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Beautiful, Tasteless Sauce...

Hello fellow CH'ers;

Three days ago I decided that to improve my sauce making skills (I've never made a sauce) I would cook a different sauce every day for the next seven days.

I rarely eat meat, but when I have it in restos I love when it is served on a bedding of delicious, thick sauce, so I decided to start with a sauce to go with steak.

I went to the market and picked up a large, expensive club steak. Got home and pulled out my ready-made Classic French Demiglace by More than Gourmet http://www.morethangourmet.com/produc... . Opened it up and inside of the package was a recipe for a Peppered Port Sauce that claims to be the "perfect complement" to beef and would "dazzle" guests. I was excited.

I melted the required amount of butter, sauteed shallots, added crushed peppercorns, and thyme. I set them aside, pan seared my kosher-salted steaks and set aside to keep warm. Added the suggested amount of red wine to deglaze the steak pan, adding back the shallot mixture. Brought to the boil and reduced by half, just like the directions said. I then added the port and WHOOSH, the whole pan went up in flames. I yanked the heavy and large pan off of the stove and shook it around a bit until the flames subsided. Whoa, my first flambe! (Mental note, I've gotta tie my hair back next time I try this...).

Returned the sauce to the fire and whisked in the Demi-Glace until it was dissolved, then whisked in heavy cream, just like the recipe said. Then I pressed my sauce through a fine sieve with a wooden spoon. When I lifted the sieve didn't know what to expect, and what I saw made me feel like a proud mother. My sauce was thick, rich (looking) with an elegant gloss. It kind of looked like melted chocolate. Eager to taste it, I grabbed a spoon and put a bit of the sauce into it.

Lifted the sauce to my lips and tasted... nothing. I mean, maybe I tasted a tiny bit of the pepper but that was about it. I was devastated. Not only did I almost set myself and the kitchen on fire, and use up a container of not-so-cheap Demi-Glace, now I had the pricey steak with no tasty sauce. Then I wishfully thought that just maybe, when I poured the sauce over the meat (I was too bummed to even think about plating it with the sauce on the bottom) it would absorb more of the meat's flavor. So I poured it over the steak and sat down to eat it. Yuck! It was an ok steak, but my sauce just made it a pedestrian and sad attempt at a delicious meal.

So... any thoughts on where I went wrong? I never salted the sauce, should I have (the Demi-Glace had 240mg of Sodium)? I grabbed my copy of "Sauces" and saw that I should have been tasting the sauce along the way, but frankly after the thing caught on fire, the last thing on my mind was putting my face anywhere near it at that time. Also, even if I'd noticed it had no flavor earlier in the process I have no idea how I would have corrected it... added some mustard? Some orange extract? More salt?

Any ideas anyone has to build a sauce for steak with rich flavor would be greatly appreciated. (Or any recipes for a beginner at sauce making.) I'm so bummed out about this experience that I put off the "sauce a day" challenge until I can at least get this one (or one like it) right.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. I think maybe you didn't add enough salt.

    Like, When I make a sauce similar to what you do, it is amazingly, ridiculously delicious.

    Try this one...it's simple: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/al...

    8 Replies
    1. re: jaykayen

      I disagree on the salt - ideabaker had salted the meat and the demi-glace was salty. This sounds like it should have been a winner. I'd have seared the meat first, removed it, then added the butter, shallots, etc. to the pan and sauted them, which allows the fond and shallots to contribute flavor to one another. Then deglaze, complete the rest of the instructions, finally returning the meat to the pan, along with any exuded juices, and allow the meat to finish cooking while it sits in the sauce. Then taste before plating. My dirty secret is a packet of dehydrated onion soup mix, or other packet like beefy mushroom or golden onion. A half teaspoon stirred into a weak-flavored sauce to start. Taste - maybe more. Balsamic vinegar, black truffle oil, and Stonewall Farms Roasted Garlic & Onion Jam also come to the rescue.

      I've never used your demi-glace brand so I don't know how much flavor it has. If I need more beefy flavor, I use Better Than Bouillon brand beef base. It sounds like you didn't have enough fond - maybe there was too much sauce for the amount of meat you were cooking.

      1. re: greygarious

        A packet of soup mix tends to have a lot of salt...

        Didn't read that s/he didn't cook the meat first. That might well be it.

