Jan has been cooking and writing about food for over 20 years. She has cooked on multiple television stations, including the Food Network.
Time to Get Saucy
People seem to have a love/hate thing for French food—which I can understand. It's somewhat intimidating, involves approximately 476 steps for something as simple as a scrambled egg, and no one understands what the names of the dishes are. They are in French, after all.
But think this way for a minute—think of taking each ingredient, and making sure that it's treated with true love and respect. Yes, love and respect. The French treat each item as it needs to be treated in order to bring the most out of it—much like a parent raising a child. Whatever that child needs, they get in order to become the best they can be. Okay? With me so far?
Go just a little further. Think of a dish as being more than the ultimate of each ingredient, more than the sum of the parts so to speak. If each ingredient is well treated, then when combined with the proper technique the result is a SuperChild. Often then, what your SuperChild needs is just a little something—perhaps a utility belt. In French cuisine, that utility belt is often a sauce.
Good grief. I've just described Batman. Fine. So be it—that actually works now that I think of it. Let's roll with it. Let me tell you how to make it, then we'll talk more about how to expand on it. Let's cook!
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 small bay leaf
- 1 clove garlic, squashed a little
- butcher's twine
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken stock
- kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- Make a bouquet garni—a little bundle of fresh herbs—with the rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. Simply tie them together with a little kitchen string and set aside.
- Over medium heat in a large skillet, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, making sure it's fully incorporated.
- Slowly, working in 1/2 cup batches, whisk in the chicken stock, making sure to whisk in the stock completely after each addition. Add the bouquet garni and garlic clove and season with salt and pepper.
- Bring sauce to a simmer and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, whisking occasionally.
- If you've seared a piece of protein, such as chicken or a pork chop, add in any collected pan juices and stir them in.
- Remove the bouquet garni and garlic clove. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Serve with just about anything you want!
The History of Velouté
If a dish needs a sauce, your choices are literally infinite. Back in the early 19th century, a French chef named Marie Antoine Careme decided that there were four main sauces (some people say five). He called these the Mother Sauces—mainly because if a chef could produce these, he could then create infinite variations on them, providing a sauce for almost any occasion. The sauces are Bechemel, Velouté, Espagnol and Allemande. (Either Hollandaise, mayonnaise and tomato is sometimes included as the fifth, depending on the author).
Think of the Mother Sauces as your utility belt—if you have these basic tools you can do wonderful things and leap tall stockpots. You'll have tools to pull out that can do amazing things to finish a dish, and with those basics, you can adapt to your situation depending on the freshness and availability of ingredients.
In this case, we're talking about a velouté—known more classically as sauce velouté. Velouté is French for "velvety," and that's what you're after. It is a rich, buttery, richly flavored sauce made with exactly the same technique as a bechamel. You start with a roux, add stock, and season with salt and pepper. That's it.
The ingredients are five—just five: butter, flour, stock, salt and pepper. The stock can be one of three—a light chicken, light veal or fish stock. In each case, the sauce then takes on the characteristics of the stock. If you're serving fish, use a fish stock to make your velouté. Ditto for a chicken dish. Veal stock is classically used for everything since the flavor is so mild. Honestly, I have never found enough veal to make veal stock, although I continue to hope one day I might. But I've made it countless times with chicken stock, and almost as much with fish stock or fumet.
Because the flavor of the stock is so predominant in the sauce, the really only hard and fast demand I'll make on you is to use good stock. If you have homemade veal stock, then you're already Bombshell and you need to bring me some. If not, then make homemade chicken stock or fish or shellfish stock. Whichever sauce you use to make it then becomes part of the name—and gives you hints on how to make some standard variations. Veal, chicken, shrimp velouté, etc. We good so far?
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The Utility Belt Metaphor
Just in case you aren't as horribly nerdy as I am, the whole Batman/utility belt/Justice League/Legion of Doom metaphor comes from a cartoon for kids in the 70's called "Super Friends" based on the comics from DC Comics. In this case, the Justice League stands for having the right mindset about food. The bad guys—the Legion of Doom—are those who are so stuck on haute cuisine or the 'right' way to have great food that they are huge pain in the tushy to the rest of us. We now return you to your regularly scheduled article.
