Secrets to Great Sauces

A savory sauce can be a busy cook's best friend -- it's simple to prepare and can transform ordinary foods into dressed-up dishes.

While there are many different kinds of sauces, the experts at Taste of Home suggests you focus on basic white sauce and hollandaise sauce. Once you’ve mastered these basic sauces, you can experiment with endless flavor variations.

Versatile White Sauce
A white sauce is one of the most useful sauces, because it can complement a main-dish meat, dress up a vegetable side dish, add creaminess to a casserole or turn leftovers into a comforting potpie. White sauce typically starts with roux, a smooth mixture of equal parts butter and flour.

To make a roux, melt butter in a heavy saucepan. Then whisk flour into it to make a smooth paste.

Using a whisk is important so the flour doesn’t sink to the bottom of the pan and burn. Once the roux is smooth, a liquid — traditionally milk — is added. Use the whisk again to blend the mixture, then bring it to a boil. Once the mixture cooks for 2 minutes, it’s ready to use.

The thickness of white sauce depends on the proportion of flour and butter to liquid. It’s easy to vary it to suit your family’s preferences. In general, use the following amounts of flour and butter for each cup of liquid: 1 tablespoon each for a thin sauce, 2 tablespoons each for a medium sauce, 3 tablespoons each for a thick sauce and 4 tablespoons each for a heavy sauce.

Hollandaise Sauce
Unlike white sauce, hollandaise sauce uses warmed egg yolks as a thickener instead of flour. Even good cooks sometimes find this lemony butter sauce tricky to make, because the egg yolks can curdle or the sauce fail to thicken. To avoid these pitfalls, it’s best to heat the egg yolks slowly over low heat. Heating them too quickly will make them granular; using too high of a heat will cook them like scrambled eggs.

Since egg yolks can only absorb a little butter at a time, it’s important to gradually add it in small amounts or the sauce will not thicken. The butter must be completely incorporated into the yolks before more butter is added. If too much butter is added at one time and the sauce won’t thicken, it can usually be saved. Rinse out a mixing bowl with hot water to warm it. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice and a tablespoon of the sauce to the bowl. Whisk briefly until the mixture blends and thickens. Then whisk in the remaining sauce, 2 teaspoons at a time. It’s important to beat each addition until thickened before adding the next. If a finished sauce starts to separate, a tablespoon of cold water beaten into it will often save it.

Hollandaise Sauce Recipe
This traditional sauce shared by the Taste of Home test kitchen adds an elegant touch to fresh steamed asparagus. The rich lemony mixture is the typical sauce for eggs Benedict and is also delicious served over broccoli.

Ingredients

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup cold butter (no substitutes)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • Dash pepper

     

    In a small saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, water and lemon juice.[/step-item]

  • 2

    Cook and stir over low heat until mixture bubbles around edges and reaches 160°F, about 20 minutes.

  • 3

    Cut cold butter into eight pieces; add to yolk mixture, one piece at a time, whisking after each addition until melted. Stir in salt, paprika and pepper. Serve immediately. Makes 1 cup.