The Mother Sauces – Béchamel

Alright, enough screwing around – Back to the Escoffier version of the French Mother Sauces, as asked for and promised! We covered velouté, so it’s time for béchamel, (and down the line, espagnole, tomate, and hollandaise).

Béchamel - Creamy goodness!
Béchamel – Creamy goodness!

Béchamel is arguably the most versatile of those magic five, (although tomate might dispute that claim). So many derivatives come from it. Béchamel is a cream sauce, with a heart of roux, the combination of flour and fat that gives its richness to all variants. As much as it may pain French cuisine to say so, béchamel’s roots are predominantly Italian. In that country, besciamella, (or balsamella, or bechimella), have been around for hundreds of years prior to their cropping up in French cooking. In everything from pasta primavera to lasagna and cannelloni, besciamella has been used to tie many an Italian dish into a coherent whole. The secret weapon to those Italian cream sauces? A dusting of fresh ground nutmeg – Not enough of the latter to taste like nutmeg – rather just enough to hint at something exotic. Béchamel variants are found literally everywhere, but those roots run deepest in the heart of Europe.

Béchamel in its French incarnation first appeared in print in the mid seventeenth century, within François Pierre La Varenne eponymous work, Le Cuisinier François, the bible of early French haute cuisine, (that tome was so popular that it enjoyed some thirty editions, over three quarters of a century). That first sauce, named after the Chief Steward to King Louis XIV, was a veal based velouté with a copious amount of fresh cream added. The essence of béchamel is simplicity itself – butter, flour, milk, salt, and white pepper – That’s it.

From béchamel comes many famous derivatives. There’s mornay, with cheese added, and mushroom. There’s crème sauce, with cream replacing milk. Nantua adds an essence of shellfish, mustard seed in mustard sauce, and soubise, which adds minced onion. And of course, the basic sauce itself can be varied widely merely by altering the ratio of roux to milk – from a relatively thin and easily poured sauce containing one tablespoon each of butter and flour to one cup of milk, right up to three tablespoons of each roux constituent, which will yield a very thick sauce, indeed.

Fresh herbs are all you need for amazing béchamel
Fresh herbs are all you need for amazing béchamel

Really though, the sky is the limit. Have some lovely fresh herbs in your garden? Add a few whole leaves of basil, or sage, a stem of rosemary, or thyme – That silky net of gently simmered dairy fat will embrace and enhance whatever you add. Smoked salmon, kalamata olives, capers, fresh lemon juice and zest – one or two, maybe three such things are all you need to make exquisite sauce.

One important caveat, though – Something as simple as béchamel demands good, fresh ingredients. Old, low quality, or past their prime constituents will tube a béchamel faster than anything. On the contrary, fresh butter, flour, and milk will sing a far more complex tune than their simple roots might suggest.

How you make a béchamel is, for my mind, easily as important as what you make it with. This isn’t a sauce to just be dumped in a pan and heated. There are steps and rules, if great results are what you expect. For my mind, there are four guidelines you simply must follow.

Great ingredients and patience is the key to béchamel
Great ingredients and a little patience is the key to béchamel

1. Cook the roux first, and make sure that it remains a white roux – This means medium low heat, constant whisking, and paying close attention to the look and smell of the roux as it cooks. There’s nothing wrong with darker roux, many things demand the nuttier, more intense flavors they bring – But classic béchamel is a white sauce and should stay that way. Consider also this – the lighter the roux, the greater it’s thickening power – it takes considerably more of a dark roux to thicken an equal amount of whoever you’re working with.

2. The milk must be scalded prior to adding it to the roux – This is critical to a smooth, homogeneous sauce, and to fully integrating the milk without breaking the roux.

3. Don’t break the roux – the roux should be heated through and starting to bubble a bit before milk is gradually added. Rather than dumping a cup of milk in all at once, you need to slowly add a little milk and stir it into the roux – allow that to heat through and start to bubble, then add a little more milk and repeat – Doing this controls the splitting of starch chains and the forming of new bonds as the sauce is heated and milk is slowly introduced. The breaking of those starch chains means that the starch molecules don’t thicken as effectively, but by the same token, they’re less likely to reconnect to each other, which will leave a nasty, congealed mess instead of a lovely sauce. Think of it as if the milk is stretching a net of fat and starch – You want that net to hold a lot of liquid, not break and lose it – n’est pas? Take a look at the pics in this post on mac and cheese and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

4. Cook the sauce long enough to achieve a slightly less thicker final product than you want, then do whatever you’re going to do with it. Chances are good that might involve more cooking, so don’t overdo it in the formative phase of things – That sauce will continue to thicken if it’s made into mac and cheese, lasagna, or stroganoff.