        1. re: jaykayen

          That's why I only use a tsp or so of soup mix or BTB.

      2. re: jaykayen

        Jaykayen, thanks for your link. Today I tried your suggested sauce. Woke up early, got my work out of the way, and at about ten o'clock, took out the two chuck steaks I bought for this next stab at sauce-making. Only had two because I'm just cooking for myself.

        Decided not to halve the recipe for the sauce because that might affect the taste and texture at the end.

        I have an old peppermill that crushes the peppercorns rather than breaking them into smaller bits, so opted to use it to crush the pepper. (Also, I don't care for crunching down on big rocks of cracked pepper, just a personal aversion.)

        Used the salting method a poster mentioned in Caroline1's salting steak experiment http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2007/08... since my steaks certainly weren't the highest quality. When ready, pan seared them and set aside on a foil-tented plate to keep warm.

        Poured out the fat, but left the browned bits on the bottom of the same pan that I used on the tasteless sauce day (OP). Removed the pan from the heat (thanks fellow CH'ers for that suggestion) and threw in the cognac, then carefully (with the long fireplace matches as suggested in the recipe) ignited it. Much the same "tower of flame" effect as on Tasteless Sauce day, but at least it was expected and more controlled this time. I kind of rolled around the Cognac and lightly shook the pan until the flames died out. My hair thanked me.

        Put the pan on the stove and deglazed with the cream (boy that was a lot of cream) and also whisked in some more of my demiglace. Reduced, and tasted. It tasted like Cognac and cream to me, so figured it needed a bit more reducing, and it also needed some salt. Instead of salting, I added about 2/3s of a teaspoon of Beef Better Than Bouillon to hopefully give the sauce a more 'beefy' flavor. Let it reduce more, tasted again. Very good. Added the last tablespoon of Cognac and corrected seasonings again. In retrospect I would skip that step because now I was tasting the Cognac Cream thing again. Just let it simmer a bit more before adding the pieces of the steaks in (the steaks, being chuck, had each broken into three pieces during the tenting phase) and spooning the sauce over them.

        Then, the moment of truth. I plated a large piece of steak on a bed of the sauce, and drizzled some extra sauce over them for good measure. I sat down in front of the computer (where I eat an excess of my meals) and cut into the steak. While rarer than I usually eat meat (I'm a medium-rare gal), they were remarkably tender. I pushed the meat on the fork through the sauce, swirling it around and finally brought the fork to my mouth and tasted... decadently rich deliciousness! Mighty darned close to heaven. I slowly ate the entire piece of steak in silent reverence to sauces. I practically licked the plate clean.

        I returned to the pan on the stove. All that lovely steak in sauce and no one there to help eat it. And anyway I've heard that people are starving in... well, you insert the locale. :-)
        So I picked up another piece of steak from the pan and swirled it around in the sauce, taking a bite. Then two or three more swirl/bite combos and it was gone, baby, gone. It was so good I thought I heard angels singing but soon realized that no choir of angels had made a visit to my kitchen...the cat had smelled the sauce and was standing at my feet next to the stove, meowing his lungs out in a desperate attempt to convince me that I'd forgotten my "no people-food for the animals" rule. Quickly realized that since I'll be eating a lot of steak and sauce over the next few days, I had to get that temptress of a dish out of the house!

        Grabbed two Tupperware containers and divided the meat between them, pouring the remaining sauce (there was plenty as there were supposed to be four steaks, but I only used two) and securing them. Picked up the phone and dialed two separate Senior Citizen friends of mine who I cook for from time to time since they live on frozen microwaveable foods, but there was no answer at either house. Put a Post it on each one with "Steak Au Poivre" written on the notes, attached and jumped into my car.

        Drove by house number one, to which I have a key, and rang the bell-again to no answer. Opened the door looked around, couldn't find her. Then I heard the snore. It was naptime at house one. I tiptoed to the fridge and slipped in the food on the top shelf so she'd see it. Also left some corn muffins, which she loves, on the kitchen table. Locked up the house and went to house number two.

        Again, no answer at house number two. I looked through the window and could see her, with a bag of cookies on the table next to the couch, reclined back, eyes closed, t.v. blasting. Guess it was officially naptime all over town. So I hung the bag with the Tupperware inside on the doorknob and will ring later to tell her to get it inside before it freezes.

