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Feb 19, 2009 08:37 AM

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 . 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's simple:

    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 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.