Butter and Cream and Oil – Oh, My! (Classic Sauces Class)

October 21, 2011

I recently took a two-day sauce making class at Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder (the school formerly known as the Culinary School of the Rockies — any time I can use a pseudo-Princish name I jump at the opportunity). The format of all the classes I’ve taken there over the past several years is a bit of lecture/theory with demonstrations, and then the bulk of the time is cooking in their home cook kitchen. I actually like the lecture part of these classes, and am somewhat timid about cooking in a strange kitchen where I can’t find anything and am not familiar with the equipment. So personally, I always want a little more of the talking and demo part, and a little less cooking. But the big payoff in these classes is that at the end, everyone sits down and samples the dishes that were made. Every time I’ve taken a class there – from Dim Sum to Knife Skills to Sophisticated Sauces, the food at the end has been wonderful.

It’s always fun to meet your fellow students at these classes, and hear their reasons for attending. I’ve met many fellow foodies, some with quite a bit of cooking experience, some who are connected to the food industry in some way, and some who aren’t all that confident in the kitchen. I’ve attended classes with high school students, working people, retired people, long-time Boulder County residents, and even people who were just visiting Boulder and decided to attend a class while in town.

When I enrolled in the class, my intention was to try to gain some skill and knowledge about making sauces, as that’s one of the areas in which I feel less than savvy. I didn’t recognize all of the sauces when I was reading the class summary, so it didn’t quite click that pretty much everything we’d be making would involve either heavy cream, butter, or a combination of the two. In other words, they were French sauces. (Note that what I stated isn’t entirely true, many of the recipes used large amounts of oil instead of cream or butter.) Given how low fat I cook, I was somewhat horrified at the thought of using a whole cup or two of heavy cream or two whole sticks of butter for a single recipe, but these are classic sauces, and it was good to see what goes into them and the techniques used to make them. That said, it would be a pretty rare occasion in which I would make any of these as is. But I kind of like the challenge of cooking lower fat/lower calorie things that are inspired by something much higher in fat and calories. So there’s a huge amount of opportunity here. Challenging opportunity, since there are good reasons, involving chemical reactions and resultant textures, that full-fat cream and butter are used in these sauces. But I am talking versions inspired by these sauces, not attempts at making them using lower-fat ingredients. (Although knowing me, I’ll probably try that a couple of times before I believe the long-proven statements that you can’t do it).

We divided into two groups of five or six both days, and made about 19 sauces altogether. It’s a long list, but I feel compelled to name them all anyhow. We made Balsamic and Asian Vinaigrettes, Curry Mayonnaise, Garlic Aïoli, Tomato Vodka Cream Sauce, Tomato Concassé, Hollandaise, Bernaise, Béchamel, Mornay, Beurre Blanc, Beurre Rouge, Gorgonzola Cream Sauce, Thai Peanut Sauce, Chicken and Beef Pan Sauces, Chocolate and Caramel Sauces, Crème Anglaise, and Raspberry Coulis. We ate the savory sauces with various pastas, chicken, beef, and salmon. The sweet sauces were served with shortcake, and a wonderful double chocolate chip cake (not made in the class). I personally made what were probably the three simplest things on the list: Balsamic Vinaigrette, Gorgonzola Cream Sauce (3 ingredients), and Raspberry Coulis (3 ingredients). But that was completely okay with me. I don’t really like having people watch me cooking things I’m not familiar with making. I prefer to make my cooking mistakes with myself as the only witness. This also gives one the opportunity to disappear any evidence in the rare case that salvation operations prove to be completely in vain. But I must say, I made a mean balsamic – I’ve been making dressing at home for a while, using a fork to provide constant whipping while I pour in the oil, but using a whisk it pretty much emulsified perfectly. (Emulsification is basically combining two ingredients that don’t combine easily. The process is facilitated by the use of an emulsifier, such as the Dijon mustard in a balsamic vinaigrette). The Gorgonzola cream sauce did actually provide a bit of challenge because it required some patience and constant temperature adjusting to reduce 2 and 1/2 cups of heavy cream down to 1 and 1/2 cups. And while making the raspberry coulis I got to use a Vita-Mix for the first time. (Judging from the pictures I found on the web, I think it was probably the CIA Professional Series model). After 10 seconds using this blender I was blown away (figuratively of course, it wasn’t THAT powerful), and decided that our ‘Bartender Grade’ Waring is pretty wimpy.

I got a lot of great cooking tips out of the class. I learned lots of things that are obvious to people who have had training, but maybe not to the home cook (at least one that hasn’t had time to read The Joy of Cooking cover to cover), as well as some great hints from the people in the class. We talked about everything from salting and peppering your proteins before cooking them to favorite products and specialty food stores, what people grow in their herb gardens and how they dry their herbs, and the contrasts of ingredients in food from different countries. Now I just need some time and energy to try some of these things!

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