You think velouté’s a pain in the arse?  You ain’t seen nothin’.

Well, let me restate that– it’s not so much a pain in the arse to make as it is a pain in the arse to remember.  All that liaison and allemande and small sauce business gives me a headache.  It’s worth having it written down somewhere, but nobody in their right mind would commit it to memory.  Surely your brain has better things to do.

Now it’s time for brown sauce, though, which is when the cousins and the in-laws really come climbing up the family tree.  Prepare to lose your grip, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Gird your loins, cloister your petard, and let’s go for a ride.

Brown sauce

is the starting point, and in itself, it’s pretty easy:  just brown stock flavored with mirepoix and tomato purée, then thickened with a brown roux.  You ordinarily use brown sauce to make demi-glace (or “half-glaze,” or just “demi” for short) or jus lié.

I had the great privelege of working for Chef Louise Duhamel, a phenomenal and generous woman who made the most bad-ass demi on earth.  When my friend Big Al and I left culinary school in Vermont, heading back for Texas, we kidnapped about a pint of Chef Louise’s mind-blowing demi–kept it on ice in an Igloo cooler.  We had to stop every six hours or so and check on it.  I’d poke it and say, “Well, it looks okay for now, but it’s getting a little squishy.  We’d better stop in Illinois and get fresh ice.”

Sometimes I think I could write a screenplay about a couple of guys trying to transport a pint of stolen demi across state lines.  That’s how important and beautiful brown sauce is.

Demi, in case I haven’t made it clear by now, is brown sauce reduced (by simmering on the stove-top) to half its original volume.  While still hot, it’s syrupy; cold, it’s gently firm, like a young woman’s breast.

Jus lié is pretty much interchangeable with demi.  It’s quicker and easier to make, but it’s also lighter and not as beautiful.  It’s just brown sauce thickened with a slurry (made with either cornstarch or arrowroot).

Okay, on with the family tree:

  • Bordelaise is very probably my most favorite sauce of all time.  Red wine, herbs, and shallots reduced to almost nothing.  Add demi, simmer, strain, finish with butter.  Garnish whatever you’re doing with sliced poached beef marrow.  Damn!
  • Mushroom.  Blanch a bunch of mushroom caps and drain them off; save the liquid, reduce it way down, and add it to your demi.  When you’re ready to serve whatever it is you’re serving (personally, I hate mushrooms, so i can’t imagine what you’re thinking), swirl a bit of butter into the sauce along with the mushroom caps.
  • Chasseur (a/k/a “hunter’sauce”).  Add a reduction of mushrooms and shallots in butter and white wine to the demi.  Add some diced tomato at the last minute (don”t strain it) and garnish your effort with chopped parsley.

All this writing and thinking has worn me out, so I’m done for now.  There’s more to say about small brown sauces, but that’ll have to wait.