Classic Béchamel Sauce

1 Cup Whole Milk
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground White Pepper
OPTIONAL:
1 or two grates of fresh Nutmeg
In a heavy sauce pan over medium high heat, add the milk. Watch the milk closely and whisk occasionally, until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan where it meets the milk. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a heavy sauce pan, add the butter and melt thoroughly.

Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Cook while gently but constantly whisking, until the blend has stiffened up a bit, (this is caused by some of the moisture from the butter being driven out of the mix). This will take about 2 to 3 minutes or so.

Drizzle about a quarter cup of hot milk into the roux, and whisk steadily. The results will look like mashed potatoes. Whisk gently but constantly, until the heat of cooking causes the mix to bubble.

Add another quarter cup of milk, whisking gently but steadily, and allow it to heat completely through before adding more milk. Repeat with the he remaining half cup of milk.

Add the salt and pepper, taste, and adjust seasoning as desired. NOTE: If you’re adding herbs, proteins, etc, this is the time to thrown them in there.

Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for up to 5 minutes. Stop when your sauce is a bit less thick than you want it. Remove from heat and do what you’re gonna do.
So, what are ya gonna do with that?

There’s Mac and Cheese, of course

And Beef Stroganoff,

How about Pasta Primavera, with whatever fresh veggies float your boat saluted in a little olive oil and butter, and angel hair pasta, thrown into a sauté pan with your sauce, tossed to coat and incorporate, and served with crusty bread and a fresh, green salad?

The rest of that journey is yours to take.

Alright, by overwhelming popular demand…

Y’all have spoken, and we hear ya!

The response to our Velouté post was huge, but strangely enough, most of it wasn’t about the sauce, it was about the sauces – All five Escoffier Mother Sauces. In so many words, a whole bunch of you asked if we wouldn’t just keep going and cover the remaining four – Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomato – And make a clean sweep of things. So, that’s exactly what we’ll do – The rest of June and most of July will be Mother Sauce Month!

Stay tuned!

Le Velouté

Ah, the joy that is a velouté; say it with me now – Veh-Loo-Tay – D’accord! It’s a safe bet that a fair chunk of y’all aren’t as familiar with this giant of sauces as you’d like to be, and we’re about to fix that.

Le velouté is a giant because it was anointed by the legendary Père of classic French cuisine, Auguste Escoffier, as one of the five Mother Sauces, the roots from which a host of classic French and world variants spring, (The other four, for the record, are Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomato). Velouté derives from the French ‘velour’, and speaks to the light, velvety nature of the sauce.

The classic Velouté - Light and creamy
The classic Velouté – Light and creamy

The classic velouté combines a light stock like chicken, veggie, or fish with a blond roux as a thickener. Typically, only a little salt and pepper is added for seasoning. The light stock refers to one in which the bones, veggies or racks are not roasted prior to the stock being made – That keeps the color and flavor notably lighter. Since the sauce itself is quite delicate, it’s most often paired with the things that make up the stock it derives from – poultry, fish, or vegetables.

Then come the derivates, which are too numerous to list here; the point is that a basic velouté is a jumping off point for almost endless experimentation. Add a little lemon juice, an egg yolk, and some cream, and you’ve got an Allemande. Onion, paprika and white wine yield a Hungarian. Adding mushroom liquor and cream to arrive at a Suprême, and so on. Here’s how you start.

Classic Velouté
2 Cups light Chicken Stock
2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons all purpose Flour
Sea Salt
Fresh ground Black Pepper

Add the butter to a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, and melt completely.

Add the flour, whisk to incorporate thoroughly, then allow the roux to cook for about 2 minutes, until the blend starts to smell slightly nutty.

