French cooking is replete with both classic sauces dating back more than a hundred years and modern sauces created by today’s chefs à minute (at the last minute). For some people, sauces define French cooking; for me, sauces bind the flavors on the plate and add new dimensions of taste. I don’t care so much if the meat is a bit overcooked or the fish a bit dry, if the sauce is fantastic. But if the sauce isn’t great, the perfect piece of meat perfectly prepared just isn’t so perfect.
There have been some great books written just about sauce preparation — Patterson’s book, Sauces (1991) comes to mind — and other great books have devoted large sections to sauces — Escoffier’s Cuisine Culinare (1921) lists 265 sauce preparations and the recent Larousse Gastronomic (1997) lists 103 sauce recipes. This article is not an attempt to compete with any of these fine presentations.
My goal in this article is to present a small collection of sauce recipes that fit the following criteria: one, it should be possible to prepare the sauce during the time that the rest of the meal is being prepared; two, the ingredients for the sauce should contain common items, which in my case includes stocks, preserved vegetables and fruits, and things that I can purchase at my local supermarket; and, three, the sauce should be prepared independent of the foods it will accompany. This criteria means that sauces that are integral to the preparation of a dish are not included. I’ve also left out sauces made the last minute from the “excretions” of the main dish. In summary, each of these sauces is simple to prepare from common ingredients separately from the dish it will accompany.
In order to prepare some of these sauces, it is necessary to have on hand various bases. The most common is meat stock, such as fond de veau (veal stock). Although homemade is best, in a pinch, dehydrated veal stock will work. But be sure to use one made from real stock, not just a combination of chemicals. Since stocks can take four or more hours to make, I prepare a large quantity when I have time and freeze the results in 250-ml (1-cup) and 500-ml (2-cup) containers. Other preparations like citron confit (preserved lemons) require only a few minutes to prepare, but two months to cure. I make these in small batches and keep them in the back of the refrigerator until needed. There are instructions in the individual sauce recipes for each of the special base ingredients required.
The recipes included in this collection can be prepared for adorning a myriad of different dishes. Plus, these sauces were selected because of their versatility as well as their taste. All these sauces can be prepared while completing the remainder of the evening’s cooking — they are all appropriate for last minute meals.

sauce à l’orange aigre-douce

English Name:

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sweet and sour orange sauce
Comments:
This sauce has a flavor reminiscent of the sweet and sour sauces found in westernized Chinese cooking, but unlike those sauces, the “sour” in this sauce comes from the acid in the orange juice. The ketchup provides both color and a hint of spice. A tomato ketchup that is in reality a lightly seasoned tomato sauce is not appropriate in this application. Heinz ketchup from America and France works well. Heinz ketchup from England and Australia is a different ketchup recipe altogether.
    To prepare the oven-dried tomatoes: peel some plum tomatoes. Cut each in half lengthwise. Remove and discard the seeds and ribs. Arrange the halves curved side up on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Season each tomato half with a small pinch each of fine salt, fleur de sel, pepper, sugar, and powdered thyme. Sprinkle a drop or two of olive oil on each tomato half. Place the baking sheet in a 75 °C (170 °F) oven for 8 hours. Refrigerate tomato halves that are not used right away in a sealed container.
    This sauce goes well with firm fish, such as tuna or swordfish, and crustaceans, such as prawns or lobster
Ingredients:
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
250 ml (1 c) orange juice
1 t honey
1 T Heinz ketchup
4 medium basil leaves, chiffonade
2 halves tomates sec, diced
a few drops walnut oil
Instructions:
1.
Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and sweat without browning. Add juice, honey, and ketchup, mix well, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and reduce slowly by half.
2.
Just before serving, add basil and tomatoes. Finish with a couple of drops of walnut oil.
Note:
Serve with grilled fish.
Yield:
2 servings.
Ref:
Frédéric Médigue, Château d’Amondans, March, 2001.

sauce au vin rouge

English Name:

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red wine sauce
Comments:
This is not the typical red wine sauce that is found in most restaurants nowadays. The puréed vegetables, which are not normally part of a finished sauce au vin rouge, provide body and thickness to the sauce. The sweetness of the cooked onion, carrot, and tomato also add a counterpoint to the acidity of the red wine.
    This sauce is good with red meats and organ meats because it stands up well against the richness of these meats.
Ingredients:
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 carrot, diced
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 tomato, diced
10, or so, sprigs fresh thyme
60 ml (1/4 c) port wine
60 ml (1/4 c) red wine
60 ml (1/4 c) veal demi-glace
fine salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Instructions:
1.
Sweat onion and carrot in butter over medium heat until onion is soft.
2.
Add tomato and thyme. Continue to cook until the tomato begins to reduce.
3.
Deglaze with the port. Reduce port totally. Add red wine and reduce almost totally.
4.
Add demi-glace and reduce slightly.
5.
Puree with hand blender and strain. Season with salt and pepper.
Yield:
2 servings.
Ref:
Alain Delangle, Le Charm Restaurant, San Francisco, 2001.