        Just got back to my house and when I opened the door was greeted by and incredible fragrance of meat and sauce. It almost knocked me over, but then it dragged me in. I found myself standing over the pan again, licking the bits of sauce that hadn't poured out.

        Again, thank you. If sauce-making is wrong, I don't want to be right.

        1. re: ideabaker

          See? The sauce faeries aren't always mean. Sounds delicious! And I'm sure your senior citizen friends love you to pieces! I hope your poor kitty got to lick the pan after you were through licking it! '-) Good show! Great Post!

          1. re: ideabaker

            Turn back! TURN BAAAAAAACK!

            Oops, too late.

            Note: call to set up extra appointment with personal trainer.

            1. re: ideabaker

              I am, like the cat and old folks, awed!

              1. re: ideabaker

                Yeah, I'm happy to eat that sauce just mopped up with bread. SOOOO good.

                Glad it worked out for you!

                Re: Alton's recipe, it's a winner, but I only use GREEN peppercorns instead of black. When the green ones cook, they are not too bad to eat. Black ones have a stronger taste.

            2. Did you use a nonstick pan by any chance? You don't get as much fond development with a nonstick. If that's not the issue, maybe you just didn't get enough fond because there wasn't enough time. My other guess would be salt. 240mg is not that much sodium. I've never used store-bought demi-glace but I know what you're talking about and they do look really good in the packaging... I would venture to guess it's better than Better than Buillon... :-{ It certainly looks a lot more like demi-glace.
              I usually don't use very much cream (if any) in a sauce like that. Instead I use a rich stock and like to finish with butter. I think too much cream does inhibit the beefy flavor.. mellows it out, maybe.

              2 Replies
              1. re: soniabegonia

                Am not really sure what my pan is made of. It is heavy in weight, but has no Teflon. Yet nothing really "sticks" to it. Anodized Steel? It is not cast iron, it is gray in color and not "non-stick" to my knowledge.

                I am a big believer in Better than Bouillon, always have the beef and chicken on hand. Could I have swirled some into my finished sauce once I realized it tasted like nothing? (Or would, after pressing the sauce through a sieve) it have toughened the texture of the sauce? Would it have been too salty added at the end? *sigh* Plan to try this again in a few days and am trying to figure out what possibly could've been done better to improve (actually provide) the flavor...

                1. re: ideabaker

                  I have, on occasion, added BTB chicken to my chicken stock, when just adding salt didn't help.

              2. I agree with jaykayken that the sauce probably didn't have enough salt. Even well-prepared food with Insufficient salt is bland. And since what constitutes "sufficient salt" is a subjective thing, you can't rely on a recipe.

                The last step in preparing any sauce is always to correct the seasonings. Generally speaking, that just means to add salt and pepper as necessary to bring the flavor to where you want it. Don't stick your face in the pan, just get a bit on a spoon (a really long spoon?) and give it a taste.

                The other possibility is the quality of your ingredients. A tiny bit of demiglace on the tip of a teaspoon should coat your tongue and have an intense beefy flavor. If not, that might be the problem. The wine should also be fairly intensely flavored. And the pepper - are you using fresh-ground quality peppercorns or the pre-ground stuff in a can (affectionately referred to as "table sand")?

                Your recipe is sound. No need for mustard, orange rind, or anything else. And I certainly disagree with adding highly-processed foods such as soup mixes. They may be okay to salvage a bad sauce, but presumably your goal isn't to salvage bad sauces, but to learn to make good ones. And a good sauce doesn't need any artificial additives.

                You can kick up the amount of demiglace if you like, but if your ingredients are good, the only possibility I can think for a truly bland sauce is lack of salt. When you try again, keep tasting the sauce until you like it; once it's on the plate it can't be adjusted.

                BTW: adding alcohol to a dish that's on the heat brings some entertainment to the kitchen. While fire always deserves respect, alcohol burns fairly cool (seriously - pass your hand through the flames a foot or two above the pan - it really isn't that hot), so don't get too uptight about it. If you want to minimize the drama, add the port (and any other alcoholic beverage) off-heat, then gently bring the sauce back to a simmer. Me, I like the big flames. But I'm nearly bald, so the whole Michael-Jackson-in-a-Pepsi-commercial thing isn't much of an issue.