Add the stock in a slow drizzle, whisking constantly. The sauce will start out kinda like mashed potatoes, and thin progressively as you continue adding stock. Go slow, take your time, allowing the sauce to return to a simmer before adding more stock. There’s an elastic bond formed between the fat and the flour that is integral to the finished sauce – For that reason, never dump in a whole bunch of liquid when thickening with a roux – work slowly and steadily to allow that elasticity to be retained and do its thing. The roux not only thickens, it traps tiny air bubbles formed when you whisk. The end result is a velouté that, while appearing thick, is remarkably light and airy.

Once all the stock is added, reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to cook for about 10-12 minutes, whisking occasionally.

Remove the velouté from the heat and serve immediately.
There’s a reason that a Saucier, (The Chef responsible for making and serving sauces, as well as sautéing dishes), is often considered one of the the highest positions in a pro kitchen, second only to the Chef and Sous Chef. And frankly, whatever the cuisine, a great sauce is key to many a dish – From Italian to Indian, Mexican to Moroccan, sauces rule, and for good reason.

A great sauce elevates a dish, enhancing and highlighting rather than overpowering. Take, for example, the wonderful, fresh tomato sauce in which a Oaxacan style chile relleno is floated – Without that, it’s a good relleno, but with it, it’s a dish of complex, sublime beauty. Arguably, no sauce does a better job at this than a velouté – The lightness of stock and the richness of a thickener combine in a way few others can or do.

That classic velouté is important to try and to keep in your quiver for when you might need it – It’s deceptively simple and quick. That said, there’s more than one way to skin a potato – Who says that, in your own kitchen, you must follow some rigid set of rules when it comes to sauce?

Let’s say you sautéed a chicken breast, and while its resting, you’re wondering what might make a nice finishing touch. Add a couple tablespoons of butter to that sauté pan, let it melt, then pull out some chicken stock, and add that. Whisk to incorporate, and let everything come to a simmer.

Now, shake in a little Arrowroot, (a powdered root made from any one of a number of tropical plants), that is a potent yet quite transparent thickener. A dash of salt, a twist of pepper, and you’ve got what many would call a pan sauce, (it is), but as far as I’m concerned, you would not be at all out of line to call it a velouté, (which sounds far sexier, doesn’t it?). Put on your best Eric Ripert accent and call it that – Who’s to argue with you?

The bottom line is that a velouté is, fundamentally, thickened stock. You can arrive at that end result any way you see fit. Corn starch will work, as will modern, molecular gastronomy versions like Ultra-Sperse 3. That product, made by Modernist Pantryu, is a ‘all-natural cold water swelling starch’ derived from tapioca. Ultra-Sperse works with cold or hot liquids, doesn’t get lumpy, and yields a remarkably smooth finished product with virtually no added or off-putting flavor notes. It works quickly, has amazing stability, and is genuinely fun to play with, (And for the record, no, I am not sponsored by or in league with Modernist Pantry, I just like their stuff a lot). I tend to use either Arrowroot, which I keep in a shaker top bottle above the stove, or Ultra-Sperse, because they’re quick, and they provide a lighter sauce than the traditional roux.

And then there’s all that variety. As I noted above, adding a couple, two, three ingredients to a standard velouté creates a whole ‘nuther stable of deliciousness. Veggies, from carrot to cucumber, tomato to turnip, can be added – Then you’ve got something really special. Asparagus, artichoke, sweet corn – Whatever is fresh and strikes your creative fancy. Go farther afield and add mango to chicken stock, finish that velouté, and top fresh salmon with it. Maybe blueberries and lime with pork tenderloin – You get the idea. Grab a copy of The Flavor Bible, and come up with some new pairings of your own.

If what you want to add to a velouté requires cooking, and especially for veggies, it’s best to blanch them in boiling, salty water, (no salt for fruit, of course), and then plunge them quickly into an ice water bath – That will instantly stop the cooking process, and retain all those vibrant colors – That’s important, because we eat with our eyes, right?

Next, process your fruit or veggies in a blender or processor until uniformly smooth.

Transfer whatever you’re saucing to a sauté pan over medium heat.

Add a couple tablespoons of butter and whisk to incorporate.

Add your thickening agent graduating, whisking gently and constantly. When your just shy of your desired thickness, remove the sauce from the heat.

If you want to be fancy, (or if your ingredients are fibrous), run the sauce through a single mesh strainer, and then serve promptly.

