The Purpose of Sauces
The Culinary Institute of America
Most sauces have more than one function in a dish. A sauce that adds a counterpoint flavor, for example, may also introduce textural and visual appeal. Sauces generally serve one or more of the following purposes.
Introduce complementary or counterpoint flavors
Sauces that are classically paired with particular foods illustrate this function. Suprême sauce is based on a reduction of chicken velouté with chicken stock and finished with cream. This ivory colored sauce has a deep chicken flavor and a velvety texture. When served with chicken, the color and flavor of the sauce complement the delicate meat and help intensify its flavor. The cream in the sauce rounds out the flavors.
Charcutière sauce is made with mustard and cornichons. This sauce is pungent and flavorful. When served with pork, the sharpness of the sauce introduces a counterpoint flavor, cutting the meat’s richness and providing a contrast that is pleasing but not startling to the palate.
The sauce brings out the pork’s flavor but might overwhelm a more delicate meat like veal. A sauce that includes a flavor complementary to a food enhances the flavor of that food. Tarragon heightens the mild sweetness of poultry. A pungent green peppercorn sauce highlights the rich flavor of beef by deepening and enriching the overall taste.
Add moisture or succulence
A sauce can add moisture to naturally lean foods (e.g., poultry or fish) or when using cooking techniques that tend to have a drying effect, such as grilling or sautéing. Grilled foods are frequently served with a warm butter emulsion sauce like béarnaise, with compound butter, or with salsa or chutney. Beurre blanc is often served with shallow-poached lean white fish to add a bit of succulence to the dish.
Add visual interest
A sauce can enhance a dish’s appearance by adding luster and sheen. Lightly coating a sautéed medallion of lamb with a jus lié creates a glossy finish on the lamb, giving the entire plate more eye appeal. Pooling a red pepper coulis beneath a grilled swordfish steak gives the dish a degree of visual excitement by adding an element of color.
Many sauces include a garnish that adds texture to the finished dish. A sauce finished with tomatoes and mushrooms enhances Chicken Chasseur, while a smooth sauce adds a textural contrast to pan-fried soft-shell crab.
Reprinted by permission from The Culinary Institute of America, The Professional Chef, 8th Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2006).