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What defines a good sauce?


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I just came across this sentence in a book called “Hints for the table: or, The economy of good living …” – an English book published in 1859.

"A good sauce, in the phrase of the kitchen, “tastes of everything and tastes of nothing”; that is, all the articles in it are well proportioned and neither predominates."

I thought it might be a good trigger for a discussion. It is hard to disagree with the second phrase, but I am not sure about the everything/nothing bit. The book then gives recipe which are heavy with anchovies, or lemon, or parsley - in proportions that would certainly dominate.

Other phrases in the chapter:

"A noble gourmet once asserted that sauces are to food what action is to oratory."

and

"A delicious sauce will cause you to eat an elephant."

So - to start off the discussion:

How do you react to those comments?

Is that a good definition of a good sauce?

What is your favourite sauce and its application?

Those of you with a literary bent, please expand on the idea of sauce/food and action/oratory.

Comments from those who have tasted elephant, with or without sauce, are particularly welcome.

Janet

Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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How do you react to those comments?

Is that a good definition of a good sauce?

What is your favourite sauce and its application?

I love the comments but have a sense that the writer was more interested in the romantic flow of the words than finally pinning down any exact "truth". :smile: How I sense this is that I do it myself, often.

"A good sauce, in the phrase of the kitchen, “tastes of everything and tastes of nothing”; that is, all the articles in it are well proportioned and neither predominates."

To this comment, my answer is of course, "yes and no".

"A noble gourmet once asserted that sauces are to food what action is to oratory."

Was there ever such a thing as a gourmet that was not "noble" in these old books? What would he (or she? no no I can not wrap my mind around it) be then?

It does surprise me to hear of a British book speaking of sauces in this way, Janet. It sounds almost French.

"Sauces to food/action to oratory". I'm going to assume that the action spoken of is gestures and movement, the theatrical part of oratory. So that the meaning is that a sauce sparks factual things into vibrant life. Can't agree with that, unless the food paired with the sauce is dull or flavorless and the sauce more vital than the paired food - and that is not how it should be to my mind. It should be a pas de deux. Oops there goes that other language again. *But* that may have been the style of cooking at the time - strong sauces paired with duller tasting foods.

Nice line though. I could just read this sort of writing and not think a single thought and be quite happy afterwards. :raz:

"A delicious sauce will cause you to eat an elephant."

Sounds like the author is in love.

..................................................

My favorite sauce is charcutiere, with pork chops.

And yes, elephant will be fine with that if you're fresh out of piggies at the moment. Just don't forget the mashed potatoes, please. :smile:

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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A sauce should be unnecessary and also imperative. A well seasoned, well cooked steak should need no sauce, but top it with a shallot-mushroom-cream-sherry sauce and it becomes divine. Sauces need balance of flavor to pair with their objective, that is the sauce by itself might be too sweet, too acidic, or commonly to dusky (think demi glace) but with its fish or fowl is just right. Sauces need to have balance of mouth feel as well, smooth, not watery, not gluey.

Yesterday at brunch we ran a special of butter poached scallops on top of a sauce that was a shrimp veloute (shrimp stock, blond roux) with lobster tomally and roe.

Delicious.

Bryan C. Andregg

"Give us an old, black man singing the blues and some beer. I'll provide the BBQ."

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When I hear "sauce" I usually think of dishes where the sauce IS the dish... Sweet and sour sauce, lemon sauce, black bean sauce, curry (eh? Does that count?), etc. In fact, for instance, when we order such a dish, the identity is usually the sauce, for instance: "I'll have the Puttanesca," and my family couldn't care less what pasta it's on!

The second category of sauces in my mind are quite overpowering. Peanut sauce, liver gravy, hoisin sauce... They don't fit the definition in the text.

But if we are strictly speaking of the (er) "Western" sauces (for lack of a better term, someone please give me an idea) like Bearnaise, Maltaise, Hollandaise, Beurre blanc, etc. I haven't a clue. I think the number of times I've eaten such sauces can be counted on one hand :sad: Which is probably why I'm here, thinking of buying "Mastering the art of French cooking."

Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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I suspect that the book does reflect a profound French influence as the British aristocracy and bourgeoisie became quite the culinary Francophiles in the 18th century, while they were simultaneously bemoaning its extravagance and usurpation of more traditional British fare. Janet, if I may call you that, could you tell us the name of the text? My knowledge of old cookbooks gaps with the 19th century. Is this more similar in tone to 18th century works like The Universal Cook and The Practice of Modern Cookery? Or, was there a 19th century backlash against French cooking?

When it comes to sauce I feel that so long as it does not "predominate," to the extent of destroying other flavors, then it is good. So far as as tasting of nothing and everything, I think I will get into the lotus position the next time I make steak with a Marchand de Vin sauce. :smile:

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Janet, if I may call you that, could you tell us the name of the text? My knowledge of old cookbooks gaps with the 19th century. Is this more similar in tone to 18th century works like The Universal Cook and The Practice of Modern Cookery? Or, was there a 19th century backlash against French cooking?

The full title of the book is "Hints for the table: or, The economy of good living .. With a few words on wines". Written in the wonderfully pompous style of the Victorian era. It is freely available via <a href="http://books.google.com/">Google Books</a> as scanned pages. I love Google Books.

I have a list of over 500 freely available online historic cookbooks (have found a few more to add when I get around to it). You can download it from

http://www.mydatabus.com/public/TheOldFood..._Cookbooks3.pdf

You might be able to find some books there to fill in your gaps!

Have fun

Janet

P.S Carrot Top - I just knew you would respond to the "sauce is action" idea!

Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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A sauce should be unnecessary and also imperative.

So true.

Sauces make good better, they cannot make bad good.

There are degrees of perfection - sometimes a sauce makes food "more perfect."

On the other hand, sauces can be ornaments. Dishes served with a variety of sauces can be eaten as a theme and variations, or a rondo.

BB

Food is all about history and geography.

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