Sauce Espagnole

Onward with the Mother Sauces! Today, it’s sauce Espagnole. As intimated by the moniker, this mother sauce has its roots in Spain. As with Béchamel, Espagnole is another example of French innovation, adapting and refining the neighbor’s good works. The roots of this venerable sauce were documented in Spain in the late eighteen hundreds, and several derivatives are noted in regional cookbooks from back then.

Espagnole is potent stuff – While you certainly can enjoy it straight, it’s more often used as a base for derivative sauces, like Bourguignonne, (Espagnole, with red wine, shallot, and a bouquet garni), sauce charcutière, (Espagnole with chopped cornichons), and sauce Africaine, (Espagnole with tomato, onion, bell pepper, basil, thyme, and bay leaf), to name a few.

In a very real sense, the preparation of espagnole mirrors what is done to make dark stocks – bones, veggies, beef, and seasonings are allowed to get quite dark, which effectively magnifies the strength and breadth of flavor in the final product.

There are, of course, dueling origin stories for this legendary stuff. One popular version has Spanish cooks preparing the wedding meal for Louis XIII and Queen Anne, adding tomatoes, (introduced from Spain), to a typical French brown sauce. Another claims that the Bourbon kings time in Spain created the necessary amalgamation, and brought it back to France thereafter. However it appeared, Espagnole has never left, to our great benefit.

Making Espagnole is not terribly difficult, with one glaring exception – The true, classic version requires veal or beef demi-glacé – And that presents a bit of a catch 22. See, to make classic demi-glacé, you need – you guessed it – sauce Espagnole. Neat, huh? On top of that, you’ll also need somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 pounds of bones, a gallon of water, a quart of red wine, and many, many cups of prepped veggies – Oh, and 7 to 8 hours of cooking time to boot – Sound like fun? Actually, it is, and more importantly, making demi-glacé from scratch has much to teach us about patience, reduction, and chemistry, but that’s a lesson for another day. Therefore, we’ll need a sub or a reasonable cheat – fortunately, both are easy to come by, and either will work just fine.

The first option is a substitute, of which there are many. The current resurgence in home cooking has spawned a lot of gourmet accoutrements, and as such, bottled or boxed demi-glacé is abundant. That said, they’re not all created equally, so read your ingredients carefully – One of the most popular dried products includes all this bounty – ‘Wheat flour, corn starch, natural flavour, sugar, beef fat, salt, tomato powder, hydrolyzed soy/corn/wheat protein, monosodium glutamate, white wine solids, maltodextrin, onion powder, colour, guar gum, citric acid, spice, yeast extract, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, silicon dioxide and sulphites. May contain traces of milk ingredients.’ Yummy, huh?

If you’re of a mind to buy demi-glacé, I’ll recommend Williams-Sonoma. It’s not cheap, but it’s organic, and there’s no bullshit in it – It’s made right, from good stuff, hence the cost – That said, a little goes a long way, so it’s worth the splurge.

The second option is a cheat, and for my mind, this is your best bet. The version I like is what the venerable Julia Child called a “semi-demi-glace,” which cracks me up – Fact is, it works great, and is easy and quick to make. Here’s the drill.

Element Fe Forge and Ganesh Himal - Good stuff Maynard!
Element Fe Forge and Ganesh Himal – Good stuff Maynard!

Semi Demi Glacé
4 Cups Beef Stock, (homemade is best, good quality bought is fine)
2 Tablespoons Red Wine, (Burgundy does nicely)

In a heavy sauce pan over high heat, combine the stock and the red wine and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to the lowest setting you’ve got, and allow the stock to simmer gently for 3-4 hours, until the stock has reduced to roughly 1 cup in volume. When it’s done, the demi-glacé should nicely coat the back of a spoon.

Skim any scum that rises to the top off and discard.

Remove from heat and allow to cool in a non-reactive bowl.

Demi glace will last refrigerated in an air tight container for a couple of weeks. If you want to go longer, freeze it in an ice cube tray. Just pop out a cube to add to a sauce, and you’re good to go. For our use, we’ll reconstitute it in water – That may seem sort of silly, but all that reduction has changed the flavors mightily, so fear not. When you use demi-glacé in that manner, a ratio of 1:4 glacé to water will do the trick. You can adjust with more water or glacé as you see fit, of course.

OK, with that handled, it’s time to make the mother sauce.

Sauce Espagnole
Sauce Espagnole

Sauce Espagnole
4 Cups reconstituted demi-glacé concentrate
1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter
1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Tomato Purée
1 medium Onion
1 small Carrot
1 stalk Celery
2 cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf, (Turkish is best, California is fine)
Pinch of Sea Salt
A few twists ground Pepper

Rinse, trim, and dice the onion, carrot, and celery.

Trim, peel, and mince the garlic.

In a large, heavy sauce pan over medium heat, add the butter and melt completely.

Add the flour and combine with a whisk. Cook the roux for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the roux has a nice, brown color and a nutty smell.

Begin adding stock in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Let the roux absorb a dose of stock and reheat before adding more – I refer to this as not breaking the roux – it’ll start out like thick mashed potatoes and gradually get to the liquid sauce phase – Take your time and let that happen rather gradually.