I wrote this piece because yesterday was Father’s Day, and our youngest, along with our dear friend Mario Young, came over for the night. M and I bought fresh local chicken breasts, sweet corn, a baguette, stuff for a lovely green salad, a couple of nice bottles of wine, and stuff to make strawberry shortcake for dessert.

Then M saw some very nice looking avocados and said “what about these?” As we chose a couple, the little light bulb over my old, bald head brightened notably. Here’s what I made – And note that I took some serious poetic license with the classic velouté, and you know what? Not only is that perfectly OK, that sauce was the absolute star – Everybody raved over it, and the light, fresh taste it added to a perfect meal.

Velouté de Avocat UrbanMonique

1 large, ripe Hass Avocado
1 1/2 Cups light Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Greek Yoghurt
2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
2 teaspoons fresh Lemon Juice
1-2 teaspoons Arrowroot
Sea Salt
Fresh ground Pepper

On a hot grill or barbecue, slice the avocado in half, remove the pit, and place the fruit cut side down on the grill for about one minute.

Grilling avocados deepens their flavor
Grilling avocados deepens their flavor

Gently turn the avocado cut side up and grill for another 4-5 minutes, until the meat around the edges of the skin begins to notably soften.

Remove the avocado from the heat and allow to rest for a few minutes.

Scoop the avocado meat into a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, then firmly mash the avocado with a potato masher or a large fork.

Add the butter and whisk to incorporate.

Slowly but steadily add the chicken stock, whisking steadily, allowing the sauce to heat through as the stock is added.

Add a teaspoon of arrowroot and whisk steadily. The sauce should begin to thicken notably. Continue whisking, and add more arrowroot if you prefer a thicker sauce.

Season lightly with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. NOTE: I like pepper, but you can certainly leave it out and let diners add their own. My friend, (and excellent home cook), David Berkowitz recommends white pepper here, so that you don’t get dark little flecks in the sauce – He noted that after reading the original post – As noted above, we eat with our eyes!

Reduce heat to low and allow the sauce to cook for about 5 minutes – Remove sauce from heat and either serve rustic, or run it through a single mesh strainer if you prefer a smoother texture.

Serve hot.

Our Velouté de Avocat UrbanMonique was the star of this great meal
Our Velouté de Avocat UrbanMonique was the star of this great meal

Want to take things a step further, and create a great summer soup?

Sopa de Aguacate

4 Cups light Chicken Stock
1 large Avocado
2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter
4-5 fresh Basil leaves
1 Tablespoon Greek Yoghurt
1 teaspoon Arrowroot
Sea Salt
Fresh ground Pepper

Add the chicken stock and butter to a heavy sauce pan over medium high heat, and cook until the stock simmers.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the arrowroot and whisk steadily to incorporate.

In a blender or processor, add the avocado, basil leaves, a healthy pinch of salt, and 5-6 twists of pepper. Pulse the mix two or three times, then add a cup of chicken stock, pulse a couple of times, and repeat until all the stock has been added.

Add the arrowroot and yoghurt and pulse a couple more times to incorporate thoroughly.

Can be served immediately, or chilled and served cold.

Sopa de Aguacate
Sopa de Aguacate

House Made Stock

Nephew Ian put in another topic request, this one for making homemade stock. If we had to pick one thing that separates really good restaurant quality food from most home cooked stuff, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to chose the making and judicious use of homemade stock.

Homemade Stock

The difference between homemade and anything store bought is night and day; you’ll enjoy far greater depth and breadth of flavor, as well as the common sense step of keeping and using the stuff you need to make stock with, instead of throwing it away – Everything from the ends of trimmed veggies, to fish racks, bones, and carcasses are the stuff of great stock. Making stock at home is neither particularly laborious or complex. Once you get in the groove of thinking about using your leftovers accordingly, it’s a pretty simple process.
First things first, let’s define stock, vis-a-vis its thinner cousin, broth, and thicker progeny, demi-glacé. In simplest terms, stock comes from bones, while broth comes from meat. Think of stock as the deeper and more complex root of superior soup, sauce, risotto, and a thousand other variants. When the first taste of one of those dishes blows you away, it’s a safe bet there’s rich, house-made stock at the core. There’s an enhanced mouth feel and richness to stock, brought forth by the gelatin released from bones, that you just don’t get anywhere else.
Preparation for making stocks begins with saving the ingredients; Don’t throw out the bones, carcass, etc of your last wonderful roast, chicken, turkey, ribs, etc – Keep ’em and freeze ’em and set ’em aside for future use. You can also certainly ask for beef/veal/etc bones from your butcher; with a resurgence in small, local butchers in full swing across this country, do your due diligence and see if you’ve got one close by – They’re sure to be prepared and happy to get you what you need.