                1. Did you boil or simmer your sauce to reduce it? Boiling will simply muddy the ingredients so that there are no distinct flavors or aromas (one key to taste). I adamantly disagree that salt was needed given the amount in the glace, steak, and even from the wine. I also agree that perhaps there wasn't enough fond for flavor but with the ingredients you used, it should have been lovely.

                  Next time, take the pan off the heat when you add the port!

                  (Nicely written and enjoyable post - thanks)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: alwayscooking

                    Thanks alwayscooking... yes, I did boil the sauce to reduce it (the wine/shallots part). That probably didn't help. I think that, based on other posters' comments, I could've added a bit of salt (I added none), but as you pointed out, the other ingredients seemed like they would have imparted some flavor, if only a little.

                    Thanks for the warning on the port, LOL. I have always avoided flambed dishes as I was fearful of burning something (or myself) up. With the surprise flambe I realized it really isn't so bad, just scary when you are not expecting it!

                    Am wondering if maybe the steak itself wasn't very full of taste. I did just get it at the market, not the butcher, and I bet it wasn't aged. Would that make a difference in the bits and pieces I later deglazed? Will try to get to a butcher next time just in case.

                    Will report back on attempt number two on this sauce; stay tuned!

                  2. Interesting... I'm kind of at a loss, but prior to reading some of the other posts I thought salt might be an issue. Red wine, port, pepper, demi-glace and it tasted like nothing? Who knows... I think steak never needs much of a sauce, but that's a different story anyway. The cream is a big thick ingredient all by itself and that will deaden some flavors. I'd maybe try adding cognac/brandy to the sauce instead of port. Maybe the brightness of that would counteract the heaviness of the cream better?

                    As for the flames, I'm with alan: Don't toss you whole head of hair into the flames, but they are really nothing to be super-scared of either. Jerking the pan as a reaction was far more dangerous than the flames themselves.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: HaagenDazs

                      A prepared demi-glace I don't like, never good for me. I like traditional thickening agent, and seasoning. Cream is heavy should of thickened a little as well.

                    2. You ... need ... to ... add ... salt.

                      1. Several people have commented that the salt in the demiglace should have been enough to flavor the sauce. After looking at the numbers, I have to disagree.

                        The demiglace had 240 milligrams of sodium. A teaspoon of salt weighs about 5,000 milligrams. Do the math.

                        As for salt in the wine, a glass has 5-10 milligrams of sodium. That's not even enough to be perceptible in the finished dish.

                        Seriously, the only thing that was clearly wrong with your sauce is that it's underseasoned. Just add salt. Your taste buds will thank you.

                        1. I just have to reply again regarding the salt.

                          As we all know, salt is only one of the five flavors (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami). The sauce as described should have some taste if properly cooked. Salt would balance out the other flavors and make the dish more round. Since most foods we tend to eat lately all seem to rely on the single flavor of salt and the mouth feel of fat, we often overlook the importance of the other four.

                          IMO I think the sauce was boiled too roughly and all the flavor ended up in the air.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: alwayscooking

                            But salt adds more than just saltiness. According to Harold McGee, it "fills out the flavor of foods, sweets included. It’s an important component of taste in our foods, so if it’s missing in a given dish, the dish will taste less complete or balanced. Salt also increase the volatility of some aromatic substances in food, and it enhances our perception of some aromas, so it can make the overall flavor of a food seem more intense."

                            You can't make flavorless food palatable by adding too much salt. But otherwise tasty food will be bland if it's un- or under-salted.

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              Agreed - and also referenced McGee on this. But I still think that the salt in the ingredients would be enough to sense some flavor (I did not say that it was optimal). The OP commented that the sauce was tasteless and salt won't help that - you've got to have some flavor to be able to enhance it. Some of the other flavors are volitile and will be lost in high heat.

                              So - I'm asking OP if the sauce was boiled or on a low simmer
                              ?

                              1. re: alwayscooking

                                Thank you everyone for your advice. I've been walking around with a cloud over my head for a couple of days now, hence the delay in posting this experience. When I reduced the wine with the shallots and thyme, it was boiling (I thought that's how to quickly reduce sauce). Maybe I should've been more patient and let it reduce at a lower temp.

                                I didn't even think about salt until the day after (i packed most of the steak in a Tupperware and threw it in the fridge, I was so disgusted with the whole thing). The next day the meat had absorbed most of the salt and I tried to sprinkle some kosher flakes on it, but leftover steak never tastes that great to me anyway.

