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.