Sauce makes the meal - so much so that we load up our cupboards and fridges with bottled sauces, and buy prepared foods with ready-made sauces.
But store-bought and prepared sauces are often loaded with gluten, (not to mention sodium, sugars, and lots of other chemicals we probably shouldn't ingest). Without them, though, our meals taste bland . . . and boring.
You may have tried to make some of these sauces at home, and you may have had varied success at it. Or you may have had spectacular failures like I did with some of my attempts to make gluten-free sauces.
As it turns out, I just didn't have the right techniques to get the results I wanted.
Now, you can make delicious, restaurant-quality sauces at home using the techniques and recipes outlined below.
A Primer on Sauces
Sauces put the finishing touch on a dish: they give continuity to a meal, add flavor and texture, and improve the appearance and appeal of a dish.
With literally hundreds of sauces that can be prepared, learning how to make sauces can seem daunting. But rest easy - only five sauces form the foundation of most of the sauces you'll use for European/North American style dishes, and once you know how to make those, making the endless variations is as simple as adding an ingredient or two to finish the sauce.
The five basic sauces of European cuisine, called "mother" or "grand" sauces, are velouté, béchamel, demi-glace, hollandaise, and tomato. The tomato and hollandaise don't use any flour, so they already are gluten-free. The demi-glace works much better using a starch like cornstarch or potato starch, so that one is easily made gluten-free as well. And for the velouté and béchamel, we will use a flour blend that will work beautifully for you every time.
Don't be put off by the French names, either: the sauces are easy to make and use ingredients you probably already have in your gluten-free cupboard. But they are as decadent as you'd expect anything would be that originated in a French kitchen.
So let's get started!
A Few Basics
Before we start making the sauces, you'll need to know how to make a few basic mixes that you'll use in your sauces. They're easy and quick to prepare, and they make all the difference in the quality of your sauces.
Mirepoix is simply diced aromatic vegetables that are then simmered in the broth to add flavor and aroma to your finished sauce. Usually mirepoix is simmered then strained out, so the chopping doesn't need to be perfect. If you plan to leave the veggies in the broth, do make sure to dice them evenly and finely. A food processor works great for this.
Chop or dice equal parts carrots, onions/shallots/leeks, and celery. Some cooks use twice the onion; use what suits the finished product the best.
For other dishes, onion, celery and tomato are used. Any aromatic vegetable could be used, depending on the desired flavor for the finished broth.
Cook your chosen vegetables in oil, rendered fat, or clarified butter very slowly over low heat until the onions are translucent.
That's it: your mirepoix is complete.
A roux is simply flour cooked in fat. Roux is used to thicken gravies and sauces, and give them body. You can thicken a sauce with "raw" flour, but the uncooked flour imparts a "doughy" or "floury" taste to the finished sauce; it can also make the sauce bitter.
Cooking the roux rids it of the floury taste, and gives it color and flavor that will complement your sauces.
Use equal parts by weight of fat and flour. A gluten-free flour blend with some protein will give your roux the correct amount of body.
Starches don't make a proper roux, since they aren't browned in fat. They have two distinct advantages over a roux: they do not need to simmer for two hours or more, and they do not need to be skimmed regularly during cooking.
For each quart of stock, simply mix about 1 tablespoon potato starch or arrowroot powder into a small amount of liquid, then stir this mixture into the rest of the liquid. Whisk thoroughly, and heat.
Simmer five minutes until sauce has thickened and become translucent. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer or a cheesecloth-lined colander, and it's ready to be served or to have other ingredients added to finish it.
This sauce is called a jus-lié. It's the sauce used for French Dip sandwiches, though not all jus-lié sauces in restaurants are gluten free.
Sauces made with just starches rather than flours can get much thicker, so you will usually use much less starch by weight. Put just a little into your sauces, and add more if necessary.
To make a flour roux, I recommend equal parts by weight of sorghum flour, quinoa flour and superfine brown rice flour (try the Authentic Foods brand).
If you don't have quinoa, you can use two parts brown rice flour to one part sorghum flour with good results.
Regular stick butter has milk solids in it that will burn and taste bitter in the finished sauce. Clarified butter (ghee) is therefore recommended for roux. If your local supermarket does not carry ghee, you can find it in your local Asian market. Ghee has been used in India for ages because it doesn't go rancid in the hot weather.
Saturated fats are better absorbed by grains than polyunsaturated vegetable oils. If you can't use saturated fats, choose olive oil instead, or use a nut oil like walnut or macadamia, or the oil of another fruit, like coconut or avocado.
Since you'll be cooking them over relatively low heat, you don't need to worry about the low smoke-points of some of the nut and fruit oils.
You can prepare your roux on the stove-top or in the oven.
Melt the butter or fat over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour, a little at a time, until it has all been blended into the butter. Add more flour if it still seems runny. Cook over low heat until the roux develops the desired color:
White roux is barely colored at all.
Blond (pale) roux should be golden, not brown.
Dark (black) roux should be browned, with a strong aroma of nuts. Be careful not to scorch it while browning.
Melt the fat in baking dish in a 350 F/175 C oven. When completely melted, remove from oven, stir in the flour thoroughly, then place the pan back in the oven. Bake, stirring occasionally, until the roux cooks to the proper color. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.
And a final treat: Deglazing Sauce
After cooking meats in your pan or pot, remove the meat and any other vegetables and incidentals. Pour in 1/4 to 1/2 cup wine or stock, bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan continuously to remove the bits of meat and the baked on juices and fats.
Cook until the liquid is thick like maple syrup.
Remove from heat and swirl in 2-3 tablespoons of butter (not margarine).
This easy sauce is absolutely delicious, and will make your meat amazingly delectable.
The Grand Sauces: