yíhear?
THING & THINGS DATE: [toss their spoons aside, become all touchy feely and slowly sink beneath the table]

    So, what are some other ways that sauce science can come to your rescue? Letís go find out.

Steak served with a pepper sauce is known in France as Steak Au Poivre.

The Kitchen

    [passes a pot on the stove and looks in] Whatís this? Looks like someoneís trying to make a stew. A lamb stew, which of course, is composed of small bits of browned lamb and vegetation, suspended in a brown sauce. Hmm. This looks a little on the watery side if you ask me. Sounds like a job for starch!

AB: [is "thrown" on stage in a sunflower suit, recites as a grade-schooler to no one in particular] Plants manufacture sugar in their leaves, via photosynthesis. They store this sugar in the form of tight little granules called starch. [extracts a knife and cuts the suit through the stomach, granules fall out]

    Now, when exposed to heat and liquid, these little granules gelatinize or open up. When they open up, they tangle, thus thickening any liquid they happen to be in. The trick in doing this is knowing that different kinds of starch thicken in different ways.

AB: [to no one in particular, obviously embarrassed] Can I go now? Okay.

Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA - 10:15 am

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    Here in America, wheat flour is the most common thickener. But itís got several disadvantages: clumps, worse than any other starch, combined with fat to make a really greasy sauce, and it's got to be brought to a full boil before it will thoroughly thicken. And it's got protein in it, which just rise to the surface and you got to remove the scum and ... yuck. It's nasty, nasty business.

    Now, Asian cuisines often employ cornstarch, a far purer starch than wheat flour. It thickens at lower temperatures than flour, but it isnít very heat stable. If you overcook it even a little bit, youíll end up right back where you started from.
    Now, tapioca or cassava starch is good for pie fillings but very tricky to handle in sauces.
    Hmm. Potato starch works a lot like cornstarch and it's unique among granular starches in that it is kosher for Passover.
    But my very, very favorite all time thickener has got to be arrowroot, which comes from, of course, arrowroots.

DEB DUCHON: Not necessarily.

    Did you hear somebody call for a Nutritional Anthropologist because I know I didnít call for a Nutritional Anthropologist?

DD: Well, we N.A.s have to shop, too. But Alton, youíre really in over your head with this arrowroot thing.
AB: I am?
DD: Yes, you are! Well, what they sell as arrowroot fodder isnít always necessarily from the true arrowroot, Latin name: Maranta arundinacea.
AB: Ah. Easy for you to say.
DD: Itís often actually tapioca or cassava or even potato starch thatís sold as arrowroot starch. So you have to be sure that you have a reliable source.
AB: You know, uh, [looks around] I hate to admit this but I probably wouldnít know an arrowroot if you hit me over the head with one.
DD: Oh, well, they have them here.
AB: Oh! Itís a tubar! Or is it a taproot? Or a swollen stem? Iím not sure.
DD: Iíll bet you donít even know why itís called ďarrowroot.Ē
AB: I donít know why this is called ďarrowroot?Ē Of course I do! Because when I hold it like this, it looks like Ö [gives up] No, I donít.
DD: It was first found by the Indians who lived in the Caribbean, and they found that they could make a paste out of it that they could put on a wound that had been made by a poison arrow and it would pull the poison out. Hence ďarrowroot.Ē

    Just another reason to keep this stuff at home at all times.

AB: So how do you like yours?
DD: Oh, I donít use it.
AB: Oh.
DD: I use Japanese arrowroot. Itís made from the Kudzu plant.
AB: Kudzu? Excellent! Well, that will probably have to wait for another show. Thanks a lot, Deb.

    [incredulous] Kudzu!

The Kitchen

    Now that we have our starch of choice in hand, weíve got to ask ourselves two questions. Number one: how much of this stuff do we actually need? Now, I figure weíve got about a quart of liquid here. And if I wanted to tighten that up to a real gravy consistency, Iíd probably go with a tablespoon of arrowroot for every cup of liquid. But I really want to tighten this up a bit, so Iím going to go with two tablespoons of arrowroot.

