The Magic of Sauces

I don’t often boast of my culinary prowess, even if I am pretty competent in the kitchen, but dinner last night was fantastic.

Mushroom risotto ‘burgers’ full of earthiness and cheesiness and general yumminess, sweet potato fries that were soft in the middle and wonderfully crispy on the outside and a simple salad bursting with the flavour of gently roasted tomatoes.

All of those are wonderful things, they all look nice, smell good and taste even better. None of them though are what made dinner so good, none of them were the most important thing on the plate and none of them are the thing that I am so pleased with myself about.

Sauces are transformational and transcendent. If all of the things on the plate are like musicians, then a good sauce is like the conductor. It is not there to hide sins but instead to highlight virtues. When they are well made they pull meals together, turning a collection of individual elements into a coherent whole. A good sauce stands boldly out in front, accentuating and contrasting with other flavours and making them all shine together.

The reason that I am happy to say that dinner last night was so good is because of the creamy shallot, garlic and mushroom sauce that turned it from a few random characters hanging out with instruments into an orchestra.

You may have gathered by now that I really do like a good sauce.

Good sauces do not come in packets or jars, they take time and patience and love. You build them slowly with layers of flavour, so that what you end up with often bears only a passing resemblance to the first ingredients that hit the pan.

Although it is not something designed to mask or hide the flavours of whatever you pour or spoon it over, when everything in your kitchen is turning to shit, and if you throw enough on, you can be sure that a decent sauce will always be your savior.

“A well made sauce will make even an elephant or a grandfather palatable.”

Grimod de la Reynière

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