                                1. re: ideabaker

                                  Boiling to reduce a wine is normal practice.

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    Yes, reduce wine by itself and you should just boil the s&^t out of it until it is as thick as you want.

                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                So, so true.

                                This is why salt is SO critical to great chocolate chip cookies.

                            2. Seasoning, where was the garlic or herbs, salt or pepper ??? A must. To me ... way more work I make a pork wine sauce all the time, simple, just remove the steaks and let rest after cooking deglaze with the port wine, then let reduce a little add onions (shallots) and mushrooms, I like that, a little chicken broth and let reduce some more. Make sure to add seasoning, thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic and maybe a bay leaf. after reduction and thickened you can serve as a glaze or thicken with a little corn starch to make a gravy. To much work on your recipe. Seasoning is the key. I know if it the first time but the key is a roux ..... flour and butter to make a sauce for what and brown sauce. equal parts melted then add liquid. For others, I thicken with a little corn starch with a liquid this thickens wine sauce or anything else. You can you both for both sauces, but either or it works great I'm sure I'm have opposition on this but it isw pretty simple.

                              But for this, you just lacked seasoning.

                              1. One more comment on salt: 240mg is only about an tenth of a teaspoon of salt, so that was negligible and if you didn't salt the steaks heavily, not much would come off them, either. Whether it was the sole culprit or not, it definitely sounds like it needed quite a bit of salt actually - the recipe didn't call for it?

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: MikeG

                                  No, the recipe never said anything like "season to taste". I thought the Demi-Glace would offer the big oomph of flavor. Not sure at what point(s) I should be adding extra salt. And as other posters have suggested, I probably didn't salt the meat enough either, just a light sprinkling of kosher salt on both sides... again, I thought the Demi-Glace would take care of the rest...

                                  1. re: ideabaker

                                    Did you taste the Demi-Glace before using it?

                                    1. re: ideabaker

                                      To oversimplify, salt, or at least one of the strong flavors like acid, sweetness or bitterness - just has that effect on human (maybe mammalian?) taste perception. Try eating plain, boiled potato with no salt, or chicken soup - blech. You know what you're supposed to be tasting but it's just not "there" until you add adequate salt. Seems to be especially true for liquids so without salt - or as others have alluded to - some fairly strong source of glutamates.

                                      On the related note, it does sound like you expected more from the demiglace than it provides - it's more about texture (that glossiness and mouthfeel you mention) and "depth" of flavor than "oomph." If all that wine alone didn't give it some "oomph", I'm still betting on lack of salt.

                                      NB re the port. It has significantly more alcohol than regular table wine. Next time you add a lot of it or anything else stronger than wine to a pan at one time, turn off the heat or remove it from the flame while you're pouring and you should avoid the "roaring tower of flame" effect - at the very least it'll be a more of a controlled burn.

                                  2. It sounds as though you pan seared your steaks then set the pan aside, losing the yummy brown bits and juices.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Louise

                                      Making the sauce in the pan the steaks were in is key!! Flavor and flavor

                                      1. re: kchurchill5

                                        Louise, kchurchill5 and others... I DID make the sauce in the same pan as I seared the steaks in. I deglazed the pan with the wine. Must've done something else wrong...

                                        1. re: kchurchill5

                                          The Demi-Glace should have brought the same sort of flavor to the sauce as deglazing the pan.

                                        2. re: Louise

                                          It is very clear in the 4th paragraph of the original post that the shallots were sauteed in butter and set aside BEFORE the meat went into the pan, and that the pan was then deglazed with the wine. The meat may not have created much of a fond, but what was there was definitely not lost.

                                        3. Your writing is great!

                                          Making a demi - glace from scratch is a lot of work. I don't know where the cream in your recipe came from. A demi-glace builds on pork fat, brown roux, veal stock, white wine, thick tomato puree, carrots, onion, thyme, bay leaf and technique; then reducing to 2/3 and returned to the right consistency usiing more and more spicy veal stock and finishing with Madeira.

                                          With the mix, next time (and as a wild guess) add: a) some fish sauce. and b) some tomato paste that you've cooked for a bit. The fish sauce will not end up making the sauce smell or taste fishy. The tomato paste will transform into something new, with greater depth of flavor and richness.

