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All about sauces

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Samoosas accompanied by four sauces

A chef whisking a sauce

In cooking, a sauce is liquid, cream, or semi-solid food served on or used in preparing other foods. Sauces are not normally consumed by themselves; they add flavour, moisture, and visual appeal to another dish. Sauce is a French word taken from the Latin salsa, meaning salted. Possibly the oldest sauce recorded is garum, the fish sauce used by the Ancient Greeks.

Sauces need a liquid component, but some sauces (for example, pico de gallo salsa or chutney) may contain more solid components than liquid. Sauces are an essential element in cuisines all over the world.

Sauces may be used for savoury dishes or for desserts. They can be prepared and served cold, like mayonnaise, prepared cold but served lukewarm like pesto, or can be cooked like bechamel and served warm or again cooked and served cold like apple sauce. Some sauces are industrial inventions like Worcestershire sauce, HP Sauce, or nowadays mostly bought ready-made like soy sauce or ketchup, others still are freshly prepared by the cook. Sauces for salad are called salad dressing. Sauces made by deglazing a pan are called pan sauces.

A cook who specializes in making sauces is called a saucier.


Asian cuisines

Sauce being brushed on satay in the hawker food court at in Tanjung Aru beach, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia

Sauces used in traditional Japanese cuisine are usually based on shōyu (soy sauce), miso or dashi. Ponzu, citrus-flavoured soy sauce, and yakitori no tare, sweetened rich soy sauce, are examples of shoyu-based sauces. Miso-based sauces include gomamiso, miso with ground sesame, and amamiso, sweetened miso. In modern Japanese cuisine, the word "sauce" often refers to Worcestershire sauce, introduced in the 19th century and modified to suit Japanese tastes. Tonkatsu, okonomiyaki, and yakisoba sauces are based on this sauce. Japanese horseradish or wasabi sauce is used on sushi and sashimi or mixed with soy sauce to make wasabi-joyu.

Some sauces in Chinese cuisine are soy sauce, doubanjiang, hoisin sauce, sweet bean sauce, chili sauces, oyster sauce, and sweet and sour sauce.

Korean cuisine uses sauces such as doenjang, gochujang, samjang, and soy sauce.

Southeast Asian cuisines, such as Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, often use fish sauce, made from fermented fish.

Indian cuisines use sauces such as tomato-based curry sauces, tamarind sauce, coconut milk-/paste-based sauces, and chutneys. There are substantial regional variations in Indian cuisine, but many sauces use a seasoned mix of onion, ginger and garlic paste as the base of various gravies and sauces. Various cooking oils, ghee and/or cream are also regular ingredients in Indian sauces.

Indonesian cuisine uses typical sauces such as kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), bumbu kacang (peanut sauce) and tauco, while popular hot and spicy sauces are sambal, dabu-dabu and rica-rica.

British cuisine
In traditional British cuisine, gravy is a sauce used on roast dinner. The sole survivor of the medieval bread-thickened sauces, bread sauce is one of the oldest sauces in British cooking. Apple sauce, mint sauce and horseradish sauce are used on meat (pork, lamb and beef respectively). Salad cream is sometimes used on salads. Ketchup and brown sauce are used on fast-food type dishes. Strong English mustard is also used on various foods, as is Worcestershire sauce. Custard is a popular dessert sauce. Other popular sauces include mushroom sauce, marie rose sauce (as used in a prawn cocktail), whisky sauce (for serving with Haggis) and cheddar sauce (as used in cauliflower or macaroni and cheese). In contemporary British cuisine, owing to the wide diversity of British society today, there are also many sauces that are of British origin but based upon the cuisine of other countries, particularly former colonies such as India.

Caramel sauce

French cuisine

Hollandaise sauce atop a salmon Eggs Benedict

Sauces in French cuisine date back to the Middle Ages. There were many hundreds of sauces in the culinary repertoire. In cuisine classique (roughly from the end of the 19th century until the advent of nouvelle cuisine in the 1980s), sauces were a major defining characteristic of French cuisine.

In the early 19th century, the chef Marie-Antoine Carême created an extensive list of sauces, many of which were original recipes. It is unknown how many sauces Carême is responsible for, but it is estimated to be in the hundreds. The cream sauce, in its most popular form around the world, was concurrently created by another chef, Dennis Leblanc, working in the same kitchen as Carême. He considered the four grandes sauces to be espagnole, velouté, allemande, and béchamel, from which a large variety of petites sauces could be composed.

In the early 20th century, the chef Auguste Escoffier refined Carême's list of basic sauces in the four editions of his classic Le Guide Culinaire and its abridged English translation A Guide to Modern Cookery. He dropped allemande as he considered it a variation of velouté, and added hollandaise and sauce tomate, defining the five fundamental "mother sauces" still used today:

  • Sauce Béchamel, milk-based sauce, thickened with a white roux.
  • Sauce Espagnole, a fortified brown veal stock sauce, thickened with a brown roux.
  • Sauce Velouté, light stock-based sauce, thickened with a roux or a liaison, a mixture of egg yolks and cream.
  • Sauce Hollandaise, an emulsion of egg yolk, butter and lemon or vinegar.
  • Sauce Tomate, tomato-based

A sauce which is derived from one of the mother sauces by augmenting with additional ingredients is sometimes called a "daughter sauce" or "secondary sauce." Most sauces commonly used in classical cuisine are daughter sauces. For example, Béchamel can be made into Mornay by the addition of grated cheese, and Espagnole becomes Bordelaise with the addition of reduction of red wine, shallots, and poached beef marrow.

In the mid-20th century, a specialized implement, the French sauce spoon, was introduced to aid in eating sauce in French cuisine and now enjoys some popularity at high-end restaurants.

In the European traditions, sauces are often served in a sauce boat.

Italian cuisine
Italian sauces reflect the rich variety of the Italian cuisine and can be divided in several categories including:

Savoury sauces used for dressing meats, fish and vegetables
Examples are:

  • Bagna càuda from Piedmont
  • Salmoriglio from Sicily
  • Gremolata from Milan
  • Salsa verde from Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany

Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese

Savoury sauces used to dress pasta dishes
There are thousands of such sauces, and many towns have traditional sauces. Among the internationally well-known are:

  • Ragù alla Bolognese from Bologna
  • Pesto from Genoa
  • Carbonara and Amatriciana from Lazio

Dessert sauces

  • Zabajone from Piedemont
  • Crema pasticcera made with eggs and milk and common in the whole peninsula
  • "Crema al mascarpone" used to make Tiramisù and to dress panettone at Christmas and common in the North of the country.

Latino and Spanish American cuisines
Salsas ("sauces" in Spanish) such as pico de gallo (salsa tricolor), salsa cocida, salsa verde, chilli, and salsa roja are a crucial part of many Latino and Spanish-American cuisines in the Americas. Typical ingredients include tomato, onion, and spices; thicker sauces often contain avocado. Mexican cuisine features sauces which may contain chocolate, seeds, and chiles collectively known by the Nahua name mole (compare guacamole). Argentine cooking uses more Italian-derived sauces, such as tomato sauce, cream sauce, or pink sauce (the two mixed).

Peruvian cuisine uses sauces based mostly in different varieties of ají combined with several ingredients most notably salsa huancaína based on fresh cheese and salsa de ocopa based on peanuts or nuts.


Mushroom sauce

Sauce béarnaise or Béarnaise sauce made of clarified butter and egg yolks flavored with tarragon shallots and chervil.


Bread sauce

A beef steak served with peppercorn sauce prepared with five types of peppers.

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