A saucy personality is just what the chef ordered.
Often, a sauce is what separates an ordinary meal at home from a stellar meal at a restaurant. But with a little care and creativity, you can give your meals that extra layer of “wow.”
A Matt’s Casbah in downtown Melbourne, executive chef Matt Nugnes and the staff pride themselves on making a number of sauces and fressing from scratch.
“The reason we do it is to enhance, not to mask,” Nugnes said. “And I think sauce is the other component. You have, ‘Oh, here’s my chicken dish.’ And then you add a wow sauce to it, and now you really have a chicken dish. It’s not just chicken on a plate.”
Because making the sauces is so labor-intensive, one sauce may complement many dishes.
“For example, the lime chili takes fresh lime juice,” said executive sous chef Deb Lindsay. “We’re buying limes by the case. We’re squeezing them fresh, because we found that the lime juice we could buy in a bottle, while it wasn’t the kind you but in the supermarket…it still had an aftertaste that wasn’t what we wanted.
“We may have 10 sauces in our repertoire, but each one can be used in more than one way,” she added.
“This is probably one of our most universal sauces,” Nugnes said of the lime chili sauce. You may have tasted it on the restaurants delicate, fast-grilling calamari and much more.
“The lime sauce flavor and the freshness of the cilantro go wonderfully with the crispy-crunchy flavor of the fried fish,” he said. “I’ve also put it on chicken. I’ve used it on pork.”
Sauces add texture, moisture and richness and complete the presentation of a dish, according to Alex Litras, owner of Café Margaux in Cocoa Village.
“If there is truly a commitment to high standards for ingredients and innovation in a kitchen, it will show in the sauces,” he said.
Erol Tugrul is the magician in the kitchen. The chef’s goal, according to Litras, is to create a sauce that is a perfect accompaniment, “so that when you’re eating it, you feel like the duck, of fish, or steak could not live without that sauce. Erol enjoys aromatics, which can be any spice added to give extra flavor. He has fun with emulsions, which are combinations of two ingredients that do not mix. And I am always amazed at how he can take one fish or meat dish, and just by working with the sauce, balancing flavors and the interaction of ingredients, he can create an entirely new dish; many times entirely new cuisine.”
Tugrul offered a couple of sauces that work well with steaks. One is flavored with peppercorns; the other is a savory chocolate demiglace.
Many of the sauces and dishes at matt’s have Asian influences, since Nugnes spent time at culinary schools in Thailand. His approach allows for flavorful dishes that are often very low in fat, like the calamari with the lime chili sauce.
The sweet chili dipping sauce is a favorite, and other colorful accents include the usually mango-based tropical fruit sauce, the Korean and Thai barbecue sauces, and ginger cilantro dressing.
How do they get a creamy dressing without the cream? Tofu and a blender help.
“A blender is a great tool for making salad dressings, because you can emulsify solids with liquids to make a thicker dressing without a lot of fat,” Lindsay said, “and tofu is a relatively tasteless substance that purees wonderfully in a blender and gives you a mouth-feel without having to use eggs and other cholesterol-laden things.”
Nugnes is also serious about his demiglace. In a huge pan in the oven, veal bones roast all day with caramelized tomatoes and garlic, salt and pepper. Eventually, the resulting broth will be reduced with red wine to become a demi sauce.
It definitely doesn’t come from a can.
“It raises food from the average to the exceptional,” Lindsay said of the sauce, “and the more exceptional the sauce, the more exceptional your dish.”
Recipe: Pink and Green Peppercorn sauce
A note on the Café Margaux recipes: This recipe is designed for steaks. Restaurant owner Alex Litras says the pink and green peppercorn sauce can be used in a sauté pan with the steak after it has been broiled or grilled to almost the desired temperature, then finished off to the desired temperature. He says tapas-size steak cuts also would go well with the sauce on the side.
2 cups demiglace
½ tablespoon green peppercorns
½ tablespoon pink peppercorns
1 ½ ounces bourbon
1 ½ ounces heavy cream
Mix the pink and green peppercorns with the bourbon in a sauce pan. Reduce until half of the liquid is gone (the peppercorns will absorb some bourbon, and most of the bourbon’s alcohol will evaporate in the reduction, too). Poor in the heavy cream, stirring, and bringing to a slight boil. Pour in your prepared demiglace and heat until you reach the desired consistency, in about 10 minutes
Recipe: Savory Chocolate Demiglace.
A note on the Café Margaux recipe: This sauce is designed for steaks. Restaurant owner Alex Litras says the chocolate sauce would work well served on the side as a dipping sauce. Taps-size steak cuts also would go well with the sauce on the side.
1 cup shaved Callebaut dark chocolate
2 cups prepared demiglace
Your chocolate should have at least a 70 percent cocoa content. Other Belgian or Belgian-style chocolate can be substituted instead of Callebaut. Van Leer is the domestic brand of Callebaut and is very nice.
One the next step, you will be – very, very slowly- pouring hot demiglace into your shaved chocolate. In a mixing bowl, have all the chocolate. You will put in the demiglace about 2 ounces at a time while stirring. You are tempering the chocolate. Again, 2 ounces, slowly, and 2 ounces, slowly. After more than half of the bowl’s content is demiglace, you can pour the contents of the bowl back into the demiglace, your tempered mixture will hold up.
There are many commercial demiglace products on the market. The easiest to find powdered brand is Knorr Swiss. Higher quality results from using demiglace pastes instead of powders. One such brand is called More Than Gourmet, with a product called Demi-Glace Gold. A little experimentation and research should yield you a good off-the-shelf product. Read the ingredients. They should all have veal and beef stock. Some have a stronger tomato flavor than others. For the Pink and green Peppercorn Sauce, any recipe is fine. For the Savory Choclate Demiglace, a heavy tomato flavor is not desired.