sauce aux cerises

English Name:

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cherry sauce
Comments:
Escoffier suggested that this sauce be served with venison or duck, but it goes well with lighter tasting meats, too.
    If cherries are not in season, bottled cherries work well with this recipe. Quatre épices is a commercial spice preparation of four spices, such as white pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, but each company’s version is different.
Ingredients:
100 ml (1/2 c) port wine
pinch quatre épices
1 t grated orange zest
125 g (1/2 c) red current jelly
juice from 1/2 orange
100 g (1/4 lb) poached cherries
Instructions:
1.
Place port wine, quatre épices, and zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce significantly.
2.
Add red current jelly and orange juice. Cook until the jelly is melted and slightly reduced.
3.
Add cherries and cook just to heat through.
Yield:
4 servings.
Ref:
Auguste Escoffier, Le Guide Culinaire, 1921, page 10.

sauce béarnaise

English Name:

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bearnaise sauce
Comments:
This sauce is part of classic French cuisine and is typically served with red meats. This version of sauce béarnaise does not hold too well — it is difficult to reheat without the emulsion separating — only as much as necessary should be prepared.
    Noilly Prat is a brand of French vermouth and is substituted for the dry white wine originally called for in the source recipe.
Ingredients:
2 T dry white vermouth
2 T white wine vinegar
2 T chopped, fresh tarragon
2 T chopped, fresh chervil
1 medium shallot, finely diced
salt and freshly white ground pepper
2 extra-large egg yolks
75 g (5 T) chilled, unsalted butter, diced
Instructions:
1.
Place vermouth, vinegar, 1 T tarragon, 1 T chervil, shallots, salt and pepper in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Stain into another bowl, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
2.
When cool, combine the liquid with the egg yolks in the top of a double-boiler. Working over a simmer, whisk the yolks until they start to thicken. Do not let the yolks cook until solid.
3.
Whisk in the butter, piece by piece until the sauce thickens and is smooth. Remove the top of the double-boiler from the bottom as often as necessary to keep the sauce from curdling.
4.
When all the butter is incorporated, season the sauce with salt and white pepper. Add the remaining tarragon and chervil. Add a drop or two of vinegar, to taste. Serve immediately.
Yield:
4 servings.
Ref:
Linda Dannenberg, Paris Bistro Cooking, 1991, page 127.

sauce bordelaise

English Name:

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Bordeaux-wine sauce
Comments:
This sauce is a mainstay of classic French cooking. There are countless variations, including some prepared with white wine, but to be a true “bordelaise,” it must be prepared with a wine from the Bordeaux region of France. Some recipes use butter or cream at the end of the preparation to counteract the acidity of the wine.
    This sauce goes best with red meats and organ meats, which are rich enough to stand up to its strength.
Ingredients:
2 T unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely diced
250 ml (1 c) Bordeaux wine
150 ml (2/3 c) veal demi-glace
Instructions:
1.
Melt 1 T butter in a saucepan and fry shallots for a minute until soft. Add wine, increase heat to high, and reduce to a syrup.
2.
Add veal stock. Slowly reduce by half.
3.
Whisk in remaining butter.
Yield:
3 to 4 servings.
Ref:
Le Cordon Bleu Classic French Cookbook, 1994, page 47.

sauce caramel et orange

English Name:

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caramel-orange sauce
Comments:
There are aspects of this sauce that are very similar to Escoffier’s sauce bigarade, which is also an orange-based sauce, but the caramel of this version is a definite variation. When I originally tasted the sauce, it was served with thinly-sliced duck breast, but it goes nicely with grilled pork or chicken, too.
    Use caution when adding the vinegar and orange juice to the caramel. The caramel will bubble violently for a moment or two when these liquids are added to the hot sugar. Some people remove the saucepan from the heat when adding the liquid.
Ingredients:
75 g (3/8 c) granulated sugar
60 ml (1/4 c) red wine vinegar
250 ml (1 c) orange juice, strained
250 ml (1 c) veal stock
fine salt and finely-ground white pepper
Instructions:
1.
Melt the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon so the sugar melts evenly. Allow the sugar to caramelize.
2.
Carefully stir in the vinegar a spoonful at a time. Allow the vinegar to reduce fully.
3.
Carefully add the orange juice. Reduce substantially.
4.
Add the veal stock and reduce sauce to about 250 ml (1/2 cup).
5.
Season with salt and pepper. Strain sauce and keep warm until needed.
Yield:
250 ml (1/2 c).
Ref:
Taïchi Megukami, Le Château d’Amondans, March 2001.

