Smile Politely

The strategy of sauce

When I first started cooking, sauces seemed intimidating. It was clear sauces pulled together separate components of a dish, like steak and starches, and sometimes brought vivid flavors that the other food failed to do on its own. But I saw arrabiata, béarnaise, mole, and more on restaurant menus, and really had no clue where to begin with making sauces at home. Over time, with some reading and experimenting, the mystery behind sauces broke down.

Classic sauces can always be traced back to their country of origin, some more particular than others about the base ingredients that belong in those sauces. Some of the five French mother sauces, for example, including béchamel and hollandaise, use a standard base set of ingredients and proportions to make a proper sauce. And indeed, proportions are key to making some sauces hold together or taste palatable. Then other sauces, like the Mexican mole, which really only requires chili peppers as the common ingredient from mole to mole, allow you to flex your culinary wit by selecting your own additions.

Pepper or tomato-based sauces, I think, are the most flexible. Unlike dairy or egg-based sauces that need proper proportions and the right amount of attention and timing, they can handle experimentation, and, let’s just say it — a few mistakes — without completely ruining your hard work.

Chef Jessica Gorin of Big Grove Tavern in downtown Champaign recently shared a little insight into the world of Spanish sauces with this Gypsy Pepper Romesco that she currently uses on her menu as a base for deviled eggs. Romesco is a mild, but flavorful Spanish sauce based on nuts and red peppers. Gorin notes that it goes equally well with grilled meats or on toasted bread with a little goat cheese. Gorin sources their gypsy peppers and roma tomatoes from Blue Moon Farms.

Gypsy Pepper Romesco
Chef Jessica Gorin 

Yields 24 oz

1 lb red gypsy pepper

Place peppers over open flame, turning occasionally to burn and char the skin. Place peppers in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. When peppers are cool, peel skin off and remove the stem and seeds. This should yield ~1/2 lb of roasted red pepper.

In a small pan, bring to a simmer and cook until very lightly golden:

1/4 C olive oil
2 oz garlic cloves

Cool the oil and garlic, then pour it into blender with:

5 ea roma tomatoes, peeled (see note below)
8 oz roasted red gypsy pepper (from the first step of the recipe)
5 oz toasted almond
2 1/2 oz baguette or other old bread, crust removed and lightly toasted to dry
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp smoky paprika (pimenton de la vera)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sherry or red wine vinegar

Puree until mostly, but not entirely, smooth (it should have a slightly nubby texture).

Note: To peel the roma tomatoes, use a paring knife to cut a small “X” on the top and bottom of the tomato. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Have a bowl of ice waiting nearby. Drop the tomatoes in the boiling water for ~30 seconds to a minute. The skin around the “X” should start to peel back. Remove the tomatoes and place them in the bowl of ice. Cover with cold water. Now, the skin should easily peel off the tomatoes.

Manny Martinez, Chief Executive Chef of Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works, known for his heat-based sauces, provided us with a Smoked Pepper and Tomato Sauce, which shows the versatility that using similar base sauce ingredients can bring with two distinctly different approaches to a sauce. While both chefs provided a sauce recipe containing peppers and tomatoes, note that the quantity, level of heat, and combination of other ingredients makes a significant difference in the final product.

Smoked Pepper and Tomato Sauce
Chef Manny Martinez

Total time: 20 minutes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Level: intermediate

3 dried whole ancho peppers
3 dried whole caskabell peppers
1 dried whole smoked chipotle pepper
3 roma tomatoes cut in half lengthwise
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoon honey

In a dry sauté pan add the peppers and toast dry on low to medium heat for 1–2 minutes until lightly toasted and fragrant. Add peppers to a sauce pot along with tomatoes and chicken stock, bring to a boil. Once at a boil reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10–12 minutes. Add sauce to a blender and blend until smooth. Once blended return to sauce pot and add salt, pepper, cumin, and honey. Bring to a boil. Once at a boil remove from heat.

  Chef Manny Martinez, center, at the Spence Farms Foundation fundraiser in September

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