    Here we go. Tablespoon one ... [stops before putting it in] Oh. Of course this brings us to our second question: how do we introduce this into here [liquid]? Now, we canít just dump this in, right? Why? Because! If we did, some of the starch would gelatinize, immediately forming a watertight seal around other non-gelatinized starches. In other words, it would make big nasty lumps.
    So, these granules must be dispersed in a cold water-type liquid, before meeting the heat. But again, water wonít bring any flavor to the party, so why use it if you donít have to?
    Now, I tasted this stew, and trust me, it can use a little brightening. And for that, I usually go with wine. But arrowroot thickens so fast, that I donít think there would be time to cook that raw alcohol flavor out of the sauce. So, Iím going to use tomato juice instead, one cup.
    Now, arrowroot is unique in that it thickens just as well in acidic liquids as not. And the only thing that I wouldnít suggest thickening with arrowroot is dairy. They get togetherómilk and arrowrootóand they make this kind of slimy nasty thing. So if youíve got to do a dairy based pie thing, stick with cornstarch. There we go.
    Now, this, we stir in and just leave the heat on medium. This is going to thicken very quickly. Thatís because, unlike wheat flour which doesnít gelatinize until it reaches a full boil, arrowroot will gelatinize at well under a simmer. So once all those starches pop open, theyíll start tangling up with each other, forming a net that will capture and therefore thicken liquid.
    A minute of stirring later, and look! what was once watery is now like a velvet robe of goodness draping gently across our little bits of meat. Mmmm, now thatís what I call Good Eats! And good poetry too.

To prevent a skin from forming on a savory
sauce, place plastic wrap lightly over the surface.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Chef Paul, Sauce Instructor [this character is modeled after American Chopper star, Paul Teutul, Sr.]

    When it comes to stand alone sauces, nothing rivals the hot emulsion that is hollandaise. And few words instill such fear in the hearts of cooks. Why? Because ...

CHEF PAUL: Because youíre an idiot! [exits]

... hollandaise is, is really nothing but a hot mayonnaise made like a lemon curd.
    Hereís what youíre going to need hardware wise. You will need one large saucepan with about an inch of water inside, okay? You will need a heavy stainless steal mixing bowl that will fit down in the top of that saucepan in such a way that the bottom of the bowl never comes anywhere close to the water. Itís important, okay? Youíre also going to need a nice big whisk.
    Now, step one is to bring this water to a simmer.

CP: [enters and takes the pot away] Iíll do it! Youíll just take forever. [exits]

    Step two is to take three egg yolks, moistened with a teaspoon of water into the bowl there. Whisk! Now a sound thrashing is going to open up or denature some of the proteins in the eggs, making them more receptive to the other ingredients to come.

3 Egg Yolks + 1 tsp. Water

    See, in their natural or raw state, proteins which are nothing more than long chains of amino acids, are all wadded up on themselves and theyíre held in that shape by little molecular bonds. Now, when we beat the eggs or apply acid or heat, they denature or open up. Those bonds let go so that theyíre free to connect with other proteins. Thatís what coagulation is and weíre going to have lots of it.
    Adding a little bit of water are going to make the eggs less dense. And thatís going to help mobilize the eggsí natural emulsifiers which we are going to need.

    Now add a measly quarter teaspoon of sugar and mix for another thirty seconds.

1/4 tsp. Sugar

CP: [from off-camera] Sugar?! Youíre not making hollandaise! Youíre making frosting, you freak!

    Why the sugar? Because once dissolved, the sucrose molecules will nestle down between all those proteins and thatíll buy us some curdling protection. Now weíre ready to cook.
    There. Whisk over the simmering water for three to five minutes or until the eggs really thicken up and lighten in color a bit. Whatever you do, donít stop whisking, okay? You can slow down but donít stop or the eggs will curdle. Weíve got a little bit of protection from the sugar, but not that much.
    When the yolks fall in a ribbon, like that, you know you are done. So, kill the heat and remove the bowl from the pan.

    Now weíre ready to add the butter. Weíve got twelve tablespoons, thatís a stick and a half of unsalted butter chilled in cubes. So, just add a piece and whisk.

12 Tbs. Unsalted Butter, Cubed & Chilled

CP: [looking in the oven] I canít believe how filthy you keep this place! And they let you on television! [slams oven door and exits]

    We want to slowly integrate the butter into the mixture. And by cooking with just the residual heat here, we can do that. Now, as the butter melts, it turns into tiny droplets, which are quickly wrapped up in emulsifiers like lecithin and welcomed into the newly formed sauce.
    Now as you may remember from our mayonnaise episode, an emulsifier is a molecule that can grab hold of fat with one end and water with the other and pull them together and keep them together in what is called an emulsion.
    However, this initiation takes time. If we just dumped that butter in all at once, there would be too many unwrapped butter blobs and they would just pool together and weíd have a grease slick, so ...
    Oh, thereís not going to be enough heat here of course to melt all that butter, so every now and then your going to have to come back over to the double boiler and use this heat [from the water] to reload this heat [in the bowl].

CP: Just what do you think youíre doing, stupid?

    This is, is Chef Paul. He was my sauce instructor at culinary school.