sauce chasseur

English Name:

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mushroom sauce
Comments:
This sauce is great on simple omelets, but it’s also suitable for chicken or turkey.
    Just before serving, if the sauce needs to be thickened, add about 1/2 teaspoon of arrowroot starch mixed with 1/2 tablespoon water to the sauce. Heat the sauce, stirring constantly until almost boiling to activate the starch.
Ingredients:
2 T unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely diced
75 g (2-1/2 oz) peeled, thinly sliced mushrooms
50 ml (3-1/3 T) dry white wine
20 ml (1-1/3 T) cognac
200 ml (1 c) veal stock
1/2 T mixed, fresh herbs
Instructions:
1.
Melt 1 T butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Sweat the shallots and mushrooms until the mushrooms expel their water and the water evaporates.
2.
Add the wine and reduce by half or so. Add the cognac and ignite. Add the veal stock and reduce by one-third.
3.
Just before serving, whisk in the remaining butter. Add herbs, stir, and serve.
Yield:
3 to 4 servings.
Ref:
Joël Robuchon (ed), Larousse Gastronomic, 1997, page 947.

sauce au citron et pastis

English Name:

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lemon-anise sauce
Comments:
Pastis is a French aperitif with an anise flavor that was developed after the outlawing of absinthe early in the 20th century. It is typically diluted with water for drinking, but is used full strength for cooking. In this recipe it provides a slight anise flavor to the finished sauce.
    I originally tasted the sauce as an accompaniment to pan-fried scallops, but it goes well with any light-flavored fish or shellfish.
Ingredients:
1 T unsalted butter
1 T finely diced shallots
120 ml (1/2 c) dry white wine
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T pastis
2 T chilled unsalted butter, diced
Instructions:
1.
Melt first butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Gently sweat shallots until transparent. Add wine, increase heat, and reduce fully.
2.
Add lemon juice and pastis. Reduce slightly.
3.
Remove from heat and add chilled butter a little bit at a time. Emulsify.
Note:
Use as a fish sauce.
Yield:
2 servings.
Ref:
from a suggestion by Roland Passot of La Folie on April 3, 1999, at Macy’s in San Francisco.

sauce citronnelle

English Name:

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lemongrass sauce
Comments:
This sauce takes about 30 minutes to reduce and it holds well over low heat for long periods. It provides a nice accompaniment to most fishes. The lemon scent and flavor provided by the lemongrass are more subtle than would be provided by using lemon juice. There’s also a certain sweet aspect provided by the onion and leek.
Ingredients:
3 to 6 stalks, 50 to 100 g (1-2/3 to 3-1/3 oz), lemongrass, moist portions, diced
small wedge, 40 g (1-1/3 oz), yellow onion, diced
1 small, 50 g (1-2/3 oz), leek, white and light green portions, diced
30 g (1 oz) green onion tops, diced
2 basil leaves
1 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
250 ml (1 c) white wine
250 ml (1 c) fish stock
2 T heavy cream
Instructions:
1.
Sweat lemongrass, onion, leek, green onion tops, and basil leaves in butter and olive oil in a saucepan.
2.
Add white wine and reduce by half. Add fish stock and reduce by half.
3.
Strain the solid ingredients out of the sauce and discard.
4.
Finish sauce with cream.
Yield:
125 ml (1/2 c).
Ref:
Based on a dish served by François Kiener at Auberge de Schœnenburg in Riquewihr, France.

sauce gribiche

English Name:

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tart mayonnaise with herbs
Comments:
This sauce is essentially a fresh mayonnaise combined with fresh herbs; sour additions such as capers, cornichons, and vinegar; and a little hard-boiled egg for bulk. The combination is delightful, especially with fried foods, including French fries! It is served with hot foods even though the sauce is cold, but don’t sauce the food until it is time for service so the mayonnaise doesn’t separate due to the heat.
Ingredients:
1 extra-large egg yolk
1 t Dijon-style mustard
100 ml (7 T) grapeseed oil
1 T fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 T fresh tarragon, coarsely chopped
1 T fresh chervil, coarsely chopped
1 T fresh chives, coarsely chopped
5 g (1 t) salted capers, rinsed and chopped
10 g (1/3 oz) cornichons, finely diced
1/2 T sherry vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 extra-large egg white, hard-cooked, chopped [optional]
Instructions:
1.
Whisk the egg yolk and mustard together until smooth. Make a mayonnaise by slowly whisking the grapeseed oil into the yolk. When done, combine the 4 herbs with each other and add to the mayonnaise, to taste. All of the herbs may not be required. Mix in the capers, cornichons, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Add the egg white [optional].
2.
Refrigerate until needed.
Yield:
2 servings.
Ref:
Bernard Loiseau, Cuisine en Famille, 1997, page 100.

