Stocks and sauces

Stocks and sauces

Leiths School of Food and Wine
41 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
Peter Cassidy

A wide range of sauces are covered in this section, from rich stock-based sauces that require care and time, to quick pan sauces that can be made while your meat or poultry is resting. Key skills include being able to make a clear, well-flavoured stock, and perfecting the art of thickening sauces without creating lumps. The classic, basic sauces are easily adapted to produce derivative sauces and variations. Master the classics, try the derivatives and then experiment by adding your own choice of flavour combinations.


Using good quality ingredients and a good technique will give you a high quality stock. And as stock is a vital component in many recipes, the quality of the finished dish is often dependent upon the quality of the stock used. Slow, gentle simmering is the secret to a fine stock.

For a simple stock, also described as a ‘white stock’, the bones and vegetables are simmered together with appropriate flavouring herbs and vegetables to produce a delicately flavoured stock. Veal, poultry, fish, shellfish and vegetable stocks are most often ‘white stocks’.

For a brown stock, the bones and vegetables are browned before the stock is simmered. This results in a rich, strongly flavoured stock – useful for adding depth of flavour and colour to slow-cooked stews and braises. The browning process colours the bones and vegetables, and this colour is transferred to the stock on cooking. Importantly, the cooking of the bones also renders much of the fat from the bones, making it easier to remove. Brown stocks are most often made from red meats, but you can also make brown poultry, game, fish, shellfish and vegetable stocks. Care must be taken to avoid scorching the bones and vegetables, which will infuse the stock with a bitter, burnt flavour.

The cooking time for stocks varies enormously, from 30 minutes for fish, shellfish and vegetable stocks to 5–6 hours for brown beef, veal and lamb stocks. Fish and shellfish bones, and shells, impart a bitter flavour to stocks if they are cooked for too long. Vegetable stocks need very little cooking as the flavour is quickly transferred to the water and, since vegetables contain little fat, stocks are easily skimmed.

Ingredients for stock making

Bones: Fresh bones are ideal for stock making; the leftover bones from a roast can be used if you wish, although the flavour will be weaker. Veal bones are generally preferable for stock making as they impart a wonderful gelatinous quality and a clean, clear flavour.

Vegetables: Onion, carrot and celery are commonly used. Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, which can make the stock cloudy, should be avoided. When preparing a stock for a particular recipe, other vegetables can be added, such as fennel for a fish stock, but it’s important that the flavour of the vegetables does not overwhelm the meat or fish flavour of the stock. Follow the guidelines in each recipe for the correct ratio of bones to vegetables, and consider the sweetness and the combination of the vegetables you are using: too many carrots can result in a very sweet stock, for example, and if you are adding leeks, then reduce the number of onions.

Aromatics: Parsley, thyme and bay are the herbs most often added to stocks, but if the stock is being made for a specific recipe, then other herbs might be included. Generally, only the stalks of soft herbs such as parsley are used, as too many leaves can discolour the stock. Peppercorns complete the aromatic additions to classic stocks, but in Asian cooking, lemongrass, garlic, ginger and galangal are sometimes added.

Salt: This should not be added when making stocks, as the stock may have to be reduced for use or storage and adding salt would result in over-seasoned dishes.

Water: When this is added to bones and vegetables it should always be cold. If hot water is used it melts the fat immediately, which can cloud the stock. When cold water is added during simmering (a technique known as dépouiller), it helps to solidify fat, which makes it easier to skim from the surface.

Understanding more about stock...

Removing fat and impurities: Because raw bones are used in a ‘white stock’, all the fat still left on the bones melts as the stock comes up to the boil, and must be skimmed off. The dépouiller and skimming process for this type of stock is generally much lengthier than for brown stock (where the bones are roasted first), and as much as a quarter of the liquid can be skimmed from the pot to help in the removal of the fat and scum. Often a double dépouiller is needed, with any liquid removed replaced with cold water.

