How to Make Sauces as a Home Cook

March 04, 2016

how to make sauces

Confused as to how to make sauces?

They’re the perfect accessory to your meals and you don’t have to be a French chef to know how to make sauces.

Without going deep into culinary lingo, let’s start by breaking down the categories of sauces you can use as a home cook.

Tomato Based Sauces

I wrote about the secrets to enhancing tomato sauces here.

Another way to enhance tomato sauce is by blending it with roasted red peppers. This is one of my favorite recipes for orzo with roasted red pepper sauce and shrimp.

Cream sauces

Cream sauces are great on chicken, salmon, beef and pasta and usually follow a similar process.

Start off by cooking aromatics, which are usually shallots, or garlic or onion. Add heavy whipping cream and reduce until the sauce has thickened. Often a wine or brandy is added after the aromatic and reduced until barely perceptible to deepen the flavor base, as with the chicken recipe below.

I LOVE chicken with a tarragon cream sauce.

Another magical combination is steak + blue cheese sauce.  Omit the chipotle in this recipe for a milder version.

A bechamel sauce is not cream based but I’ll include it in this category. It’s a base of butter and flour (roux) cooked until the raw flour smell is gone. Warm milk is added and the sauce is stirred until it becomes thick. It’s a great base for gratins + mac and cheese but not particularly healthy. Here’s a great tutorial on how to make bechamel sauce.

Wine sauces 

Learning how to make wine sauces can be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. The process is similar to cream sauces but using chicken broth instead of cream. Don’t use cooking wine, which is salty and not suited for sauces. Do try to use something better than 2 buck chuck for sauces as well – it doesn’t need to be your best wine, but since it makes up a major part of the dish it needs to be decent.

Start off by sauteeing the aromatics, often a shallot sauteed in oil or butter for several minutes. Add 1/2 a cup of red or white wine and reduce to a couple of tablespoons. Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and reduce by half. Add 2 tbsp of cold diced butter, whisk and serve on a piece of fish, chicken or beef. Red wine is best for steak, white wine is best for lighter proteins like chicken or fish.

Want to practice? Here’s a perfect recipe for chicken with wine-shallot sauce.

Yogurt/Sour Cream/Mayo Based Dipping Sauces 

To make a quick dipping sauce, take 1 cup of yogurt, sour cream or mayo and add spices or aromatics like onion, garlic and herbs. Here are some ideas for this technique:

Greek yogurt makes a FABULOUS and healthy foil for a quick dipping sauce to go with panko chicken, chicken kabobs, steamed or roasted veggies, falafel… really, anything.

I like to add 1 clove of grated garlic, a pinch of cumin and a 1 tbsp grated cucumber to 1 cup of greek yogurt for an all purpose tzatiziki sauce. You can omit the cucumber here. And you could add some fresh dill or mint, a teaspoon or two.

Chipotle mixed in yogurt or sour cream makes an excellent sauce for tacos, burritos, shrimp, tortilla chips.

Mixing in 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of curry powder in a cup of yogurt, sour cream or mayo makes a perfect dipping sauce especially for panko crusted things.

You can also add a 1 tbsp cilantro, 1 tsp tsp red onion and 1 clove garlic to 1 cup of yogurt or sour cream to enhance your taco bar.

Homemade mayo with garlic (aioli) is fab on steak, salmon, chicken and for dipping roasted potatoes. If you don’t feel like making your own, here’s how to make it in less than 3 minutes.

Herb/Pesto type sauces 

Herb sauces are fabulous for dipping or marinading meats, especially seafood and fish. Here’s an all purpose herb sauce that would work for either purpose, and could also be a great dipping sauce for chicken or beef.

Love that cilantro chutney in Indian type restaurants? Here’s how to make it and it’s not hard at all.

Ultimately the heavy, labor intensive French sauces of the past are still delicious, but not conducive to weeknight dinners as a home cook.

This is by no means a comprehensive overview of all sauces – but I hope it gives you some inspiration to experiment with  and see where things go from there!


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