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Cooking with a Chef's Secret - Sauce Variations


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The best base sauces are capable of producing thousands of sauce variations.

When I tell anyone that I'm a chef, they will sometimes come back with this line ... "With all of the cooking you do for work, do you really like cooking at home?" My answer is always the same, I don't like to clean up, but I really do enjoy cooking.

This is my zen time. Not to mention that a little glass of wine for the chef to sip on does adds some additional encouragement, but I have to admit that I do enjoy cooking a lot more when it only takes 30 minutes or less of preparation time. The actual cooking time will vary - which brings me to the title "Variations."

Variations is an important and ultra secret word that chefs throw around the kitchen all the time, which they really don't want you to know about.

Let me explain why...

Let's face it ... I spent two years at a fancy culinary school in NY and I came out of there with a lot of burns, cuts, trashed school issued uniforms, and five "mother" sauces. These base sauces were constantly drilled into me everyday, to the point, that I could make them in my sleep. Once I woke from those saucy nightmares, I came to realize that those "mother sauces" opened up my entire world of culinary prowess, and this is when variations was born.

The base sauces are capable of producing thousands of sauce variations. They are all created using one of the five sauces, so with a little creativity and by adding one, two or three additional ingredients to the sauce, presto, you have a new sauce variation. Also, chefs know there is no magic to creative, fun sauces because once you get the "mother" prep down, their siblings will not take long to fall from the tree.

Got it? Good. I just saved you thousands in culinary school tuition.

Today I decided to share a basic sauce recipe that can easily be prepared in 20 minutes. I am also offering a suggested list of sibling or variation ingredient options to use. The thought behind it is to make three quarts of the base sauce recipe with the idea that you could use it multiple times, by making each sauce different using some creative magic.

The recipe below is a very easy basic Alfredo sauce. The Alfredo sauce is actually a variation sauce from the classic "mother" white sauce, which we conveniently borrowed from France. The Alfredo is not a true "mother sauce," but it is a great sauce that can be adapted with multiple variations.

The "Base" Sauce...

Sauce Alfredo – about 3 quarts or 20-24 pasta portions–(recipe can be cut in half)

1 cup butter (2 sticks), cut into medium cubes

1 cup shallots (white or yellow onion can be used instead), small-medium diced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 cups white wine

4 cups heavy cream

5 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup flat leaf parsley, towel dried and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Over low heat, melt butter in a small sauce pot. Add onions and garlic, cooking until soft (do not brown). Bring the mixture to a lite simmer, then add wine and reduce by half. Followed by adding cream and reducing by half, then whip the grated cheese into the sauce. Add parsley and season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to chill. Now the sauce is ready for using it straight or with some fun variations!

This is where you can be an adventuris - let your creative self shine.

Slowly warm up the amount of sauce you will need and then add any of these fun ingredients to the sauce. Because each recipe variation will vary, you will have to rely on your own instincts and tastes to determine the amount for each item.

These sauces can transform beef, chicken, lamb, fish, pastas, rice, cous cous, potatoes, grilled vegetables into new exciting dishes! Feel free to use one ingredient or add multiple ingredients.

There are no rules. Just go for it.

A few garden variations: (a great way to utilize veggies)

Sun dried tomatoes, hydrated with water and blended

Arugula, chopped

Mushrooms, any variety, sautéed and blended

Roasted garlic, pureed in a blender

Basil pesto, prepared

Caramelized onions, diced

Roasted asparagus blend or chopped

Roasted artichoke hearts, blended or chopped

Cooked bacon, chopped

Raw spinach, cut into strips

Roasted Butternut squash, pureed

Fresh peas, grilled, sautéed or roasted and pureed

Eggplant, roasted and pureed

Garbanzo beans, cooked and pureed

Cauliflower, roasted and chopped

Roasted peppers, pureed

Any kind of roasted chiles, chopped, diced or pureed

Cilantro, raw, chopped

Green onion, chopped

Lemon or orange juice/zest, warm up first before adding

Any type of available fresh herbs

Homemade salsa or store prepared

Summer corn, roasted or pureed

Just a few seasoning and other variations:

Curry paste or powder (purchase prepared)

Whole grain mustard

Taco seasonings

Cumin, ground

Nutmeg, ground

Fennel seed

Paprika, ground

Gumbo spices

Pinenuts, roasted

Saffron threads

Blue cheese, grated

Smoked or regular gouda, grated

Cheddar, grated

Feel free to add to the list, and remember to have fun!


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