sauce Madère

English Name:

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Madeira-wine sauce
Comments:
This classic sauce for beef or lamb can be modified into a multitude of other classic sauces by changing an ingredient or two. Change the Madeira to Marsala, sherry, sauterne, vin de paille, or other sweet wine. Before adding the wine add some cognac, marc, grappa, or other alcohol to deglaze the shallots and reduce it totally. Substitute beef, pork, or some other meat demi-glace for the veal. Use some minced truffles instead of the lemon confit. All these changes are possible and a nice sauce will still be the result.
    The use of lemon confit in this sauce is a unique addition of Chef Médigue to a traditional sauce madère. To prepare the lemon confit, wash and quarter 6 lemons, and pack them in a pickling container. When packing, press the lemons hard to expel the juice into the container as the layers are packed. Sprinkle salt (80 grams) and sugar (40 grams) in between the layers as the lemons are packed. When the container is full, place a weight on top to keep the lemon pieces below the level of the juice. Store the container in a refrigerator for at least 2 months before using. To use, cut the lemon meat and pith away from skin and discard. Use the skin as required in the recipe.
Ingredients:
1 T unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely diced
coarse salt and ground pepper
125 ml (1/2 c) Madeira wine
125 ml (1/2 c) veal demi-glace
fine salt
1/2 T citron confit, finely diced
Instructions:
1.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Sweat the shallots. Season with salt and pepper. Add the Madeira and reduce almost totally.
2.
Add the demi-glace and reduce until the sauce thickens. Strain. Test for salt. Add citron confit, and reheat.
Yield:
3 to 4 servings.
Ref:
Frédéric Médigue, Le Château d’Amondans.

sauce morilles

English Name:

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morel-mushroom sauce
Comments:
The vin jaune used in this sauce is a wine from the Jura region of France. It is made from grapes that have not ripened fully. The grapes are dried on straw mats before the juice is pressed from them. The resulting wine has a flavor that is a bit like a cross between a great sherry and an awful chardonnay. The vin jaune gives the sauce a distinctive, underlying taste that is hard to duplicate with other wines.
    The Noilly Prat is a brand of French vermouth that has a flavor distinct from the vermouths of Italy.
    This sauce can be used for chicken, turkey, vegetables, or other foods that benefit from a smooth, very rich sauce.
Ingredients:
1 T unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 medium shallot, finely diced
10 g (1/3 oz) dried morel mushrooms, hydrated
125 ml (1/2 c) Nouily Prat
250 ml (1 c) heavy cream
fine salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 T lemon juice
2 T vin jaune
2 T heavy cream, whipped
Instructions:
1.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and sweat until translucent.
2.
Add mushrooms and cook to heat.
3.
Add Nouily Prat and reduce totally.
4.
Add heavy cream and reduce by about half. Season with salt and pepper.
5.
Finish with lemon juice, vin jaune, and whipped cream. Adjust seasoning.
Yield:
about 250 ml (1 c)
Ref:
Frédéric Médigue, Le Château d’Amondans.

sauce piquante

English Name:

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vinegar sauce
Comments:
This sauce is a throwback to classic sauces from the 18th century. The sauce is distinctly sour from the mustard and vinegar, but the texture is smooth. It is best served with cold meats.
    The Noilly Prat is a brand of French vermouth with its own distinct flavor, but other dry, white vermouths or even dry, white wines can be substituted for it in this recipe.
    The beurre manié is prepared by combining equal amounts of flour and soft butter into a paste. The paste can be refrigerated for long periods until needed for use. The beurre manié is used to thicken sauces at the last minute. It is whisked into the sauce in small amounts until the desired thickness is achieved. The sauce must come to a simmer before the beurre manié will start to thicken the liquid.
Ingredients:
1 t Dijon-style mustard
50 ml (scant 1/4 c) white wine vinegar
1 T finely diced shallots
100 ml (scant 1/2 c) dry white vermouth
250 ml (1 c) chicken stock
1/2 to 1 T beurre manié
1/2 T minced chives
1/2 T minced parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions:
1.
Combine the mustard with a little vinegar. When dissolved, add the mixture to a saucepan with the remaining vinegar, the shallots, vermouth, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and reduce by about two-thirds.
2.
Just before serving, thicken the sauce by whisking in some beurre manié into the simmering sauce until the desired thickness is achieved. Add the chives and parsley, adjust the seasoning, and serve immediately to maintain the color of the herbs.
Yield:
3 to 4 servings.
Ref:
Simone Beck, Foods and Friends, 1991, page 484.