AB: Iím making hollandaise sauce, Chef.
CP: You call that hollandaise? You imbecile. [to the camera] This is always how it is with him. Always has to do things his own way. Thinks heís a genius. [back to AB] Moronís more like it. Everybody knows when you make hollandaise, you use clarified butter!
AB: Yeah, but hereís the thing, Chef. if I use whole butter, I can slowly release the fat into the emulsion and that gives me more control!
CP: Control?! You want to see control? Look at me not killing you! [tastes sauce and seems to like it] Iím going to my office for a blood pressure pill.
AB: Yes, Chef.

    [obviously happy with himself] Heís really a sweet guy. Heís just a little insecure. Heís got some rage issues.

    When the last of the butter has melted, time to do a little seasoning. I like to go with half a teaspoon of kosher salt, two teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and an eighth of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. There we go.

1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 2 tsp. fresh freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper.

    Now, what can this be served with? Well, gosh. What canít it be served with? Hollandaise is fantastic with eggs. It's great with spinach, just about any whitefish you can think of ... um ... chocolate ťclairs, blocks of cheese. Heck, sometimes I just eat it with a spoon like soup. No, not Ö Yeah, I do.
    You know, the trickiest part of sauce making isnít actually the sauce making. Itís the sauce keeping. See, if you leave them around at room temperature even for a few minutes, most starch-thickened sauces, as well as most reductions and anything containing gelatin, will turn, well, solid as a rock. With the possible exception of certain purťes, when you try to reheat most sauces, well, they just fall apart into a grainy greasy mess. There is an answer though, and itís in the hands of construction workers everywhere.

Hollandaise was originally called Sauce Isigny
after a town in Normandy know for its butter.

Construction Site: Atlanta, GA - 12:06 pm

GUESTS: Construction Worker #1
              Construction Worker #2

    Although, theyíre often considered lowbrow, wolf-whistling Neanderthals, if you ask me, construction workers are geniuses. Thatís because thereís not one on earth that would be caught dead without his vacuum flask which were, of course, invented in the late eighteenth century by English physicist, James Dewar.

CONSTRUCTION WORKER #1: Hey, my bouillabaisse, it is as hot as that redhead down there! [Catcalls]
CONSTRUCTION WORKER #2: My long island ice tea is as cold as a witch's ...
AB: Hey, hey! You guys want me to explain to you how a thermos can keep hot things hot and cold things cold?
CW1 & CW2: No.
AB: Okay, it has to do with heat transfer. Okay? Thereís only three ways for heat to really move. Youíve got direct contact, or conduction. You got air currents, which are called convection and then youíve got waves, radiation. Now a good thermos will stop all three, dead in their tracks. Hey, can I borrow this for a sec? [attemps to take CW1's thermos] Just a sec. I'll give it back. [takes it and pours contents out]
    Ah, there we go. Okay, stand clear. [takes a small powered cutting tool and cuts the thermos lengthwise in half] There. There, hold that, will you? [gives the tool to CW1] Great! Thanks.
    [opens Thermos up to see cross section] Now, as you can see, the inner bottle is joined to the outer shell only by a little bitty strip of metal. That keeps conduction to a minimum. The manufacturer removes the air in this cavity creating a vacuum. That limits convection, right? Last but not least, the inner bottle is made either out of either polished stainless steel or, better yet, silver glass, which simply reflects the heat energy back inside the vessel.
CW1: So, how does it know whatís hot and whatís cold?
AB: Oh, it doesnít know whatís hot or whatís cold. See, heat always moves from areas of high heat to low heat. So, if you put something cold in here, it keeps heat out, if you put something hot in there, it keeps heat in.
CW1: Okay, so if this thing is so great, smart guy, why canít it keep things hot ...
CW2: ... or cold ...
CW1: ... for fricking ever, huh?
AB: Well, thatís just because no man-made system is perfect, guys. I mean, look, see this little, this space right here [metal strip that connects the inner and outer bottles] The heat can get out of conduction there. Of course, thereís the cap itself. Every time you open it, youíre letting heat in or out.
CW2: How can we enhance the performance of our thermos?
AB: Well, maybe not this one anymore. [hands the now split thermos back to CW1] Here you go. But sure. You can prime your thermos. You can, ... If youíre going to put a hot liquid in it, just pour in some hot water and let it sit for a minute and dump it out and then put in your sauce, soup or what have you. If youíre going to put something cold in there, then you put in some ice water, let it sit in there for minute and then empty it and go on about your business there. Sorry about ... Hey! whatís the best way for me to get down?
CW2: You, you want to know the fast way?

    Oh bother.

The Kitchen

    [pours sauce over what looks like Eggs Benedict] Mmm. Hollandaise. And look! [indicates his thermos] Iíve got plenty for later.
    Well, I hope weíve given you the inspiration and confidence you need to give your meals the final coating of goodness they so deserve, a sauce. Weíve only scratched the surface. Of course, there are as many sauce possibilities out there as there are stars above in that big galaxy that we like to call Good Eats. See you next time.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010