I’ve always been a saucy type. It probably started with ketchup – my first encounter with sauce when I was just a tiny tater tot of a girl. Almost everyone has some sort of experience with ketchup. Many of us have a long-term ongoing relationship and find it hard to imagine life without ketchup. My husband is a spreader. I am a dipper.
What started with ketchup grew and expanded to various flavors and varieties of thickened liquids called by different names – condiments, gravies, dips, salsas, dressings, syrups, pestos and alfredos – but at their essence, each one a sauce of some sort.
Savory or sweet, thick or thin, white or red, cheesy or creamy, hot or cold – I loved them all. Or at least nearly all. What’s not to love? Sauces themselves are created for the sole purpose of enhancing a dish. Whether it’s bread or pasta or a burger or fries – just about everything is better when accompanied by some type of sauce.
Historically, it’s the reason they were created – not to make good food great, but to mask the less-than-perfect flavor of food on the verge of going bad. This was back in the days before refrigerators were a common household item.
Professional chefs study for years to perfect their sauces. There’s even a name for a cook specializing in the practice: saucier. It’s an art. The French, especially, are known for their love of sauces – Hollandaise, remoulade and Bechamel, to name a few. But the French aren’t the only ones saucing it up. Sauces are an essential element of nearly every cuisine worldwide – from chimichurri in Argentina to sriracha in Thailand and everywhere in between. The world would be lost without sauce.
I’m not a chef, but I do dabble in sauces. When you love something like I love eating, it makes sense to know how to concoct a few sauces yourself. I toss, stir and whisk together gravy, salad dressing and condiments a plenty. I even do the roux. Once you break sauces down into a list of simple ingredients, (and most are fairly simple) they aren’t so intimidating.
Gravy is just thickened meat, chicken or vegetable stock seasoned to your liking. Combine mayonnaise and dill pickle relish and you’ve got tartar. Take that same mayo, add sweet relish, ketchup and vinegar and you’ve got thousand island dressing. Ketchup, mayo and horseradish make a mean cocktail sauce for shrimp. Ketchup, brown sugar and little yellow mustard create a basic barbecue sauce. Ketchup and just about anything makes something else. You can take it from there.
Whisk together olive oil with vinegar (you choose the flavor), salt and pepper for a basic salad dressing. Mayo with avocado is the simplest of guacamoles. Add onion, lemon juice and/or salsa to kick it up a notch. Speaking of salsa, all you need is tomatoes, peppers (jalapeno and/or bell), onion, lime juice and your choice of seasonings (salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic, cilantro). Four ingredients plus seasonings isn’t too bad for homemade salsa. The freshness factor itself is worth the time it takes to chop those tomatoes.
Sauces elicit creativity. They are bolstered by it and food is bolstered by them. It’s a win-win situation. Your pastas, burgers, enchiladas, potatoes, salads, broccoli — as well as the good folks sitting around your dinner table – will all benefit from your awesome sauce.
So go for it. Who knows? Some day you may be like me – the boss of sauce. Wink.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.