Mother Sauces – Day 3

Mother SaucesOkay people, day three! Today’s sauce is Espagnole (pronounced like the word for Spanish: “español”) is a basic brown sauce that is one of the five mother sauces of classical cuisine. Although espagnole is the French word for Spanish, the sauce connection with Spanish cuisine is argued by French cookers. According to Louis Diat, the creator of vichyssoise and the author of the classic Gourmet’s Basic French Cookbook:

“There is a story that explains why the most important basic brown sauce in French cuisine is called sauce espagnole, or Spanish sauce. According to the story, the Spanish cooks of Louis XIII’s bride, Anne, helped to prepare their wedding feast, and insisted upon improving the rich brown sauce of France with Spanish tomatoes. This new sauce was an instant success, and was gratefully named in honour of its creators.”

However, in Kettner’s Book of the Table, published in 1877 and written by Auguste Kettner (former chef to Napoleon III, who emigrated to England and in 1867 opened a restaurant in Soho–Kettner’s– one of the oldest restaurants in London), there is an entirely different explanation:

When the Bourbons made their way to the Spanish throne under Louis XV, and when Spanish fashions came back to Paris, the French cooks took a hint from the Spanish pot-au-feu — the olla podrida — and produced a variation of their brown sauce which they called Spanish. The essential principle of the French pot-au-feu was beef ; the essential principle of the Spanish was bacon, ham, the red Estremadura sausage — all well smoked … The Duc de St. Simon sent home marvellous accounts of the hams of Montanches; there grew up a rage for Spanish hams; and the French were not to blame, for they have no hams of their own which have any reputation. Great as they are in pig’s flesh, they are poor hands at bacon and ham; and the treasures of Montanches were a revelation to them. They ran wild after ham … And so, by introducing the flavour of the Estremadura bacon and ham into the old brown sauce of the French, there came into being the Spanish sauce … The hams of Montanches are not too plentiful in this world of sorrow, and the cooks came to be satisfied with any ham — even with French ham, which is little better than salted pork. So the meaning of the prescription was lost; the peculiarity of the Spanish sauce passed away, and its name became a puzzle.

Espagnole is also the starting point for the demi-glace, a rich and deeply flavorful sauce that is traditionally served with red meats. Other sauces that are part of the Espagnole family are:

• Demi-Glace = espagnole + brown stock
• Bordelaise = red wine + shallots + bay leaf + thyme + black pepper + demi-glace
• Madeira = demi-glace + madeira wine
• Mushroom = mushroom caps + demi-glace

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Mother Sauces – Day 2

Mother SaucesSo here is day 2 of “The Attack of the Mother Sauces”, and other than our final day (Hollandaise), I’d say this would be my favourite sauce! Today’s sauce is Béchamel (bay-shah-mell) is made with milk and white roux. That’s right people, I’m talking about the basis for every yummy, gooey, cheesy sauce out there!

The history behind the sauce is actually pretty interesting (in my opinion): The Béchamel sauce was used for centuries in Tuscan and Emilian cuisine and was imported in France by the cuisiners of Marie de’ Medici second wife of King Henry IV of France. Then the sauce became a main ingredient of the French Court’s cuisine and was easily renamed from its original Italian name of “Balsamella” to “Béchamel“after the Marquis de Béchamel. Béchamel was a financier who held the honorary post of chief steward to Louis XIV. The sauce under its familiar name first appeared in Le Cuisinier François, published in 1651 by François Pierre La Varenne (1615–1678), chef de cuisine to Nicolas Chalon du Blé, marquis d’Uxelles. The foundation of French cuisine, the Cuisinier François ran through some thirty editions in seventy-five years.

The sauce originally was a veal velouté with a large amount of cream added, however it evolved to what we know today of a mixture of a roux of flour and fat, cooked slightly, as to not darken, and then hot milk is whisked in along with an onion studded with a clove, salt, white pepper and a pinch of nutmeg to finish it off. What is amazing about this simple sauce, is what it turns into! Check out today’s recipes for the basic béchamel, along with these variations:

• Mornay = béchamel + Gruyère + Parmesan + butter
• Cheese = béchamel + cheddar + Worcestershire sauce + dry mustard
• Soubise = onions + butter + béchamel

Tomorrow we visit the dark side with a tour of Espagnole Sauce and it’s derivatives!