Beef Stock
For hundreds of years, the go-to restaurant stock was veal, or beef. Nowadays, Dark Chicken Stock has replaced those more traditional variants as the root of great soup, sauce, etc.. It’s probably healthier for you than beef or veal, and frankly, it’s far more versatile; we use it almost daily in our kitchen. For the record – The sole difference between light and dark chicken stock is whether or not the bones have been roasted. Also, If you prefer to do beef, veal, pork, etc, you’ll want about 3-4 pounds of bones to substitute for the chicken carcasses used herein.
What you’re going to do is a three part process – slow roast, simmer, clarification. The slow roast will breakdown and deepen favors from the carcasses or bones and a trinity of aromatic bases, (in this case, mirepoix – onion, carrot, and celery), and a touch of tomato paste. The slow roast works on everything, breaking down cartilage, marrow, fat, skin – drawing out the essence of the veggies with slow caramelization. The tomato paste enhances color and flavor, and the acid therein helps break down connective tissue in the bones, aiding in the production of usable gelatin for your stock.

You’ll need the following to build a good stock pot worth of the real deal.

2-4 Chicken Carcasses
2 medium Yellow or Sweet Onions
3-5 Carrots
3-5 stalks Celery
Small can Tomato Paste
Olive or Avocado Oil
Sea Salt
Fresh ground Pepper

Mirepoix, the classic aromatic base

Decent Cheesecloth, (60 to 90 pound is best)
3+ Gallon Stock Pot
Colander, Strainer, or Chinoise
Slotted or perforated Spoon

stock 1

Preheat oven to 250° F.
Have carcasses or bones defrosted and close to room temperature.
Rough chop onion, celery, and carrots to a final mirepoix of 50% onion, and 25% each celery and carrot – You don’t need to be exact. Rough chop means fairly uniform pieces of each, about 3/4″ big.
Spread the mire poix evenly across a rimmed baking sheet.
Season veggies with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of oil.
Break down carcasses minimally, just enough that you can evenly cover the mire poix.
Using a spatula, dab a thin coating of tomato paste over the carcasses; this doesn’t have to be thick – use a whole, small can for a batch of this size, evenly spread.
Slow roast everything for about 3 hour, flipping once about half way through, until bones have browned, and veggies are caramelized.

Roasted carcasses and mirepoix

Remove everything from the oven and carefully transfer into a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add water until you’ve got a good two inches over the top of everything in the pot.
Add,
3-4 Bay Leaves
Teaspoon of Sea Salt
10-12 whole Pepper berries

Homemade Dark chicken stock.jpg

Once the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and continue simmering for at least 6 hours, (and as much as 8.)
As fat and associated scum rises to the surface, (If you see Dick Cheney, push him back under), skim that off with a slotted or perforated spoon.
You’ll lose water to evaporation; keep adding fresh to maintain that couple of inches over the contents.
Remove pot from stove, and allow the stock to cool to room temperature. You can place the whole pot in an ice bath, (50% – 50% ice and water), to cool it faster; this is also safer than simply waiting it out.
Cover and refrigerate overnight, (Or stick it out on the back porch, covered, if it’s cold enough out).
In the morning, you’ll find a nice, solid layer of fat has formed on the top of your stock; carefully ladle that off and discard.

Skimming fat off fresh stock

Now comes clarification;
Set up a colander, strainer, or chinoise, with a large mixing bowl beneath.
Pour the contents of your stock pot carefully through; this first pass will remove the big chunks from the stock.
Discard the bones, veggies, etc.

Clarifying homemade stock
Now you’ll need decent cheesecloth at this point, as it’s time to really clarify.
Line your straining device with a layer or two of cheesecloth big enough to drape over the edges somewhat; place the stock pot or mixing bowl underneath.
Slowly pour the stock through the cheesecloth.
After each pass, rinse the vessel you poured from, and the cheesecloth, before making another pass.
You’ll want at least 6 – 8 passes to get to reasonable clarity, something like this – beautiful, flavorful house made stock.

