Friday, February 24, 2012

Sauce Blanche

Among the essential elements of classic French cooking, I would make the argument that sauces are one of the most loved and yet also most feared.  Loved for great taste, refinement, because they are just so positively French,  because when they are great, they really are spectacular.  Feared by many for being overly caloric, too rich, or just too complicated or mysterious to make.

But let’s get back to the loves; I promise you would put your calorie counting aside and smile from ear to ear if seated at your French table and presented with this plate, your server saucing it for you from a tiny silver pitcher~


{R’s plate at Lameloise; I don’t even remember what this was, I just remember it was amazing to see and to taste!}

I find that restaurants in the U.S. tend to overdo sauces, and plates are positively swimming in sauce, much in the way that pasta here is often covered in sauce, whereas in Italy it arrives lightly sauced, so you can see and appreciate the pasta.  The idea of the sauce is to set off the food, heighten it, make it better, not mask it.  Just a little bit of sauce is all you need~


{my plate at Lameloise, halibut with asparagus and saffron and a mysterious yet delicious sauce}

You can be guaranteed that if you dine at one of the ten three-star restaurants in Paris (there are less than thirty in all of France, including Lameloise in Burgundy) your plates will include some super-amazing sauces.  But what about at home?  No need to get too fancy, but you can make some great sauces that will give your meals a little something extra.  I like to make the slightly “sweet and sour” sauce for duck à l’orange, but put it over chicken~


{Sauce boats are best in pairs, one for each end of the table; ideally like this with an attached tray for spills}

Ever wonder who came up with all these sauces, and why they are so tied to French cooking?  You can thank Marie-Antonin Carême (b.1784-d.1833).  One of fourteen children, he was given up by his parents at the height of the French Revolution, when he was just eight years old, as his father thought that his son was the only one in the family with a chance of advancing socially.  He became a kitchen boy in a fine Parisian restaurant in exchange for room and board, and he proved to be a quick learner.  At thirteen, he apprenticed to a baker near the Palais Royal, and later created grand confections which were displayed in the window-front of the store.

Carême became the food darling of Paris, both for the courts of Europe and high society, the original celebrity chef!  He is credited with styling the French Chef’s Hat, the Toque.  When Napoleon financed the purchase of the Chateau Valençay for the homme d’etat Talleyrand, Talleyrand brought Carême with him, with the challenge to create a year’s worth of recipes with no repetition and using only seasonal ingredients.  Which, of course, Carême did with great success.  He is credited with inventing more than 100 sauces before his death at age 48~


So, getting back to today…you will find sauces are a component of all French cookbooks.  One of my favorite sauces comes from what I call my “old” French cookbook, simply titled “Sauce Blanche.”  It is really very easy to make, contains no cream and so it is easy on the stomach and low calorie.  It uses chicken stock to give it flavor, and can be used on chicken or fish or vegetables like asparagus or cauliflower, and so is versatile. 

You will need a few ingredients:

Half a stick of butter (60 grams)
1/2 cup flour less a heaping tablespoon (40 grams)
1 and 2/3 cup (1/2 litre) good quality chicken stock
1 egg yolk
generous pinch of salt
juice of half a lemon


Start by melting the butter over low heat; then add the flour all at once and stir.  This is what is called a roux (say “roo”)~


Mix it vigorously, still over medium heat, try to flatten out the lumps; keep mixing a little more, the butter will absorb all the flour~


Add the stock, cold or room temperature.  While you can use canned stock, your sauce will taste infinitely better (and have way less sodium) with home made.  The best time to make stock is after you roast a chicken: after your meal, take the carcass, put it in a small pot and cover with water; add five or so carrots and a little celery and a few shallots or onion and some herbs (HdP or thyme and bay, etc) and a little salt.  Cook on medium for about 40 minutes, and strain, ziploc and freeze~


So, when you add the stock it looks like this. Pas de panique!  Get out a whisk and keep mixing for a few minutes over medium heat~


Then it will look like this; if it is still lumpy, just strain it and keep going~


The sauce should not be too hot at this point.  Take the pan off the heat and plop the egg yolk in and whisk it in quickly then return to heat.  The egg yolk and the flour will thicken the sauce over moderate heat; DO NOT let it boil as this will “turn” the sauce.  Add in a generous pinch of sea salt, like this~


I find I don’t really need to cook this sauce, maybe for five minutes; usually I let it sit on the side of the stove while I finish the rest of the food.  If you use reasonably good stock, it will taste much better than just say, water and flour.  Finally, add in the lemon juice.  The nice thing about this sauce is that you can use it as a base for other sauces: add capers instead of lemon juice, or add mustard.  Heat at the last minute and boat it~


{these boats are $7 each at Sur la Table; I use them a lot!}

We had filet of sole, asparagus and rice last night; this sauce is great with fish and also with rice~


You can dress the food with just a little sauce if you like and serve the rest on the side~


This morning I rose very early and made a fat apple pie before I got to the day’s work.  My family has happily noted that the quality of their meals has greatly improved since I quit my job. 


I guess so! They wanted the pie for breakfast, but I am making them wait until tonight!

Let me know how it goes when you try the Sauce Blanche.  It will literally take you ten minutes to make.


  1. Delicious - your instructions are the best Andrea! Good tip about pas de panique after adding the stock - that's what I have a tendancy to do and then which spells disaster.
    Bon week-end,

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  2. You hit the nail on the head for me. I am making asparagus AND cauliflower tonight, will try the sauce. My husband won't know what's going on with all the fanciness :)
    I think pie for breakfast is completely acceptable.

  3. Excellent post Andrea,
    I have been making my "roux" very much the same but have never added a egg yolk, will def try this soon. I also found your info on Marie-Antonin Carême
    most informative and will share it with every one at our "sauce" factory...we manufacture average 12 tons (12000 litres) of sauce per day..for local as well as export. so can you imagine how excited I am about this info!!

  4. Andrea, I love your instructions for the sauce blanche. When my children were young this is often how I convinced them to eat their vegetables!

    Your pie for breakfast, oh yes! By the way Sur la Table has opened at the Country Club Plaza here in Kansas City!

    Art by Karena

  5. I have never been very good with sauces. But your steps give me hope.

  6. Andra, you are a whiz in the kitchen,
    almost sounds like a hollindase sauce.
    I will make it as I just made chicken stock.
    I am so upset have waited 2 months for
    a Doctors appt, No snow all winter and now
    a storm on the appt. I have a 2 hour drive up
    and 2 hrs back, All white knuckle driving..

  7. Sounds delicious, but with approximately 425 calories in 60 grams of butter, you would have to ladle this very sparingly to consider it a low calorie sauce!