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April 2017
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According to the Dictionary of Jovial Gastronomy, a saucier must be practised and sensitive to all the nuances needed for the preparation of a sauce, like knowing about harmony, chemicals, sensitivity of tastes and attention, all of which is touched by the hand of a genius.

This quote from a famous culinary treaty shows us how, in international cuisine (and thus French and derivations of French cuisine), sauces are very important and are considered the key to haute cuisine (high cuisine). International cuisine differs from traditional ‘territorial’ cuisine for reasons such as the use of salt, leftover residues and the sauces which complete dishes after cooking. The French cuisine originates from the cuisine of 18th and 19th century courts, based not so much on the search for harmony and recognition of the ingredients, but more on the chef’s abilities to astound the diners by masking and overlapping flavours and ingredients, making them almost unrecognisable. Hence the use of various kinds of sauces designed to supplement, modify and sometimes "cover" the original flavours of foods. On the contrary, the traditional ‘territory’ cuisine (which includes the homemade French cuisine) tends to harmonise and ingredients and flavours so they are recognisable and one does not dominate over another. This is why we find sauces that garnish or finish off dishes in the haute cuisine, whilst sauces in traditional cuisines are mainly used to dress pasta or rice or bind pies or casseroles, etcetera.

However, do not get worried about the resounding statements of the Dictionary of Jovial Gastronomy! Even without wanting to compete with the creations of international chefs, with just a few rules and some experience, sauces, like soups and broths, can become part of your everyday cuisine. A good sauce, even a homemade one, can make a dish or meal memorable!

The white sauces
White sauces are based on béchamel sauce which is simple to make and named after the chef of Louis XIV’s court, Béchameil. The secret to cooking any white sauce is to cook it over gentle heat. By starting with a good béchamel sauce, you can make many other types of white sauces that can be used in various different dishes. Here are a few of them:

Mornay sauce (good for fish, vegetables au gratin, poached egg, macaroni)

Lightly beat two egg yolks with a few spoons of cream and half a litre of warm Béchamel sauce. Bring to the boil, mixing continuously, then turn off the heat and add 30g of butter and 4/5 spoonfuls of grated Gruyere.

Onion sauce (for grilled lamb or veal)

Cut up an onion, cover it in boiling water and let it simmer for 3 minutes. Drain it and then cook it with a small knob of butter until it is soft. Add half a litre of Béchamel sauce and cook for 15 more minutes. Pass the sauce through a sieve, crushing it well and then put it back on the heat and slowly add 4 spoons of thick cream. Add salt and pepper to serve.

Creamy sauce is made in the same way as Béchamel sauce but a light broth is added instead of milk. It must be cooked on a low heat until it reduces to around 2/3 of its original volume. It can be used for garnishing roasted or grilled meat and it can be enriched with grated cheese or a pinch of nutmeg and used as a lighter version of Mornay sauce.

Brown sauces
These are based on Spanish sauce, a sauce from which many famous French sauces derive. Since they can be preserved for a long time in the fridge, you can make them a litre at a time and therefore you will always have some ready to use, as long as it is covered. When storing the sauce, boil it once a week and then transfer it to a new, clean container. As well as being a base for other sauces, it is great if you want to add some stewed onion, carrot or celery flavours to steaks or chops; just mix it with the fat left over from cooking meat.

Spanish sauce

  • 3 tablespoons of fat from a roast
  • 90g of lard or diced bacon
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 celery sticks
  • 1.5 litres of pork broth
  • 1 small bunch of herbs (parsley, thyme, bay)
  • Garlic
  • 3 spoonfuls of tomato purée
  • 3 spoonfuls of flour
In a suitably sized stewing pan, sauté the lard and vegetables. When golden, sprinkle with flour and cook on a low heat until the flour has begins to brown. Add 2/3 of the broth, the herbs and garlic and cook for around 2-3 hours. Remove any impurities from the surface and add the tomato purée and cook for a few more minutes. Pass the sauce through a sieve and then place it back in the pan (well-rinsed) and back on the heat. Add the remaining broth and continue to cook on a low heat, removing the impurities on the surface until the sauce has reduced to around 1 litre. Sieve it again and then leave it to cool.

From this you can make other sauces, like Madeira sauce (by reducing the Spanish sauce to half a litre and adding 6 spoonfuls of Madeira), which is excellent for roasted meats, or Périgueux sauce (by incorporating a spoonful of finely sliced black truffles and 20g of butter to hot Madeira sauce), which is great with boiled or fried eggs.

Egg based sauces
The queen of egg sauces is mayonnaise, which is excellent for garnishing roasted or boiled fish, crustaceans, boiled meat, vegetables, eggs and numerous cold dishes. Mayonnaise is also the base of many other sauces.

Marie Rose sauce is well known and traditionally used for scampi or prawn cocktails, but is also great with grilled shrimps, and can be made by mixing 250g of mayonnaise (homemade, or high quality readymade) with 80g of tomato ketchup (or 3 spoonfuls of tomato purée), 1 or 2 teaspoons of Worcester sauce, 1 or 2 teaspoons of brandy and small drop of Tabasco (the latter two are not compulsory though).

By mixing 250g of mayonnaise with 50g of chopped spinach, 50g of fresh tarragon, a pinch of sliced onion, 50g of chopped parsley, 50g of chopped watercress and a touch of sliced garlic, you can make a special green sauce, which is great with boiled fish.

Aioli sauce is very popular in Provence and goes with grilled or boiled fish. It is made by adding 2 or 3 finely chopped garlic cloves to the egg yolks when making mayonnaise.

Vegetable based sauces
Vegetable based sauces, unlike the other sauces we have discussed here, come from the traditional cuisine and are mainly used to dress pasta or rice dishes, or other simple dishes. Famous vegetable sauces are Pesto, made from basil, pine nuts, oil and cheese, tomato sauce, Bolognese sauce and other sauces made with vegetables and seafood or fish.

A traditional sauce from Lombardy is green sauce and it normally goes with bollito misto (mixed, boiled meats). A simple and tasty version can be made by carefully mixing a handful of finely chopped parsley, 3 chopped gherkins, 2 chopped anchovie fillets, the middle of a loaf of bread drenched in vinegar and then well-drained, salt, a pinch of pepper and oil (as much as is needed).

Sweet sauces
The term ‘sweet sauces’ is not completely correct since the etymology of the word ‘sauce’ derives from the fact that it contains salt, acting as a preservative. However nowadays, a sweet sauce means making a creamy product that is used to decorate of finish off a cake, a dessert and so on. Apricot sauce can be used to stuff a chocolate cake or garnish a portion of fruit pie. It is made by mixing a pot of apricot jam with a glass of water in a pan, bringing it to the boil, cooking it on a low heat for 15 minutes and stirring it occasionally. Then, pass the sauce through a sieve and add two spoonfuls of Kirsch.


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