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Photo by Asha Loupy for Food52
I was riding with a friend the other day and we were chatting about cooking. It seems she doesn’t cook much and I added, quite sincerely, that I cook pretty simple meals myself, especially in the summer. I noticed she gave me a little side-eye as I continued, “ I just like to have one or two great sauces on hand, then grill a piece of meat or fish and some veggies for dinner and slather it all with the sauce. Voila..nothing to it.”
I realized after the conversation, that when I said “sauces” my friend’s eyes widened, then glazed over. Perhaps the word conjured up a vision of portly French chefs in toques, whisking with a frenzy something in a steaming copper pot. I could have been saying “All you need to do is clean the carburetor and your car will be run better, or just go home and install a new operating system on your laptop.” It was an important reality check for me as a food writer and home cook. It seems that the idea of making a sauce, something that doesn't come out of a bottle, is a little intimidating for a lot of folks.
So I will devote a few editions of my blog to sauces and give you some simple ideas that will make your summer..and maybe your year-round cooking, too, a lot easier and tastier. And maybe, most importantly, having a few simple sauces to pull out of your culinary magic hat will give you a little more confidence to experiment.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
1. Lots of sauces can be made in advance and kept in the fridge or pantry. Instead of ketchup for your burger, why not a jalapeño salsa or a greek tsaziki with feta (great on lamb) or some variety of pesto.
2. One basic sauce can be often be used different ways by dividing and adding different herbs or spices. Think of mayonnaise (homemade or from a jar) You can easily make horseradish or wasabi mayonnaise, or try adding basil and sour cream or, of course, garlic for an aioli. Watch for a “Mayonnaise Madness” blog in coming weeks.
3. Salad dressings are sauces too. Why not keep a couple ready made on hand. It is a great way to make sure you eat your veggies, freshly washed and chopped or grilled or steamed and served later at room temperature.
4. As for sauces served hot, there is always a simple tomato sauce. Make enough for two dinners at the same time and freeze half. Serve over pasta, gnocchi or grilled polenta. And flavored butters such as lemon or garlic or even mint and lavender, which are easy at the last minute, can also be made ahead. Put in jars in the fridge to dollop on a sautéed chicken breast, on bowls of rice or quinoa, or slather on a crusty loaf of bread.
This week’s secret sauce at Chez Goldstein, Thai Coconut-Lime Dressing, came from Food52, one of my favorite online sites for inspiration. Their cookbooks are wonderful, too. Asha Loupy, the creator of the sauce, commented,
“This vibrant, refreshing salad makes a great lunch or light dinner, but the dressing is really the star here. The bright lime and rich coconut milk pairs perfectly with briny fish sauce, spicy chile, and herbs. Warning: The dressing is addicting—it also makes a great dipping sauce for fresh spring rolls, chicken satay skewers, and lettuce cups.” Click here for recipe.
She was right about the addicting part. As soon as I read the recipe, I started thinking about what I would put the sauce on. It was designed, as in her photo above, to serve over a cold rice bowl with cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and shredded chilled chicken breast. I actually never used it for that. Instead, the first night, I drizzled it over a beautiful grilled bluefish filet. It’s spicy citrus flavor was a perfect foil for a full flavored fish. Then, the next day, I perked up a rather dull turkey sandwich that “needed something.” And for its grand finale, I made a hot version of the original salad bowl suggestion using sliced grilled pork tenderloin, brown rice, carrot sticks and shredded red cabbage and some of Susie Middleton’s just-picked sugar snap peas.
Almost any vegetable combination in my fridge would have worked. I did a quick saute of each vegetable separately using a little safflower oil. Using the same pan, I returned them still divided into the pan in little piles and covered it to keep warm while the rice finished simmering and the pork tenderloin cooked. All this was done in about 30 minutes. I arranged the ingredients in two all purpose big Chinese fish bowls with the rice on the bottom and mounds of the remaining ingredients on top. And, ta da! I spooned that fabulous sauce over it all. Yum!
So you don’t have lemongrass? Substitute some lemon juice and grated rind or just use more lime juice like I did. Use brown sugar instead of palm sugar. I would definitely spring for some high quality fish sauce though. My batch actually served more than two, based on the number of times I used it. But consider making a double batch. It should keep for 4- 5 days in the fridge and you may, like me, just find yourself pouring it on everything.