Glorious Homemade dark chicken stock

We freeze stock in quart sized freezer bags; this is a good size to use as the basis for soups and stews. You can store some refrigerated, in an airtight container, for up to 5 days. Some should most definitely be further reduced into demi-glacé, and here’s why.

Homemade dark chicken stock ready to freeze

In his epic tale of back of house whackiness, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain wrote of demi-glacé, “Freeze this stuff in an ice-cube tray, pop out a cube or two as needed, and you are in business – you can rule the world.” And when you’re right, you’re right. If you knew how many amazing sauces spring from this one source, you’d be gob smacked. While demi-glacé is traditionally made from veal or beef stock, you certainly can and should make it from chicken stock – Like the stock, chicken demi-glacé is amazingly versatile. Traditional demi-glacé is served over beef, veal, or lamb – chicken glacé not only works on those proteins, it’s amazing with chicken, pork, veggies, potatoes, and rice or risotto.

Reducing stock to demi-glace
There’re a myriad of ways to make it; doing so with fresh stock is one of the easiest and most satisfying, and it only makes sense, when you’ve already been working through stock production. You can, if you like, simply return some stock to a sauté pan over medium heat, turn it down to a bare simmer after it gets bubbling, and reduce that by roughly 50% – What you’ll have is a more concentrated, intense iteration of the stock you just made, and that is indeed demi-glacé, no matter what pretentious foodies tell you. That said, putting a few more refinements in the mix will pay big dividends. Here’s how.

2 Cups fresh Chicken Stock
1 Cup Old Vine Zinfandel
2 Tablespoons minced Shallot
2 teaspoons Lemon Thyme
1 teaspoon Grains of Paradise, (Black Peppercorns are fine)
1 Bay Leaf

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, combine all ingredients, except the butter.
As the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by roughly 50%.
Test thickness by pouring some of the demi-glacé from a spoon; it should leave a noticeably thick, even coat on the spoon.
Remove from heat and cool to room temp, (again, a mixing bowl in an ice bath does a great job).
Transfer demi-glacé to a pop-out ice cube tray, filling evenly. Slip the tray inside a gallon freezer bag, press excess air out, (I suck all the air out to avoid freezer burn), and freeze.

Freeze cubes of demi glace and you own the world

When you want an amazing pan sauce, pull out your tray, pop out a cube or two, and melt over medium heat. Finish with a thumbnail sized hunk of butter, and viola. You can also add a cube to boiling water for rice or veggies. A cube add to your regular gravy ingredients is especially delightful – Potential uses are as broad as your imagination.

Chimichurri 

On any given day when we’re preparing something in the kitchen, anything really, that little light bulb blinks on and we think, ‘This would be so much better with a sauce or marinade, or both.’ 99% of the time, we’re right, but what to make? When you’ve nothing definite in mind, and maybe even not 100% sure what you’ve got in fridge and pantry, the correct answer is Chimichurri, (or chimmichurri, if you really like Ms). 
Chimichurri is a green sauce designed ostensibly for grilled meats, but that’s frankly selling it short. It’s fabulous on pasta, goes great with fish, makes a great seasoning for soups and stews, and shines on roasted or steamed veggies as well – It’s even great on eggs. The popular claim is that this legendary creation hails from Argentina, the Holy Land of grilled meats, but its roots go deeper yet. Given the classical Spanish pronunciation of the word, with the initial ch spoken almost as a tz, and the double rr well rolled on the tongue, it’s a good bet that the origin of chimichurri lies with the Basque settlers who arrived in Argentina back in the 1800s. The Basque have a word designed specifically for the kind of spur-of-the-moment sauce we’re discussing here – Tximitxurri, which more or less means, ‘a mixture of several things in no particular order’. Perfect, right?

That’s exactly what chimichurri is. The classic version consists of flat leaf parsley, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and red pepper flake, but variants on this are not only OK, they’re expected. It’s very much like spaghetti sauce – Sure there’s a ‘classic’ version, but everybody makes theirs different, and all those variants are equally as valid. Chimichurri was designed to take advantage of what you’ve got on hand, and the beauty lies in the options. Other parsley variants, cilantro, culantro, kale, celery leaves, or arugula can replace the flat leaf. Onion or shallot can augment the garlic. Any one of a number of herbs can be added – smoked or sweet paprika, cumin seed, lemon thyme, or any variant of basil come readily to mind. Sweet pepper, chiles, tomato, tomatillo, citrus, all go great as well. The only limits are your imagination and what’s on hand.

Marinate meat or veggies in chimichurri for at least two hours and up to overnight, refrigerated and covered. Fish should go no longer than an hour or so, so as not to overpower it. Freezing chimichurri works great; it’s a perfect sauce to do the ice cube tray trick with; you can snap out a cube or more whenever you feel the need. While store bought is available, that’s just an absolute no no; making chimichurri is so quick and simple, there’s no reason not to make a fresh batch; you’ll save yourself from preservatives and stabilizers., too.

Here’re a few versions to get you started. Bunches of parsley, cilantro, etc, all pretty uniform these days: If I had to hazard a guess at the volume of 1/2 Bunch, I’d call it 2 Cups loosely packed.  

 
Classic Chimichurri

1/2 Bunch Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley

8 cloves Garlic

3⁄4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1⁄4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar

1 teaspoon Red Chile Flake

Pinch Sea Salt

Few twists fresh ground Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until you have a smooth sauce.

Placed in an airtight, non-reactive container and refrigerated, it’ll last a week; frozen, it’s good for 90 days, easy.

 

Urban’s Chimichurri

1/2 Bunch Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley

1/4 Bunch Cilantro

6 cloves Garlic

1 Hatch Chile, (Anaheim Pepper will work too)

3⁄4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1⁄4 Cup Champagne Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Sweet Onion

1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice

1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1 teaspoon Turkish Oregano

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper

Pinch Sea Salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until you have a smooth sauce.

Placed in an airtight, non-reactive container and refrigerated, it’ll last a week; frozen, it’s good for 90 days, easy.

 

Red Chimichurri

1/2 Bunch Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley

2 small ripe Tomatoes

6 cloves Garlic

1 sweet red Pepper

3⁄4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1⁄4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Sweet Onion

1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice

1 teaspoon Turkish Oregano

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper

Pinch Sea Salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until you have a smooth sauce.

Placed in an airtight, non-reactive container and refrigerated, it’ll last a week; frozen, it’s good for 90 days, easy.

 

Tomatillo Chimichurri

1/2 Bunch Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley

4 ripe Tomatillos

1 small ripe Tomato

6 cloves Garlic

1-2 Jalapeño Chiles

3⁄4 Cup Avocado Oil

1⁄4 Cup Cider Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Sweet Onion

1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice

1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper

Pinch Sea Salt

Roast tomatillos, tomatoes, and chiles under a broiler until skins are blistered.

Remove from heat and cool until they’re workable.

Remove skins, stems and seeds

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until you have a smooth sauce.

Placed in an airtight, non-reactive container and refrigerated, it’ll last a week; frozen, it’s good for 90 days, easy.

Quick Pasta Sauce

So, you've decided on chef salads for dinner when the one you love and cook for says, “Now I don't want salad, I want something hot.” So begins the process of thinking on your feet and diplomatic negotiation. The light bulb goes on, and you reply, “we've got frozen cheese ravioli. You prep those, I'll make a sauce.” She smiles, bats those beautiful blue eyes and says, “Tomato sauce, right?” Ready, set, go.

This is actually an eminently practical example of cooking from the hip. It's an exceptionally trashy night out, with a nasty wind howling, and rain beating on the windows. Comfort is called for. Here's what I came up with. It took 15 minutes from start to finish and tasted like a million bucks. See if you don't agree.

 

1 14 ounce can diced Tomatoes

1/4 Cup dry White Wine

1/4 Cup Half & Half

2 Tablespoons Sweet Onion

2 Tablespoons Feta Cheese

1 clove Garlic

1 teaspoon fresh Sage (Dry is fine too)

1 Tablespoon unsalted Butter

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Juice of 1/4 small Lemon

 

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add olive oil and heat through.

Mince onion and garlic, chiffonade Sage if using fresh.

Add onion to pan and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté until raw garlic smell is gone.

Deglaze the pan by adding white wine. Sauté with aromatics until raw alcohol smell is gone and sauce has thickened slightly.

Add butter and allow to melt and incorporate. Add sage, (rub it in between thumb and forefinger if using dry), stir to incorporate.

