Tuesday, 13 October 2009

review: Sauces by Michel Roux (Snr)

If there can be said to be trends in cookbook publishing, then we are certainly going through one now. As I’ve noted previously, every second new book at the moment seems to be something to do with ‘basic’ ‘frugal’ or ‘simple’, or similar variations on those themes.

At first sight, then, it’s not the obvious time for a former holder of 3 Michelin stars to be launching a new edition of a book on preparing sauces. I mean – sauces? Lots of time and effort, surely, just for a bit of extra something on the plate? And do they really qualify for the current vogue for simplicity and thrift?

First, a sauce shouldn’t really be regarded as an optional ‘extra’. A meal without a sauce, or an appropriate sauce, lacks its cornerstone. It’s unthinkable, incomplete, a half-meal. As M Roux himself insisted when I spoke to him, ‘Sauces are a must, the top priority’. Any viewer of Masterchef (particularly the ‘professionals’ version) will have seen many a young chef die a culinary death as a result of a sauce no-show, or by serving a misjudged one. Get it right, and the simplest meal can be elevated into something memorable; get it wrong, and perfectly good food can be made unpalatable. So, sauces are, in fact, very much a case of ‘back to basics’.

Roux’s book makes sauce preparation look straightforward and appealing. Many of the recipes are reasonably quick and inexpensive to make. However, if you fancy using more luxurious ingredients and taking your time over making something particularly special, there are sauces to tick that box, too. All the classics are in here, but so are more novel and more intriguing creations, too (parmesan water, anyone? parsley nage with lemongrass? sea spray sauce? Arabica fig sauce?). In short, this is a book which makes you wonder why on earth you haven’t been making sauces regularly before.

With this book to hand, you have all you need to become a maestro. Every aspect of preparation is covered, with all the explanation and help you could ask for: equipment, ingredients, flavourings, whisking, blending, thickening, reducing, enriching, straining, and even how to keep sauces warm properly. And then, onto the real ‘meat’, so to speak – sections devoted to different types of sauces, including all the classics: stocks and marinades, infusions and nages, white sauces, emulsion sauces, vinaigrettes, flavoured oils and butters, salsas and other piquant sauces, vegetable coulis, sauces for fish, and for meat. And then, for the sweet tooths, savoury fruity sauces and chutneys, coulis and other fruity dessert sauces, custards and sabayons, chocolate and other rich creamy sauces.

All the way through are tips, hints, and suggestions aplenty – ranging from how best to keep a sauce (and whether it will freeze, what ingredient substitutes can be used successfully, through how to vary the core recipe, and what foods the sauce best accompanies. The reader is, for example, warned against overcooking a stock: ‘With long cooking, a stock becomes heavy and loses its savour; this applies particularly to fish stocks, which can also acquire a bitter taint’. Béchamel sauce will apparently keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days, and should be reheated in a bain-marie. Cumberland sauces tastes best the day after it is made. Grapefruit coulis with mint goes well with blackcurrant sorbet. And so on – a veritable food geek’s delight.

There are over 200 recipes to try. Twenty new ones have been added since the original edition, reflecting changes in tastes since 1996 (the date of the first edition) and Roux’s own current interest in lighter food – salsas and nages occupy more space this time around, for example. By far the majority of recipes are under a page long (including the list of ingredients), and broken down into simple, short steps, so even the most easily scared or novice of cooks shouldn’t be daunted.

No expense has been spared in the publication of ‘Sauces’, either, which is just as it should be, really, when the author is as esteemed as M Roux Snr. It’s printed on premium quality paper, making it joyous to handle. The text is set out so that there’s plenty of white space around it, and the font is a good size, making the recipes easy to read. The high production standards don’t stop there, either – the photography is both exquisite and inspiring.

And just to complete the book properly, there’s a comprehensive food/sauce matching section at the end, together with a thorough index.

All in all, it’s no surprise that the first edition is revered as a classic, both in France and in the UK. I see no reason why the second won’t be just as successful, and appeal to a whole new audience, too. For anyone wanting to master sauces, it’s an absolute must.

(With thanks to Quadrille Publishing for the review copy.)

Sauces, by Michel Roux
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Quadrille Publishing Ltd (2 Oct 2009)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1844006972
ISBN-13: 978-1844006977
RRP: £14.99
Available now.


George@CulinaryTravels said...

Arrgh you've done it again. I've been putting this book off for ages now, I knew I shouldn't have looked here. Oh well it's going on the wishlist, I will not succumb to buying yet ... lets see how long my resolve lasts this time :)

paul said...

Great review as always - I have very dog-eared copy of the 1st edition!

Anonymous said...

"And just to complete the book properly, there’s a comprehensive food/sauce matching section at the end, together with a thorough index."

This is a brilliant idea, and one that I think tips me over dumping it into my Amazon basket!

The Curious Cat said...

I really like the sound of this book. Hmm...maybe it should go on my christmas list!! :) xxx

Manggy said...

Great review, forky- I've seen this on the shelves and I was very impressed by how much information they packed into such a small(ish) book without sacrificing aesthetics. I love this series by Roux.
I gotta ask, though: Michel Roux is not the one appearing on Masterchef: The Professionals, right (that's Michel Jr.)? Is Michel Sr. still alive?

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

George - oops, sorry... Good one to put on Xmas wish list

Paul - ooh, would love to compare!

roastpotato - you know you want to

CuriousCat - exactly

Manggy - yes, I was hugely impressed, too. Wonderful book. And re your question - M Roux Jnr (he of Masterchef) is M Roux Snr's nephew. And Snr is very much alive!

Cakelaw said...

LOL - a guy called Michael Roux really should know his sauces. It looks like a great book.

Browners said...

Like the idea of the sauce matching section. I think I might get this for my Dad to see if I can stop him putting Noilly Prat in everything!

Graphic Foodie said...

Great review. Sauces is one area of cooking I could really do with pulling my socks up. This seems like a great book to do that with. I particularly like the storing advice.

Jacqueline said...

I am not going to buy it (trying to curb my book buying), but I think I will ask the library to order it.

Dan said...

Ive got the first edition of this, love a good sauce me. One I like the most (although it's Gary 'Haircut' Rhodes) is The basic White Wine sauce- (chicken stock version with mushrooms), from New British Classics. Tastes incredible with chicken - in fact, throw the chicken away and eat the sauce on its own - its bloody amazing.

spiltwine said...

It's one of the only things I can competently make
Great review.
I am buying this book very spoon.

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Nicisme said...

I want this NOW, lol! Seriously that is next on my list to buy.

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It's all erroneous the thing you are saying.