if you hadn’t already guessed, it is sauce week in the poor man’s kitchen. which means yesterday, i went out and bought myself a few cheap plastic sauce bottles and committed myself to making at least nine sauces this week. but i can’t go about just drinking sauces out of the bottle, now can i? i mean, i suppose i could, but i’m not so sure i would want to.
so instead, by taking mister mcgee’s lesson to heart, my plan is to make three meals this week which each highlight three sauces. the goal of each of these meals is to take three pieces of a single food, prepared in exactly the same way, and by applying a different sauce to each, create three distinct and independently delicious flavors.
last night, chicken breasts were my sauce vectors.
i purchased three chicken breasts, butterflied them, cooked them in a pan with a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then subjected them to my first three sauces of the week. and i even had two insane canadians over to my house to share in the bounty.
greece figured some things out about cooking that most other countries should be jealous of. flaming cheese? phyllo dough? gyros? yeah, the list goes on.
they have all kinds of tasty spreads and sauces, too. tyrokavteri, taramosalata, avgolemono. but my preferences are like the highlander, which means that among greek sauces, there can only be one.
and you can bet your butt that tzatziki is an immortal katana-wielding scotsman. metaphorically. or something.
you might say, “but i don’t like garlic. but i don’t like cucumbers. but i don’t like yogurt.” and to that i might retort, “yeah, but you are wrong.”
- 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
- lemon juice
- a little bit of onion
- black pepper
- a cucumber
- olive oil
- take the plastic piece out of your coffee maker that holds the filter and set it on top of a cup. put a coffee filter in it, and then fill the coffee filter with yogurt. “why the heck am i putting yogurt in a coffee filter?” because water is tzatziki’s enemy, which is ironic because all of the ingredients in tzatziki are rife with it, including yogurt. you are putting the yogurt in a coffee filter because, in about twenty or thirty minutes, there will be one or two inches of lightly brown liquid in the bottom of that cup. and that lightly brown liquid would have ruined your sauce.
- cut the ends off the cucumber, and then mince it. yes, minced cucumber. i don’t really know any other recipes that call for it, but it is really dang tasty in this case. while you are at it, you might as well peel your garlic and mince that, too. and your onion. super finely minced is best, especially if you want to be able to squirt this bad boy out of a sauce bottle. once minced, put everything in a big bowl for mixing.
- give the veggies one or two hearty squirts of lemon juice followed by a spoonful of olive oil. add black pepper to taste, but not salt. salt will extract that water from the cucumbers and the onions, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to do.
- add the yogurt once it has finished draining, and then add in a little bit of salt at a time.
- this step is important. don’t stir this sauce like a madman. fold it over on itself gently over and over again, maybe with a rubber scraper of wooden spoon. over-activity can cause the salt to react with the yogurt and make the sauce watery. lemon juice and olive oil help a little bit with that, but it is still best to be careful.
- put it on anything. seriously, it is great on salad, great on meats, great on fish, great on crackers, and you can even eat the stuff with a spoon if you want. my advice to you is to make relatively small batches, because it doesn’t keep for a super long time and you will be tempted to put it on everything. and as delicious as that may be, the people in close proximity to you on a daily basis will not appreciate your heinous garlicy odor.
makes enough sauce for 2 or 3 meals
red bell pepper cream sauce
you know the story of cinderella, right? the poor beautiful mistreated girl sweeps and cleans the fireplace day in and day out while her hideous, spoiled, terrifying step sisters gallivant around the town. and when prince charming shows up, the step sisters know that he’s after cinderella, because she is beautiful and kind and hardworking, but they butt in anyway and try to cram their nasty ill-fitting feet into her magical glass slipper.
what does this have to do with sauce? i’ll tell you.
green bell peppers are the step sisters. they are freaking everywhere, and honestly they just aren’t that good. they aren’t sweet, they aren’t tangy, and they butt in all the time trying to steal the glory of the dish. they make themselves available in the grocery store in the hopes that you, in order to save a little bit of money, will settle for second best.
which makes red bell peppers our main character. sweet, unique, delicate, and loveable. sure, they are a little more expensive, but that is because they are classy and delicious. and the color. don’t even get me started on the color. you will understand my unhealthy obsession once you make this sauce once or twice.
as the french tell us, if an ingredient is delicious by itself, it must by definition be even more delicious if you make it into a sauce.