Dépouiller: This technique involves splashing a large amount of cold water into a stock (about 500 ml for a 10-litre stockpot), generally as it is coming up to the boil. This helps to lower the temperature and most importantly to solidify fat and scum, lifting it to the surface ready for skimming. You can also dépouiller during the simmering process if there is a lot of fat and scum present.

Glace: A very well reduced stock is called a glace, or glace de viande (or meat or fish glaze). It has a very concentrated flavour and is used sparingly. A sauce or dish will sometimes need a little glace or glaze to be added towards the end of cooking to boost the flavour, such as a glace de viande for a béarnaise sauce. Sometimes it is added at the beginning, such as a fish glaze used in the reduction for a fish beurre blanc.

Take care when reducing stock for a glace that it is not over-reduced to the point where it catches and begins to burn, which will give it a bitter flavour; a glace should be very sticky to the touch.

Storing stock: It is best to store frozen stock in small quantities so that only the required amount need be defrosted for use. Ice-cube trays are suitable for glace, as often only a very small amount is needed to ‘lift’ a dish or sauce.

Stocks cannot be refrigerated or frozen before they have cooled, so start making stocks that call for lengthy cooking early on in the day. If you need to hasten cooling, add a jug of ice to the stock to lower the temperature quickly.

When reheating the stock the following day, it must be brought back up to the boil before the temperature is turned down and the stock is simmered again. Don’t be tempted to keep adding ingredients as this can present food safety issues if the stock is not brought properly back up to the boil after each addition.

To make glace de viande or meat glaze...

To ensure you always have some glace to hand, reduce a sizeable amount of stock, such as 1 litre, and freeze what you don’t need to use straight away in ice-cube trays.

Put brown chicken and veal stock in a deep frying pan or a saucepan and simmer until the stock is very well reduced to a thick, gelatinous consistency. When a little is tested between your thumb and fingertip it will feel very sticky (like Vaseline). It will taste too strong but this does not matter, as it will be diluted in the final sauce. Take care not to reduce it any further as the natural sugars in the stock will continue to caramelise and the glaze will burn. Strain the glace into a container or ice-cube tray. Once cool, it will be like a firm jelly.

Flour-thickened sauces

Flour-thickened sauces are generally roux-based sauces. The three most common rouxs are white, blond and brown. These are used to thicken various liquids to make white, velouté and espagnole sauces.

A roux is a mixture of (generally) equal quantities of flour and butter, which is cooked over a medium heat for a specified amount of time and to which a measured quantity of liquid, in the form of milk or stock, is added. Rouxs are cooked to varying degrees to achieve different effects and appearances; so a white roux is cooked for less time than a blond, and a brown for the longest.

Savoury sauces

Flour-thickened sauces Derivatives

–White sauce –Béchamel, mornay, parsley, soubise

–Velouté sauce –Chicken, fish

–Espagnole sauce –Madeira, Bordelaise, chasseur

Emulsion sauces Derivatives

–Mayonnaise –Aioli, gribiche, mustard, sweet miso, tartare

–Hollandaise –Béarnaise, choron, herby, mousseline, paloise

–Beurre blanc –Mustard, chicken, fish

Composite/other sauces

–Reductions and pan sauces: Jus, cream and butter pan sauces

–Flavoured butters: Maître d’hôtel, garlic etc


–Pestos and salsas

–Tomato sauces

–Traditional sauces: Apple, mint, cranberry and orange, bread, horseradish, mustard, rouille, raita.

Coating consistency

Recipes may ask for a ‘coating consistency’ sauce, which means that the finished sauce evenly coats and clings to the back of a wooden spoon. The white sauce recipe results in a coating consistency.

If a recipe calls for different ratios of butter to flour to milk, then potentially a sauce of a different consistency is required. This should not affect the method you use; the resulting sauce will just be a little thinner or thicker depending on quantities.

A note on browned flour...

To speed up the process of browning the roux, the flour is first browned in the oven. This result is the same as if the flour was browned in the fat. Put a few tablespoonfuls of plain flour into a small roasting tin and place in an oven preheated to 180ºC for 15–20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is lightly browned.