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Sounds like just a seasoning problem, not enough salt and pepper. I do like seasoning

                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              Thanks Sam, I do like the idea of cooking down some tomato paste to add, but at what point? (Before deglazing with wine? Before the port?) I also have fish sauce in the fridge but it never occurred to me to add that. It certainly would've added a bit more salt, and more flavor.

                                              I am bound and determined to make this sauce again, within the week. So if you (or anyone else) have any other ideas that come to mind they would be very much appreciated!

                                              1. re: ideabaker

                                                Cooked tomato paste is one of those "tips" I don't see often, but is stilll used by chefs (and me) that I know. Throw it into the sauce at the time you whisk stuff into the demi glace.

                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  too true. I always cook off my tommie paste to almost burnt. It adds a depth of flavour that is amazing.

                                                  Uncooked paste always taste metallic to me.

                                                  1. re: purple goddess

                                                    Thought scorcher (idea baker), exactly, "cook off my tommie paste to almost burnt. It adds a depth of flavour that is amazing." is 100% true.

                                                2. re: ideabaker

                                                  I've never added tomato sauce, never thought too, not a bad idea but I think the seasoning would of fixed it. But ... tomato is a nice idea.

                                                  1. re: kchurchill5

                                                    Remember, a demi-glace starts with (among others) thick pureed tomatoes.

                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                      True, I just never used a demi glace ... just made a sauce on my own. I figured that would come up at some point. You got me there.

                                              2. You know, in my long experience there are just times when the flavor in a sauce goes south. Don't know why. Maybe the sauce faeries kidnap it? I almost always know what kind of flavor I'm going for in a sauce, so there are things I can do to try to find it. I always have on hand a battery of things like spices, concentrated chicken and beef base, a selection of spirits ranging from fortified wines such as Madeira or Port, cognac, and a selection of pre-made sauces. One old European stand by I don't recall ever seeing mentioned on these boards is adding black currant jelly to a sauce, which gives a rich back flavor. The point is, don't be discouraged when the sauce faeries kidnap your flavor, but look on it as an opportunity to defeat them with your own creativity. And when all else fails, hey, there's always ketchup! '-)

                                                And for the record, it's a mark of a great cook to have a sauce fail every once in a while.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  I completely agree... Once in a while the sauce faeries steal all the flava from my lamb curry dish. Make it the same way every freakin' time, but just occasionally I serve it up and it has not a whit of flavour.

                                                  sauce faeries?? flavour pixies???

                                                  1. re: purple goddess

                                                    Same here ... one time great ... one time not.

                                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                                    Caroline1, thank you for your advice and encouragement. I actually have on hand nearly everything you mentioned (the beef and chicken base, plenty of spices, fortified wines, even the blackcurrant jelly-- just no "pre-made" sauces ... don't even know what those are or where I'd find them). The saving grace of this whole experience is that I was only cooking (to try it out) for myself. But I hope to make it for guests at some point in the future. At what point would I add any of the "flavor savers" in the process to rescue the sauce should this happen again? Like Sam said, during the whisking in of the demiglace?

                                                    I think with the help of everyone here I may be ready to tackle this again, probably Sunday or Monday. Hopefully it will come out with just as wonderful of a texture but a lot more lively taste!

                                                    1. re: ideabaker

                                                      Your pre-made demi glace is one of many classic premade sauces and similar "condiments" available today. Unfortunately there are not as many as there used to be. For example, there used to be a bottled Sauce Robert on the market that was pretty good. Not precisely as good as my home made, but hey, last time I made Sauce Robert from scratch, it took at least a couple of days! You probably already have a pretty good arsenal of sauces on hand. Worcestershire, A-1, shoyu and soy sauces (Kikkoman is common), a variety of good quality mustards, Angostura and other types of bitters, various special vinegars, fortified wines, cognac, different oils, hot sauces. Many of these things are the "backbone" of classic sauces.

                                                      As for when to use them, well, not trying to be smart ass by stating the obvious, when you're sure that your recipe has drawn a flavor blank, then think about what kind of flavor enhancement you're after for the food the sauce is to serve. If it's a sauce you've never tasted before and your best efforts have resulted in a lovely looking blank flavor slate, then forget about original flavor and just try for what seems like fun and delicious on the spur of the moment. And never worry about failure. Some of my failures have ended up serving as my most valuable lessons. Nothing is a failure if you learn something. Even if it's only not to do that again.