Once all the stock has been added to the roux, toss in the veggies, including the tomato purée and stir to incorporate.

Add the bay leaf, and season with a pinch of sea salt and a few twists of pepper.

Reduce the heat to low, maintaining a bare simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes more.

Remove the sauce from the stove, and carefully pour it through a single mesh strainer or chinoise, into a non-reactive bowl.

Allow to cool.

Rockin' my Ganesh Himal fair trade apron!
Rockin’ my Ganesh Himal fair trade apron!

So, what to do with this stuff? Well, how about those derivatives I mentioned up yonder? Bourguignonne is great for beef (or veggies if you tweak the stock – See below), sauce Charcutière is fabulous with pork, and sauce Africaine pairs wonderfully with chicken or veggies. Here’s how.

Sauce Bourguinonne
3/4 Cup dry red Burgundy Wine
3/4 Cup Stock (Beef is traditional, chicken or veggie are just fine)
1/2 Cup Sauce Espagnole
1/4 Cup chopped white button Mushrooms
2 Tablespoons diced Shallot
2 Tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil
2 strips thick cut Bacon, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
4-5 leaves fresh Basil, (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 Turkish Bay Leaf (California is fine too)
1 sprig fresh Thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Pinch of Sea Salt, a couple twists of Pepper

Combine basil, bay leaf, and thyme in a tea ball or tied into cheese cloth – This is a bouquet garni.

In a heavy sauté pan over medium high heat, add the oil and allow to heat through. Add the chopped mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes until they’re soft.

Add the shallot and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes until the garlic has browned.

Add the wine, stirring to break up the dark stuff attached to the pan. Sauté for 6-8 minutes, until the wine has reduced by roughly 50%. Add the stock and stir to incorporate.

Reduce the heat to low, maintaining a bare simmer. Add the bacon, a pinch of sea salt, and a couple twists of pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the sauce Espagnole and the bouquet, then increase the heat to medium, and stir to incorporate. Once a simmer has been restored, reduce the heat to low and whisk until the sauce is heated through.

Remove the sauce from heat, and pour through a single mesh strainer, into a non-reactive bowl, (discard the solids and the bouquet).

Serve hot.

 

Sauce Charcutière

2 Cups dry White Wine

1/2 Cup Sauce Espagnole
1/4 Cup diced Onion
2 tablespoons diced Cornichons
1 Tablespoon unsalted Butter
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Juice
1/4 teaspoon Sugar
In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and sauté for 1-2 minutes until they soften, (but don’t let them brown).

Add the wine and heat through until it starts to simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer and cook until the wine has reduced by roughly 50%.

Add the sauce Espagnole and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Remove the sauce from heat, and pour through a single mesh strainer into a non-reactive bowl.

Add the mustard, lemon juice, sugar, and cornichons, stir to incorporate.

Serve hot.

Sauce Africaine
2 Cups dry White Wine
1/2 Cup Sauce Espagnole
1/4 Cup diced Tomato
1/4 Cup diced Onion
1/4 Cup diced green bell Pepper
2 Tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil
1 clove minced Garlic
4-5 leaves fresh Basil, (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 Turkish Bay Leaf (California is fine too)
1 sprig fresh Thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Pinch of Sea Salt, a couple twists of Pepper

Combine basil, bay leaf, and thyme in a tea ball or tied into cheese cloth – This is a bouquet garni.

In a heavy sauté pan over medium heat add oil, and heat through. Add the onion and pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until the onion is starting to turn translucent. Add the tomato and garlic! and sauté for another minute or two, until they’ve softened.

Add the white wine, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the wine has reduced by roughly 50%.

Add the sauce Espagnole, stir to incorporate, and allow to return to a simmer.

Reduce the heat to the low, add the bouquet garni, and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Remove the sauce from heat, and pour through a single mesh strainer, into a non-reactive bowl, (discard the solids and the bouquet).

Season with salt and pepper, and serve hot.

A NOTE TO OUR READERS –

I’m sure you noted that I did what is commonly referred to as a product plug a couple of times in this post. In the words of Tricky Dick, let me say this about that…

We enjoy a steady readership of something over 10,000 genuine visits a week here. We’ve been picked up by sources as cool as the Basque national tourist board for our work, along with followers from all over this blue marble.

As such, we’ve been approached about things like getting paid for ads, getting free products in exchange for reviews, (with implied favorability, of course), and other stuff from which we could actually generate income from our work here. Fact is, we don’t accept any of those offers and never will.

This is a labor of love, plain out and simple. When we plug or recommend something, it’s because we tried it, own it, like it, and think maybe you will too. We’ve never been compensated for that and will never be. That’s simple not what we’re about. We’re about passion for sourcing, cooking, and preserving great food, and passing those things on to y’all.

Element Fe Forge made all our knives, and for the record, we bartered a little and paid for the rest. Ganesh Himal Trading Co. is the long-term effort of a dear friend to see that folks from Nepal are treated fairly, and you can’t ask for better motivation than that. If you like these things, look them up and honor them with your business.

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!