A demi-glace sauce is a richer brown/espagnole sauce. Combine equal parts of brown/espagnole sauce and brown chicken and veal or beef stock and reduce by half, then strain and season with salt and pepper.


Jus are stock-based reduction sauces. They are effectively ‘double stocks’ with the addition of extra flavouring ingredients, so the principles of stock making apply when you are making one. A jus is finally reduced to a complex, meaty savouriness, to accompany meat, poultry and game.


Deglazing requires the addition of a cold liquid to a hot pan in which meat or vegetables have been browned or cooked (and usually removed from). The liquid, generally water, but sometimes alcohol or vinegar, is brought to the boil, which lifts the sediment from the pan that was created during the browning or cooking process. Scraping the base of the pan with a wooden spoon helps to lift the sediment. The sediment is generally well flavoured and, once captured in the deglazing liquid, can then be used to impart flavour to a sauce.

Deglazing is also useful to clean a pan if the browning process has been done over too high a heat, causing scorching, or burning, of the sediment. Using this sediment in a sauce may cause bitterness, so if, after browning or cooking a piece of meat or fish you feel the heat has been too high and the bottom of the pan looks burnt, deglaze with water, bring to the boil, then pour the liquid (called the déglaçage) into a bowl. Allow it to cool, then taste it. If there is no bitterness it can be used in the sauce, otherwise discard it. The deglazing technique is particularly important when browning a large amount of meat in batches for stews.

Understanding more about sauces...

Thickening sauces: When making a sauce, a good concentration of flavour must first be achieved. Then you need to consider the consistency of the sauce. Most often in stock-based sauces if a suitably flavoured gelatinous stock has been used, then reducing the stock or sauce is often all that is required to achieve both a good concentration of flavour and a syrupy consistency. However, if after making a sauce it has a good concentration of flavour, but is thin, then a little thickening may be necessary to create a sauce with a syrupy consistency which will ‘hold’ better on a plate. Besides reducing the sauce, the following ways of thickening stock-based sauces can be applied:

Beurre manié: This is used to thicken an unknown quantity of liquid. Mix equal parts of softened butter and flour to a smooth paste. Whisk a little of this beurre manié (start with ½ teaspoon) into a simmering sauce. As the butter melts, it disperses the flour through the sauce and thickens it, without creating lumps.

Cornflour and arrowroot: Both of these work best when slaked into sauces. Slaking involves mixing the thickener (cornflour or arrowroot) with a little cold water (or sauce) to create a thin, smooth paste. This is then gradually whisked into the sauce a little at a time (½ teaspoon) and the sauce simmered to thicken. Both cornflour and arrowroot have a tendency to give a sauce a very gelatinous consistency, so you may only need a little. Avoid vigorous boiling after adding the thickening to a sauce as this can cause lumps, and strings if using arrowroot. Using cornflour or arrowroot as thickeners results in clear, rather than cloudy or opaque, sauces.

Monter au beurre: This involves incorporating butter into a sauce just before using it, either by whisking or by vigorously swirling the saucepan. The butter rounds out the flavour of the sauce and gives it a shine, but adding too much butter will thicken the sauce slightly too much. Take care also that the butter is fully incorporated into the sauce, or it will sit like a buttery slick on the surface.

Using cream in sauces: When using cream in sauces, choose those high in fat, such as double cream or full-fat crème fraîche. Some low-fat creams, including single cream, will split if boiled vigorously. Avoid adding too much cream, which can result in a cloying flavour and will dilute the base flavour; often just a little is enough. Used judiciously, cream adds richness and helps to achieve a rounder, more balanced flavour in a sauce; it can also be used to thicken sauces slightly.

Reheating and refreshing sauces: When reheating a sauce to serve, taste it and if the flavour is too strong, add a splash of water. Also, if you feel the sauce lacks the flavour of any herb used in the making, then a fresh sprig of the herb can be added at this stage to ‘refresh’ the flavour; remove it before serving.

