We all want to reduce things in our life. Oh, come on now, don’t be shy – we all know we have something to have a little less of. I could lose the body weight of my 4 year old daughter and still not look the way I was ..many years ago – but I am digressing form the topic at hand.
Reductionism is the process of reducing something to its essence. I mean all we want to do is get the best out of the foods we produce and make it the most concentrated version of that food. Isn’t that what a sauce really is – a stock that has been reduced to its basic essence. Isn’t what cooking is all about in the first place?
When I am invited to a friend’s home for supper (and don’t worry this does not happen all the time) and they are cooking I like to try to get a peek into their process. We can all learn a thing or two every time we go out, so why not peek a bit and see if I have missed something spectacular. Hey, haven’t we all been surprised when a friend has dazzled you at the dinner table?
The first thing look at is how many pots on the stove have lids. Now lids are very important pieces of kit – it helps keep things moist and it is important to keep most of the heat in when looking to make a pot of water reach the magic mark of boiling.
However putting a lid on a sauce like a Ragu a la Bolognaise would be tantamount to a cardinal sin. As adding any additional liquid other than what was used to flavor the sauce in the first place is the opposite of the result we want to achieve in the first place.
I wrote, nearly a decade ago, a piece called Saucy by Nature and it was a good explanation on how to use reducing a liquid to make a basic pan sauce. It is one of my favorite things to do watch the endless process of liquids evaporating and concentrating flavors to make something magical. I have always equated the process of sauce making with alchemy. it is turning all the “burned bits” into the element that makes a simple meal turn into the most elegant of occasions.
The French have saying about sauces – “An ounce of sauce hides a multitude of sin” – they are right. I have witnessed first hand the evils of over saucing a poorly cooked protein. Hey, it happens. But the ultimate sin would be to undo the beautiful art of reductionism.
Here endith the lesson.