5 Sauces That Will Change Your Life

Aug 22, 2018 | Recipes

Last week I talked about five pasta sauces that you needed to master, this week I thought I would talk about sauce in general.

Sauces are an important part of cooking and eating. They add colour, flavour, and diversity to a plate. Knowing how to make a delicious sauce can make an okay meal great. The thing is that the assumption a lot of people make about sauces is that have to be complicated. Yes, there are lots of sauces that are complicated but, we are going to focus on sauces that are complex only in flavour. Today, we are going to look at five simple sauces that will change your life.

1. Compound Butters

A compound butter is a butter that is mixed with flavourings. Often items like garlic, fresh herbs, spices, anchovies, and even brandy are added to the butter to add flavour. Compound butter is fantastic used in place regular butter served with bread. But more importantly, they work very well as a sauce. A few pieces of compound butter on a steak or a piece of fish right before you serve it can make for a light flavorful sauce. You can also use compound butter to flavour mashed potatoes, or pretty much anything.

Another great aspect of a compound butter is that it can be frozen. It will last for a few months in the freezer and when you need it, it’s there.

There are some classic compound butter recipes such as Beurre Maître d’Hôtel which is butter mixed with salt, pepper, parsley, and lemon juice. And then there are more interesting preparations like the ones found in this Saveur article.

To make a compound butter, 1 lb of butter come to room temperature and then mix in whatever flavourings you would like. Then spread out a long sheet of parchment or plastic wrap. Evenly distribute the butter in a long line on the parchment or plastic wrap. The idea is that you want to make a butter snake. Now wrap it and pull it as tightly as you can. If you are using plastic wrap twist the ends tight to tighten the butter snake. If using parchment tie with butchers twine. Now, put the butter in the fridge or freezer. When you are ready to use it, cut a few pieces off with a hot knife and let them warm up before adding to food.

2. Pan Sauce

Let’s say you just seared a steak in a pan. You take the steak out to let it rest but what do you do with pan and everything in it? Well, you could dump it out, wash the pan and be done with it, or…you could make a pan sauce.

A pan sauce is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It is a sauce that is made in a pan. The idea is that the bits of meat or food that are left over on the bottom of the pan go into flavouring the sauce rather than just being dumped down the drain.

Most pan sauces start by first discarding any excess oil that has accumulated in the pan. We don’t want a greasy sauce. The next step is to add a liquid. This would preferably be an alcohol like wine, or brandy. It could also be stock or water. This initial liquid is used to lift all the bits of food off of the bottom of the pan. The liquid is then reduced down to concentrate the flavour and then often a secondary liquid will be added. This secondary liquid could be cream, demiglace, coconut milk, or stock if the initial liquid was alcohol. This secondary liquid would also be reduced to concentrate the flavour and thicken the sauce.

Other flavourings like minced onion, shallot, or garlic may also be added to the sauce. These items would be added and cooked prior to the addition of that first liquid. Fresh herbs can also be added either whole or minced but would usually be added nearer the end of the cooking process.

The last thing that almost always goes into a pan sauce is butter. The butter enriches the flavour of the sauce. It gives the sauce a smooth silky texture and a nice shine. The butter is added to the sauce and whisked in so that it doesn’t just sit on top of the surface.

Let’s go back to the steak example.

You just finished searing a steak and removed it from the pan. Dump all the excess oil into a tin can or something that isn’t going to melt or break from the heat. Add 1 tbsp of minced onion, and 1 tsp of minced garlic. Sautee this for a minute or two until the onion is pretty much cooked. You don’t want to brown these you just want them translucent. Now add 1/4 cup of white wine. Cook the wine until about half of it has evaporated. Now add 1/4 cup of beef stock and cook that until half of it has evaporated. With the beef stock add 2 sprigs of thyme or 1 sprig of rosemary. Once the stock has reduced add 2 tbsp of whipping cream and bring it to a boil. Cook the sauce until it begins to thicken. Now add 1 tbsp of butter, remove the pan from the heat, and whisk until all the butter is melted and incorporated into the sauce. Pour the sauce over your steaks and enjoy.

3. Sauce Vierge

Traditionally Sauce Vierge which means virgin sauce (because it’s not cooked) is made of olive oil, tomatoes, basil, and lemon juice. It may seem Italian but it’s actually French.

This incredibly simple sauce goes exceptionally well on fish or chicken. Other herbs may be substituted for the basil or used in addition to the basil. Other acids like flavoured vinegar may also be added to suit your tastes and needs.

There really isn’t much more I can sauce about this sauce. It doesn’t really get much more simplistic than this, or more delicious.

4. Vinaigrette

I’ve talked about vinaigrettes a lot in different posts. Usually, I’m talking about them in terms of salad dressing. But, this basic sauce goes very well on fish. The right vinaigrette can also work on beef, pork, chicken, duck, or lamb.

Master the technique and you can use it everywhere.

The ratio of oil to vinegar is 3:1. Use mustard, either as a powder or prepared to bind the oil and the vinegar. Use honey, maple syrup or whatever else to sweeten and stabilize the sauce. And mix everything but the oil together and then slowly whisk in the oil.

Vinaigrette works in so many places. Master it.

5. Chimichurri

Chimichurri is similar to Sauce Vierge but more complex in flavour. It originates in South America and uses local ingredients to pack a big punch of flavour into every bite. Typically consisting of parsley, cilantro, oregano, garlic, chillies, olive oil, and vinegar. Some variations contain tomato and some have a much higher portion fo chillies to make it much spicier.

This sauce goes exceptionally well with steak but also works with fish, chicken, or pork. It can also be mixed with mayonnaise to make a kick-ass sandwich spread. Though untraditional, it is one of my favourite taco condiments as well.

Chimichurri pretty much tastes how you would expect summer to taste, especially when combined with grilled steak.


Master these five sauce and you will be set for life. They are all so versatile and useful that you will never run out of things to sauce.


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