Words and Photos By Chef Daniel Pliska, CEC, AAC
In my soup and sauce class at Ozarks Technical Community College, I teach the classical approach to creating soups and sauces in ways that could be used in contemporary fine dining establishments. We focus on building soups and sauces from stocks made carefully from bones, vegetables and aromatics.
The aim of a great sauce is to bring food to ethereal heights. Great soup creates sumptuous comfort when eaten and can create memories that will always be cherished. Developing flavor and silky consistency is the goal for cooks who make sauces and soups. Although this is a vast topic and one that takes years to master, there are five core principles and secrets that will enable you to make great soups and sauces. Take a look.
Extraction + Reduction = Flavor
This equation describes the process of developing flavor at its most basic level. Consider the example of making stock for a flavorful chicken soup. The first step is to create a stock by pulling the flavor of the chicken out of the bones, mirepoix (vegetables) and aromatics (herbs and spices) into a pot filled with cold water. After the stock has cooked slowly for three to five hours, it is strained and then reduced to evaporate some of the water and to strengthen the flavor of the chicken. Umami is the sought-after flavor profile in a great chicken soup, and when the soup is consumed, it can create a comforting, memorable feeling.
Low and Slow Cooking
The best stocks, broths, sauces and braised dishes are achieved by cooking slowly. When stocks boil rapidly with the bones and vegetables, the process agitates the particles and any fat in the liquid. This results in a clouding finished product. Slow and gentle simmering creates a clear, clean stock. Another important point when making stocks and broth is to always start with cold water. This is done to slowly draw out the flavor and nutrients from the bones, mirepoix and aromatics to create a stock or broth; this is achieved through the scientific process of osmosis. In the braising of meats, slow cooking keeps the meat tender when finished. In contrast, if the cooking is done rapidly, the meat can become stringy and unpleasant when eaten.
High Quality Ingredients Produce the Best Results
Always try to use the best quality ingredients when preparing soups and sauces. Start with the freshest and best ingredients and treat the products with care in the prepping and cooking process. This will produce the best results in finished dishes. We used to say you have to baby a soup or sauce when cooking it by treating it with the best care and techniques to yield extraordinary results.
Fantastic Soups and Sauces Begin With a Great Stock
Stocks and broths are the foundation of any great soups or sauces. Compare this to an analogy in the construction of a house, starting with a solid foundation on top of which a frame can then be built. That will result in a beautiful house when finished. Without a solid base, the finished product will not be excellent. Always start with a flavorful clean and clear stock to build and produce the best sauces and soups.
Skim, Strain and Reduce
These three actions are of the utmost importance when creating flavorful stocks and sauces.
Skimming the scum, grease and impurities that rise to the top in the simmering process of stocks and sauces must be done carefully and often throughout the cooking process to create a clear stock and a shiny sauce. This technique is called dépouillage in French. Do this by carefully pushing the scum to the side of the pot or kettle and carefully skimming it off and discarding it.
Straining the stocks and sauces is also very important to yield a clean and shiny sauce by removing any of the particles that would break down and cloud a sauce during the cooking process. This is often done several times throughout the process of reduction (cooking down the sauce to evaporate water). Each time, transfer the sauce to a clean smaller pot and then repeat the process. A fine mesh strainer (chinoise) or sometimes cheesecloth is used to achieve the finest results.
Reduction is the process of simmering or lightly boiling stock or sauce to evaporate the water to intensify the flavor of the finished sauce or soup. If a sauce or stock is bland and watery, the flavor will be weak. Reduce it to improve and strengthen the flavor.