Pan sauces

Pan sauces are made to capture the flavours remaining in a frying pan after meat or fish has been sautéed, by using the technique of deglazing to lift the sediment. By its nature, a pan sauce is very quick to prepare – it should be made within the time it takes for the meat or fish to rest, about 3–5 minutes. So it is important to have everything you need to hand.

We generally classify pan sauces into 3 types: stock-, cream- and butter-based.

Balancing flavour in butter pan sauces

When butter is the main ingredient, the sauce can be cloying if the butter isn’t balanced with a little acidity and seasoning. Usually some lemon juice, wine or a mild vinegar is added to counteract the ‘fattiness’ of the butter and to give a better mouth feel. Seasoning also helps to balance the richness.

Beurre noisette

Butter contains milk solids and, when it melts over a medium heat for long enough, the milk solids will separate from the butter fat and fall to the bottom of the pan. If you heat the butter a little longer, the milk solids will begin to cook and change colour to a delicate brown, then a deeper golden brown, becoming ‘beurre noisette’. The aroma coming off the butter as this happens is nutty, hence the ‘noisette’ name. Avoid taking the butter too far before adding the lemon juice, as once burnt it will taste bitter.

Flavoured butters

These versatile butters are easy to make as they are simply softened butter with flavouring ingredients added. They are generally served cool or at room temperature, complementing meat, poultry, fish and vegetables dishes. They can also be used in place of plain butter on bread or toast, or to add additional flavour to sauces.


Emulsions are created when two substances are combined in such a way that they result in a smooth, slightly thickened mixture, where naturally they would separate. Vigorous whisking and the correct temperature of the ingredients are both factors that help to encourage and create emulsions, as are natural emulsifiers (certain ingredients that aid the process), which include egg yolk, mustard and seasoning. Stable emulsions hold their form, unless the oil is added too quickly (as can happen with mayonnaise) or the emulsion is overheated (a danger with hollandaise and beurre blanc), whereas unstable emulsions (such as vinaigrettes) separate on standing. In classic sauce making, the three most commonly used stable emulsions are mayonnaise, hollandaise and beurre blanc.


When making vinaigrettes it is important to balance the oil, acidity, flavours and seasoning. Dip one of the salad ingredients into the dressing to taste it to make sure the flavour and seasoning are right. The flavour of the leaf may affect the flavour of the dressing, and a slight adjustment of the balance and seasoning may be necessary.

The standard ratio of oil to acid in a dressing is 3 parts oil (often olive) to 1 part acid (usually wine vinegar), but this is entirely dependent on the type of oil and vinegar used, so tasting the dressing becomes that much more important, in order to achieve balance.

Because vinaigrettes are unstable emulsions, they will separate if left to stand for any length of time. A vigorous shake in a lidded jar will re-emulsify a separated vinaigrette – a simpler solution than that needed for a split stable emulsion, such as mayonnaise.

Seasoning should be added at the start, so it will flavour the whole vinaigrette rather than being held in suspension in the emulsion. And, of course, it can be adjusted at the end.

Emulsifiers in vinaigrettes

Vinaigrettes are generally unstable, which means that they separate on standing. Some ingredients, such as mustard, honey and seasoning, can temporarily emulsify a vinaigrette, while also enhancing the flavour.


For a simple dressing it is worth using an extra virgin olive oil for its flavour. However, if there are a lot of competing elements to the dish, you may want to use a milder, blended olive oil. Alternatively, try using more neutral oils such as sunflower, grapeseed, rapeseed or groundnut. When more strongly flavoured oils such as walnut or toasted sesame are used, they can be diluted by combining with a more neutral oil if desired.


Vinegars are used to provide acidity in vinaigrettes and they vary greatly in smell and taste. Sherry vinegars are more robust than most wine vinegars and a good aged balsamic will provide sweetness as well as acidity. You can try substituting citrus juices, but they will not be as acidic as vinegars, so use a ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part citrus.

