Culinary School: Mother Sauce

Ōita May 21, 2010

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When I was a kid I thought I’d probably own an advertising agency like my dad. I imagined a closet full of very trim looking blazers and lots of leather heeled shoes. I still remember promising my mom that I was going to be someone very important one day, thank you very much. Now, as I stand here in an apron splattered in tomato sauce, it all seems ironic. It wasn’t my dad’s career I was chasing after all. It was my mom’s.

A lot of what she cooked at home wasn’t fancy. She’d make chicken pot pie or meatloaf and we’d eat it in front of the TV on some nights, oafishly ignoring the work that she put into it. But a lot of what she made was pretty spectacular. There were deeply flavored mushroom soups and twice baked potatoes and steaks smothered in bérnaise sauce. To this day, that woman can peel a potato with a knife faster than I can reach for the peeler.

I’m thinking about her tonight because we’re learning two of the five mother sauces. Espagnole sauce happens to be the bubbling mess you see up and to the right. And it really thrills me. I don’t mean to say thrills in a way that fills up space or falls flat and soon turns into vapor. I mean, if I could hire a plane to write it in the sky, I would.

It’s not so much that it’s delicious. Though it is. Or that when combined with other ingredients and/or sauces its possibilities are limitless. Though they are. It’s that it connects me to Escoffier, it connects me to Julia Child, it connects me to Thomas Keller.

And as for class, I almost don’t want to write it. Things are running smoothly. I’ve got my ingredients laid out, I’m on time, there are no sudden realizations that I’m four steps behind or that I’ve charred the sauce at the bottom of the pot. I haven’t burned myself (amazing!) or been forced to use the bottom of a whisk as a stirring device.

“Good,” my instructor says after he samples my tomato sauce. I jet down the line to grab another onion and I feel breeze hit my face. I’ve channeled out the daytime work stress, I’ve blocked that whole financial conversation I had with my husband earlier. I’m here, I’m making sauce and that’s all I know right now.

That’s not true. I also know this: I don’t need a corner office or fancy shoes or a special parking space in this life. I just need a really big pot of sauce. Bubbling, hot, mad, wise and sprinkling my apron with goodness.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie May 21, 2010 at 8:49 am

Espagnole is one of my very, very favorite sauces, and I think it’s really overlooked in contemporary cuisine. I love it particularly as Chausseur– what can’t be made better with demiglace?– particularly at Bouchon, and particularly dipping french fries in it. Decadent.

I love your comment about the sauce connecting you to Escoffier, Julia Child, Thomas Keller. This is why I like food– it crosses time, class and gender and unites all of us.


Courtney May 21, 2010 at 11:04 am

Thanks and funny you mention chausseur, we made it as a small sauce. Combining brown sauce and demi-glace feels like some sort of wacko science experiment but in the end it’s worth it.


Intuitive Eggplant May 21, 2010 at 3:09 pm

So glad your blog is back up and running. Can’t even imagine how you felt when things disappeared. You have a fine archive here, and I look forward to more!


Courtney May 22, 2010 at 7:08 am

Phew, that was scary. I’d like to tell you I was confident about getting it back but those around me would tell you I was (a little) grumpy about the whole thing. Thank you!!


jill May 26, 2010 at 8:47 am

girl, you are so saucy! (sorry, just couldn’t resist). now you’ll have to come over to my house and help me make that chicken salad sauce.


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