The Sauce Makes the Fish
Chef Henry M. Summers, seated, and friend, c. 1983
© 1999 Henry Summers
Sauce Velouté de Poisson
(pronounced veh-loo-tay duh pwah-sohn)
1 recipe Seabags instant fish stock (see Basic Preparation)
2 tablespoons butter (see below)
2 tablespoons flour
salt to taste (optional)
French cooks have an old saying: “The sauce makes the fish.” And of all French sauces, velouté is at once the simplest, and most important.
It can be used without further embellishment to enhance any broiled, poached or steamed fish. But it can also be magically transformed into a rainbow of other sauces by adding such easily-obtainable ingredients as tomato purée (sauce aurore), grated cheese (sauce mornay), or, when you want to say it with saucepans, diced lobster meat, cognac, and a pinch of cayenne (sauce diplomate).
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth, straw-colored paste. (This is called a roux blond.) Add the prepared fish stock, whisking vigorously until simmering and thickened. Taste, adding salt and pepper as desired.
For thicker velouté, increase the amounts of butter and flour proportionately. As taste and diet dictate, olive or other vegetable oils may be substituted for the butter. If a completely fat-free sauce is required, mix a tablespoon of cornstarch in 1/4 cup of cold water until completely dissolved, and stirring, add in a stream to the simmering stock. To hold velouté for later service, drizzle a little melted butter over the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and place over steam, or in a hot water bath.
Prepare 1 recipe velouté. Lightly beat 2–3 egg yolks in a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the velouté, and beat until well combined. (Adding hot liquid to egg yolks a small amount at a time is called tempering, and prevents them from cooking too fast, and turning into scrambled eggs.) Over very low heat, add this back to the remaining velouté in the saucepan. Stir constantly until smooth and slightly thickened. As with all egg-enriched sauces, allemande will curdle if allowed to boil.
Prepare 1 recipe sauce aurore (see below). Add 4 tablespoons diced pimentos, canned or fresh, and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Puréed or very finely chopped garlic may be added to taste. Salt to taste if desired.
Prepare sauce velouté as directed above. Add 1/2-cup of tomato purée. Taste, adding salt and pepper as preferred.
Sauce Blanche Piquant
(pronounced blahn pee-kahn)
Prepare sauce velouté as directed above, using half water, and half dry white wine. Add 1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar. Taste, adding salt and pepper if desired. Though traditional with roast pike, sauce blanche piquant is excellent with baked, broiled or poached trout or salmon.
The smallest member of the cabbage family, capers come preserved in vinegar or salt. The salted form should be soaked in cold water for 10–20 minutes, then drained before using. Those pickled in vinegar can simply be drained before use. A dash of the pickling vinegar is sometimes added to caper sauces. Capers are graded according to size. The smallest are labeled non-pareil, and need not be chopped before use.
Prepare sauce velouté as directed above. Stir in 2–3 tablespoons of capers, prepared as instructed in the preceding paragraph. Taste, adding salt and pepper if desired.
Prepare 1 recipe allemande. Add 1/2 cup cooked lobster meat, diced, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons cognac or armagnac, and a pinch of cayenne. Salt to taste if desired.
Prepare sauce velouté as directed above, substituting brown roux (see Shrimp Gumbo recipe in Main Dishes) for blond. Add 2 tablespoons of tomato purée, and 2 tablespoons of crumbled bacon. (If preferred, 2 tablespoons of chopped sautéed mushrooms may be substituted for the bacon.) Salt and pepper to taste if desired.
Prepare sauce velouté, substituting 2 cups of dry red wine for the water and/or white wine. Season to taste with anchovy paste, which will probably make additional salt unnecessary, and pepper. Sauce genevoise is traditional with salmon and trout.
Prepare sauce aurore as directed above. Add 1/2-cup chopped or thinly sliced sautéed mushrooms. Salt and pepper to taste if desired.
Saint Malo Sauce
Prepare sauce velouté as directed above. Blend in 1 tablespoon catsup, 1 tablespoon prepared mustard, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, and bottled hot sauce or cayenne to taste. Salt and pepper if desired.
Prepare sauce velouté as directed above. Blend in 1/2-cup of grated Gruyere or Parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste if desired.
Prepare sauce velouté as directed above, substituting brown roux for blond. (See Shrimp Gumbo recipe in Main Dishes.) Add 1 dozen fresh, canned or frozen oysters, and a pinch of cayenne. Heat gently until oysters are just curled around the edges. Taste and add salt if desired.
Prepare sauce velouté or allemande as directed above. Add sugar and freshly grated or prepared horseradish to taste. Add salt and pepper if desired.
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