Flavouring ingredients

A variety of ingredients such as herbs, spices and mustards can be added to vinaigrettes to lend flavour and texture. Carefully consider the ingredients the dressing is being used for; it needs to complement and enhance the ingredients, not overpower or dominate.

Pestos and raw sauces

Quick and easy to make, these sauces are either textured or blended until smooth. Made from fresh, generally raw ingredients, pestos and salsas provide a burst of flavour to accompany all manner of cooked meats, poultry, fish and vegetables, and of course pasta.

Tomato sauces

The natural acidity and texture of tomatoes make them ideal in sauces. All cooked tomato sauces should be rich in colour, full flavoured and have a good balance of acidity and sweetness. They freeze well, so it is worth making double the quantity and freezing half. When using tinned tomatoes, add a pinch of sugar to counteract any ‘tinny’ flavour and help balance the acidity.

Traditional sauces

These are classic accompaniments to various meats, poultry, game and fish. They are also useful when a quick sauce is needed to enhance a simple dish. A grilled pork loin chop is transformed by a spoonful of apple sauce, while the addition of horseradish sauce to mash boosts a braised beef dish. Where a cooling effect is required, to rich, spiced lamb dishes for example, raita offers a soothing contrast.

Egg-based sweet sauces

Egg-based sweet sauces have a reputation for being tricky to make. Undercook a custard, and it simply will not thicken. Overcook it and the egg yolks will ‘scramble’, giving the sauce an uneven, grainy texture. Practice and repetition, and a fair amount of stirring, are key to success and gaining confidence.

Fruit coulis

These simple uncooked fruit sauces are quick and easy to make and useful to serve with ice cream, mousses and other desserts. They are usually made with a sugar syrup, which helps to stop them separating.

Sugar syrups and caramels

Once dissolved and heated, sugar takes on almost magical qualities as it moves through the various stages towards caramelisation. At every stage, it has a different use, from stock syrup to deep caramel.

Stages in sugar syrup concentration

When you are ready to use the syrup, bring it to the boil in a saucepan and boil for the length of time necessary for it to reach the correct temperature and required consistency. This will depend on what the syrup will be used for.

Up until the ‘soft ball’ stage, test the consistency by using a teaspoon and your fingers, but take care as the syrup will be hot. Draw the syrup off the heat, dip the teaspoon in and take a little of the syrup between your thumb and forefinger, then test it.

From the soft ball stage the syrup will be too hot to use your fingers. Take a little of it with a teaspoon, drop into a jug of cold water, allow to cool, then take out and feel it.

Taking a syrup too far

If a syrup is taken to a stage too far, then it can be brought back by the addition of a good splash of water so the sugar density is diluted again. This can only be done if the syrup has not yet taken on colour. Once colour is achieved, the caramel can be stopped, but there is no going back to a previous stage.

A note on safety…

Great care should be taken when making and using sugar syrups. As shown in the table, the temperature of the syrup reaches well in excess of 100ºC.

Sugar syrup stage Temperature of the syrup Testing the stage Use

Vaseline 104ºC Slightly greasy, sticky feel Syrup and sorbets

Short thread 108ºC Thread extends to 5–7 mm Syrup and sorbets

Long thread 110ºC Thread extends to 2 cm Syrup

Soft ball 115ºC Syrup balls, but is very soft Fudge, fondant

Firm ball 120ºC Syrup balls with still some give Mousse-based ice creams, Italian meringue

Hard ball 124ºC Syrup balls with no give Marshmallows

Soft crack 138ºC Crack is sounded when hot syrup hits the cold water Soft toffee

Hard crack 155ºC Crack is sounded when hot Hard toffee, some nougats 160ºC syrup hits the cold water. Syrup begins to take on a little colour Nougat

Spun sugar 152ºC Pale golden colour Spun sugar

Caramel 194ºC Deep golden colour, quickly darkening on further heating Sauce and flavourings

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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