                                                      Most important, relax and enjoy! '-)

                                                  3. One of my favorite sauces for steak is just after the steaks are out resting, add some shallots and mushrooms and cook slightly. After a few minutes add 1 teaspoon flour to thicken the veggies to make a roux ... add some port wine to deglaze the pan and a little beef broth. Add some fresh thyme, Salt and pepper. Right at the end I add 2 tablespoons cognac and then ignight, This gives it a great flavor. It is a rich hearty sauce, simple and great flavor. One of my favorites.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. Did the Steak sizzle the moment it hit the pan? If there was the same kind of excitement and spark at the point that the steak met the pan as what you felt at the "flambee" moment? Did neighbors come and knock on your door to get a whiff of the nice beefy aroma?

                                                      I think a good sauce will have to start with the well-executed steak. Maybe change the order of things, and do the meat first, then the butter, shallots...etc, so that there aren't too many starts and stops of the temperature. It is better to start on a "Fortississimo" of the temperature so that you have some place to go in the gradual decreasing of the heat.

                                                      Also, the pan sounds like it might not have been doing its job. I never did like the "grey" stuff even if it also had established reputation as a cookware. I just don't think it retains heat as well as a nice thick All Clad. Whatever the pan may be, be sure to have it evenly heated high enough before putting anything in it.

                                                      Nevertheless, your passion and quest for the ultimate sauce is contagious. Good luck & Happy Eating!

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: HLing

                                                        Thank you HLing. I think you hit the nail on the head with reversing the steps (Steaks first, then shallots/thyme/etc.). When the steak hit the pan it did sizzle, not loudly or getting smoky, but I heard something. And it did brown and leave brown bits on the bottom of the pan for deglazing.

                                                        Interesting thought on the pan itself. I will say that I got this set about six years ago and have bragged on how it has never failed me yet, not once! But if I start with the high heat and adjust down during cooking as you've suggested, that might take care of any "heat retention" problems.

                                                        When I try this sauce again in a few days (I'm pretty darned persistent and when something doesn't come out right, I keep trying it over and over again until it works for me [my biggest critic]; I think I've made Chicken Marsala seven times in the past few months and still am not satisfied, ironically because the sauce is never thick and rich enough for me), I will keep your (and the other CH'ers here) suggestions in mind and adapt the process accordingly!

                                                      2. Ideabaker, I was just looking up something else in Cooks Illustrated's back issues, and came upon the May/June 2003 article on Pan Sauce 101. If you can't get your hands on a copy, you can sign up for a free 2-week's trial online membership that will give you access. It covers equipment and techniques, plus how to do a separate wine reduction, and includes several recipes appropriate for various meats.

                                                        1. When people like Caroline1, Alan Barnes, MM Ruth, Sam Fujisaka, and Ipsedixit speak (well . . write), I listen. These people know what they're talking about!

                                                          To add my two cents: the big unknown here is the quality and taste of the More Than Gourmet brand demi-glace that you used. A lot of bottled demi-glaces add more texture than favor because demi-glace is so expensive to make properly. My guess is that your demi-glace was long on texture and short on flavor. (Incidentlally, Williams-Sonoma make a great one, but it costs $30 for a small jar.)

                                                          My second guess would be that your pan is sort of non-sticky and there was not enough fond. Try a decidely old-fashioned pan next time, one with an irritating lack of non-stick qualities to help you develop a lot of fond. As other posters have suggested, use high heat, initally, on your meat.

                                                          I wouldn't cook off all the alcohol. You can flame out some of it, but put a lid on it before it all disappears. The alcohol adds a bit of bite and flavor, I think. (I know that I speak heresy.)

                                                          Last, Ipsedixit is right: salt is important. Wonderful stuff (and lately much maligned, unjustly)! I hope this helps.

                                                          1. I feel like you didnt reduce and cook the fluids enough especially after the addition of the port freaked you out - the wine should probably have been reduced quite a bit. I always sautee my shallots and stuff right in in the pan after the steak is cooked, and then deglaze, cook the wine down until it is syrupy and go on. You dont give the quantities of ingredient you used, but the sauce should have been thick at the end. Yeah and add salt and more pepper too if needed.

                                                            Look the sauce should have had some flavor but the steak should have too!
                                                            lots of modern beef is almost tasteless, so try this with something like skirt steak next time.