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)