sauce poivre vert

English Name:

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green peppercorn sauce
Comments:
This classic sauce has as many variations as there are cooks preparing it. The version below has a few more ingredients than some other versions, but all add to the complex flavor of this sauce. I have actually seen some recipes that only use wine, cream, and peppercorns. This version will hold well in a bain marie for long periods.
    The Noilly Prat is a brand of French vermouth with its own distinct flavor, but other dry, white vermouths or even dry, white wines can be substituted for it in this recipe.
    This sauce goes well with poultry as well as grilled, roasted, or pan-fried red meats.
Ingredients:
1 T unsalted butter
1 T finely diced shallots
3 T cognac
60 ml (1/4 c) Noilly Prat
180 ml (3/4 c) heavy cream
2 T green peppercorns, rinsed, drained and crushed
1 T lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions:
1.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and sweat briefly until soft.
2.
Add cognac and reduce. Add Noilly Prat, cream, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and reduce.
3.
Finish the sauce with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Yield:
4 servings.

sauce provençale à la tomate crue

English Name:

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raw Provençal-style tomato sauce
Comments:
This is a cold, cream-based sauce that goes well with cold, poached fish. For me it conjures images of a French summer lunch al fresco.
Ingredients:
170 g (6 oz) plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, finely diced
1 T minced flat-leaf parsley
1 t pureed garlic
60 ml (1/4 c) heavy cream, whisked until slightly thickened, but not whipped firm
1/2 t Dijon-style mustard
1/2 T sherry vinegar
1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
dash Tabasco sauce
salt
Instructions:
1.
Mix the tomatoes with a little fine salt and set aside in a strainer to drain.
2.
Combine the parsley and garlic and mince together until paste-like.
3.
Combine the cream, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire, and Tabasco. Add parsley-garlic mixture and combine. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate until needed.
4.
Just before serving, combine cream mixture with tomatoes.
Yield:
3 to 4 servings.
Ref:
Simone Beck, Food and Friends, 1991, page 487.

sauce Robert

English Name:

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white wine, vinegar, and mustard sauce
Comments:
Sauce Robert is a classic sauce thought to have its roots in the 16th century. I don’t know how “authentic” this version is, but after having prepared a number of different versions, I like this one the best.
    It is important not to boil the sauce after the mustard has been added at the end of the recipe. Doing so may cause the mustard to separate.
    The Noilly Prat is a brand of French vermouth with its own distinct flavor, but other dry, white vermouths or even dry, white wines can be substituted for it in this recipe. Indeed, the source recipe simply specified vin blanc — white wine — with no further description!
Ingredients:
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 T unsalted butter
50 ml (scant 1/4 c) Nouily Prat
25 ml (scant 2 T) white wine vinegar
125 ml (1/2 c) veal demi-glace
1/2 T Dijon-style mustard
Instructions:
1.
Cook onions in butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until well caramelized.
2.
Add Nouily Prat and vinegar. Reduce liquid completely.
3.
Add demi-glace and cook a few minutes more.
4.
Just before serving, dissolve the mustard in a little of the hot sauce. Stir the thinned mustard into the sauce. Do not boil any further.
Yield:
3 to 4 servings.
Ref:
Joël Robuchon (ed), Larousse Gastronomic, 1997, page 952.

sauce vierge aux herbes

English Name:

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tomato, herb, and olive oil sauce
Comments:
This sauce is almost a garnish, rather than a sauce. It provides a nice counterpoint to grilled seafood — sort of a vinaigrette with “chunkies”!
Ingredients:
15 g (1/2 oz) fresh basil
2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 clove garlic, very finely diced
1 medium plum tomato, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
2 T olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice from 1/4 lemon
Instructions:
1.
Mince basil and parsley together. Add along with garlic, tomato, and oil to a bain marie set over boiling water. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes.
2.
Just before serving, mix in lemon juice.
Note:
Serve with fish fillets.
Yield:
2 servings.
Ref:
Valérie Lhomme, Bistrot, 2000, page 66.
©2002, 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.