The Mother Sauces
I pointed out that there are tons of variations on the mother sauces, and velouté is no exception. Many of these variations have their own names—probably because it was easier for a chef to simply yell out "Berchoux!" then say "make me a sauce allemande and finish it with cream and herb butter!" These are the classics, and each is more luscious and lovely than the next. You've got your utility belt by mastering velouté—now equip it with the tools that will see you through any culinary situation.
Types of Velouté
- Albufera sauce: veal with glace de viande.
- Allemande sauce: veal with a touch of lemon juice and egg yolk and cream liaison
- Aurora: chicken with tomato purée
- Berchoux: sauce Allemande with cream and herbed butter
- Bercy: fish with shallots, white wine, lemon juice and parsley
- Hungarian: chicken with onion, paprika, white wine
- Normandy: fish or shellfish with mushroom liquor and oyster liquor or fish fumet with an egg yolk and cream liaison
- Poulette: veal with mushrooms, parsley and lemon juice
- Ravigote: chicken or veal with lemon or white wine vinegar, shallots and mustard
- Suprême sauce: chicken with mushroom liquor and cream
- Venetian sauce: chicken with tarragon, shallots and chervil
- Vin Blanc: fish with white wine and cream
Now, I've used the word "classically" in this article several times. And what I outlined above is the classic version—both the velouté and the variations I listed. But I'm not very classical myself, although I certainly appreciate where the originals came from. What I am is an American, and Americans don't always follow the rules. So Escoffier would probably huff and puff at me if he read the rest of this article, but frankly, the results are delicious so I'd huff right back.
How to Make Basic Chicken Stock
Variations of the Traditional Sauce
The "real" velouté only uses a light stock—one in which the bones have not been roasted before making stock, and is therefore rather light in color. I do though. All the dang time. And even more heretical, I do it with good homemade beef stock or pork broth when I have it. Go ahead—get your smelling salts. I'm not wrong, I'm not sorry, and I'm certainly going to do it again.
Basic chicken stock is what I have usually—it's available and delicious—and that IS in the classic thought—the mind frame of using what's best, fresh and available. What I have access to on an everyday basis is a roasted chicken stock—or pork or beef, but rarely fish or veal. The technique for style is still the same and the stock is still dynamite, so I feel it's fair game. With that in mind, you have an entirely new world of variations that open up. None of these have names, at least at this point, although I will probably name them all after myself.
Try a pork veloute—use cumin, ancho, and coriander, and use it with anything to capture the flavors of the American Southwest. Or go Appalachian Southern, with cream and just fresh parsley. Any kind of beef veloute is all right in my book. If you want a steak that will just about take your head off, top it with a beef veloute finished with a good red wine vinegar, fresh parsley, and cream. Or a little tomato paste, rosemary, and cream. Lots of freshly cracked black pepper should visit any of the beef sauces.
Use the roasted chicken veloute to make a chicken pot pie about as rich as the Rockefellers. Liven it up with thyme and rosemary. Or go back to the Southwest, and pan-fry or grill some chicken, and finish your roasted chicken veloute with jalapeno, serrano and good chili powder. Hit Jamaica, mon—coriander, cinnamon, fennel, India with good curry powder . . . any flavor profile you want is up for grabs here! I know some of these cuisines don't use butter sauces - but again, we're already in rebellion. Might as rally the entire League against the Legion of Doom.
Now if you came to this article and have gotten to this point you may be thinking, "Wait! The stuff I had called velouté was a SOUP!" Then you're still all right. Go back to the origin of the word from the French for "velvet," and also to the part about not following the rules. I've noticed that quite apart from sauce velouté there is a tendency to name any velvety smooth concoction—sweet or savory—as a velouté of some sort. This includes many creamy-textured or pureed soups. It may or may not be a sauce, and I have no problem with that. I personally can name ten or twelve sauces that I think should be served in bowls with a spoon.
Don't get all uptight over it. Keep in mind the whole velvet thing—and remember that whatever you've been served that's been called "velouté"—could just as easily be called "velvet." Think velvet broccoli—velvet strawberries or rhubarb, velvet parsnip, and velvet crab. It's almost used as the word "bisque" is used. Classically bisque is a shellfish soup with a buttery rich texture. But any soup or sauce with a similar texture has come to be called bisque. Don't go all Legion of Doom. Holy Velouté Batman! It's food, not astrophysics. Relax, pick up your spoon, and enjoy the moment.
© 2010 Jan Charles