Add tomatoes, undrained, and stir to heat through. When the sauce is bubbling, reduce heat to low, add cream and cheese and stir constantly until well incorporated. Serve promptly over pasta, chicken, pork, tofu or lightly sauteéd vegetables.

 

Variants:

If you prefer a smoother sauce, use an immersion blender to homogenize.

You may then run the sauce through a fine mesh strainer, return it to a medium low flame, and reduce it by 50%; this is now more of a purée, and could be used as a bed for those proteins or vegetables.

1/2 teaspoon of smoked, sweet Paprika would be a very nice variation as well.

 

 

Chile Lime Cream & House Made Chile Garlic Sauce

Kari Bates sent me a recipe for this incredible sauce. I've tweaked it just a bit for proportions, subbed a couple fresh ingredients, and added a few process steps. This is fabulous with chicken, wild mushrooms, root vegetables, or enchiladas, to name just a few.

Note the extensive use of reduction in this recipe. Reducing at relatively high heat as Kari does here intensifies and focuses taste profiles and allows a certain amount of caramelization; the result is a concentrated burst of flavors that will nicely accent a myriad of dishes.

I've included a recipe for house made chili garlic sauce. If you're pressed for time, you can certainly use a favorite commercial version of your own, but try making this at home and I bet you'll never go back to store bought. My recipe is a Sriracha style sauce we make with red jalapeños, but as shown below, you can sub the chili of your choice and thereby moderate or intensify the heat level. If you use dried chiles, reconstitute them in plenty of fresh water until soft, prior to making the sauce.

 

House Made Chile Garlic Sauce

2 heads Garlic

20 red Chiles, (Jalapeño, Serrano, Hatch, Thai, Etc)

2 bulbs Shallot

2-3 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar

2-3 Tablespoons Grape Seed Oil

1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon Fish Sauce

Sea Salt to taste

 

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Peel the outer husk off each garlic head and trim about 1/2″ off the tops, exposing the cloves. Wrap each head tightly in aluminum foil and place them on a baking sheet.

Dry roast garlic for 40 to 45 minutes until cloves are soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool until handleable.

If you opt for fresh chiles, rinse and trim off the tops. It's your decision at this point to remove seeds and trim membranes or not. Leaving them in with any chile that packs a punch means more heat. Rough chop chiles.

If you used dry chiles, reserve a few tablespoons of the soaking water and discard the rest. If at any point your ingredients seem a bit tight, (due to the use of dried chiles), add a bit of the water to loosen things up.

Rinse, peel and trim shallots, then mince.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the peanut oil and heat through. Sauté shallot until the raw smell has dissipated and they're beginning to turn translucent.

Transfer shallots from pan to a blender or food processor. Squish the roasted garlic into the vessel, then add chiles, agave nectar, vinegar, and a teaspoon of sea salt. Blend to a uniform, fine paste.

Reduce heat on sauté pan to medium low, add the chile paste and fish sauce. Blend thoroughly, and allow to heat through.

Taste and adjust salt, agave, and water balance as needed.

You can strain the sauce at this point if you prefer a smoother texture, or leave it as is.

Transfer sauce to a glass bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least four hours to allow flavors to marry. Sauce will last for 2-3 weeks refrigerated.

 

Here's that fabulous Chili Lime Cream Sauce

 

1/4 Cup dry White Wine

1 fresh Lime

1/2 Cup Whipping Cream

1 Tablespoon fresh Ginger Root

1 Tablespoon Shallot

2 Tablespoons Chili Garlic Sauce

6 Tablespoons unsalted Butter

 

Cut butter into 1/2″ cubes and bring to room temperature.

Zest and juice lime, reserve zest and 1/4 cup juice.

Rinse, peel and mince ginger, shallot, and garlic.

In a small sauce pan over medium high heat, combine the wine, lime juice and zest, ginger, and shallot. Simmer, stirring steadily, until reduced by 50%. Pulse with an immersion blender until smooth and uniform. Pour through a strainer and discard the remains; return base sauce to pan.

Add cream and continue simmering, stirring regularly with a whisk, until reduced by 50%.

Reduce heat to low and whisk in chili powder, blending thoroughly and heating through.

Add butter one cube at a time, whisking each in before adding the next.

Serve promptly.