- a red bell pepper
- a quarter of an onion
- 4 cloves of garlic
- heavy whipping cream
- white wine
- chicken stock
- black pepper
- olive oil
- mince your garlic and onion, and add them to a frying pan with a little bit of olive oil. let them sautée for one or two minutes.
- seed and core the pepper. the easiest way to do this is to cut off the top and bottom, and run your knife point-first down the veins of the pepper. one quick pull and the core and seeds should come right out. dice the pepper nice and small, and throw it in with the garlic and onions.
- stir the sautée, making sure that nothing burns. burned garlic is the last thing you want this early in the sauce making game.
- add enough chicken stock to cover, which will probably be about a cup. bring to a boil, and then reduce to medium-high heat. allow the mixture to simmer until about half of the liquid has evaporated. by now, your garlic, onions, and peppers should be soft.
- add a splash or two of white wine and continue to simmer for a minute or two. add salt and pepper to taste, and then add about a liberal amount of heavy whipping cream. again, it should be around a cup, maybe a little less.
- reduce over medium-high heat while stirring. the addition of heavy whipping cream predisposes your sauce to burning if left alone, so make sure to keep the sauce moving all the time. simmer until half of the liquid has evaporated (again).
- move the sauce to a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. the color most likely will not come out red. instead, it will end up a beautiful shade of carroty orange, so don’t be surprised.
- shock the taste buds of your dinner guests. because it is both creamy and tangy, this sauce is best while it is still hot. it goes great on fish (especially white fish like mahimahi and flounder) and chicken. while i haven’t yet tried it, i’m sure it would complement steak nicely as well.
makes enough sauce for 2 or 3 meals.
tomato marsala sauce
i like curry. a lot. probably more than any human should admit to liking curry. there is just something about the taste of all those spices mingling together that makes me want to eat until i’m one more mouthful from being physically ill all over the floor of the indian restaurant.
but you know, india is all about the spices. and to say that curry blends are the be-all-end-all of indian spices would be irresponsibly shortsighted. gram marsala exists, after all.
the toasted cardemum, intense cumin, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves make for a spicy combination that begs to be sauced. and thankfully, tomato is up to the challenge.
- a can of cut stewed tomatoes
- half an onion
- gram marsala
- black pepper
- mince your onion and garlic, and sautée them in a frying pan with a little of olive oil. when the onion is transparent and soft, add the tomatoes and a little bit of water.
- add the spices (other than salt) to your liking, but remember that gram marsala is a mixture of spices which already contains cumin, pepper, and often times even some garlic. which means that these flavors will already subtly be present. the reason cumin, garlic, and black pepper are on the ingredient list is because, if you happen to like one of those flavors with fervor, you can intensify it without intensifying all of the others as well. that being said, coriander is not a part of gram marsala, and it can add some zip to the sauce that would otherwise not be present. just something to keep in mind.
- did you notice the (other than salt) in step two? the reason for the parenthetical addition is that gram marsala mixtures vary widely. many you can find in the usa and japan already include some salt, and still others do not. the moral of the story is that you should taste your sauce while it cooks. if you think it needs salt, add salt. if not, don’t. improvisation is the essence of good cooking, so go with the flow. don’t just add salt because i told you to. what do i know?
- cover and simmer over low heat. stir every few minutes to make sure nothing is burning. once all the ingredients are super soft, which should be about ten minutes or so, kill the heat and move the sauce to a blender or food processor.
- pulse until super smooth.
- this sauce should be considered as an alternative to the humdrum tomato sauce or bolognese that is so commonplace in the world today, especially in the good old united states. tomato marsala sauce was born to be placed on eggplant parmesan, and it complements perfectly grilled pork chops far too well for its own good. who knows, it might even good enough to use as a pasta sauce. sleep on it and let me know what you think.
makes enough sauce for 4 meals.