Cooking Tips · Techniques

Sauces demystified

I recently taught a class entitled “Mastering Sauces”. Since sauces are such an important part of cooking, I thought I would share just a bit about sauces from that class. There are many different methods of making a sauce. Let’s just cover a few.

Reduction sauces may be the easiest and are the basis of what is called a “Pan Sauce”. I have written a prior Cooking Tip on this. If you didn’t receive it and wish to, please email me.

Another type of sauce is “Starch Bound”. These are sauces that are thickened with the use of a starch such as flour, cornstarch, arrowroot, etc. The basis of these sauces is usually a roux. Roux is just a mixture of flour and fat, 50/50 by weight. For example, you melt 2 ozs of butter and then whisk in 2 ozs of flour. When you mix this roux into a liquid, it will do its magic and thicken the sauce.

Examples of these kinds of sauces are Béchamel and Velouté and their many derivatives. Béchamel is a white sauce where you thicken milk with a white roux. This is the lovely sauce that is often used in lasagna or mixed with cheese to make a macaroni and cheese. Velouté is made from white stock thickened with a white roux. This is what we normally call gravy.

What type of starch you should use depends on what results you want. A grain-based starch (flour, cornstarch, rice) gives you great thickening but does look slightly opaque when it is cool. It can actually set up into a gel that can be sliced or molded. It can be re-heated without thinning out but should not be frozen as it can get watery when thawed.

A root or tuber starch (arrowroot, potato starch, tapioca starch) is great when you want the product to be clear and glossy when set. Although it thickens well, it does thin some when it cools. It will thin if reheated but does freeze and thaw well.

Here is a little chart so you know how much starch to use.

STARCH Amount for 1 cup medium sauce

GRAIN STARCHES (opaque gel)
Cornstarch 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp
Flour 2 Tbsp
Rice starch 1 Tbsp + 1/2 tsp

Arrowroot 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp
Potato starch 2 1/4 tsp
Tapioca starch 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp
Quick tapioca pudding 1 Tbsp + 1/4 tsp

There is so much more to making great sauces but this little teaser should, at least, help you to make that great Thanksgiving gravy!