What do cream of potato soup, mayonnaise, and a delicious, buttery pan sauce have in common? More than I realized after last week’s class, it turns out. (Also, we got to play with fire.)
In some ways, this session of Cooking Lab has been the most challenging to recap. We covered a lot, but (if you’ll excuse the pun) it boiled down to two simple words: fat and fond.
Fat+Liquid=All good things. If you don’t know already that fat (butter, oil, cream, bacon grease, lard, egg yolk, etc.) makes things good, we need to have a talk. Mixing and matching fats and liquids (broth, wine, water, vinegar, juice) in varying proportions is pretty much the basis for every delicious soup, sauce, or vinaigrette (including mayonnaise and aioli–both essentially thick vinaigrettes).
For instance, the vinaigrette you put on salad is simply a fat (oil) suspended in an acidic liquid (usually vinegar or lemon juice). I love acidic dressing and so often recipes for vinaigrette just don’t have the bite I want, but, as Shelley pointed out, the nice thing about learning these techniques is that you can adjust any recipe to your tastes. She demonstrated with just a few strokes of a whisk how quickly equal parts oil and vinegar come together with the help of a little mustard or creamy roasted garlic.
The same basic theory holds true for mayonnaise (aioli is just mayo with garlic, don’t let the restaurant menus fool you). An egg (for our purposes, the yolk is fat, the white is liquid), a few more tablespoons of acid (juice of a lemon or vinegar), salt, pepper, and oil added gradually. There were two tricks I learned here. First, the fat needs enough liquid to suspend itself in, so use more liquid than you think you might need. Second, as you add the oil and it begins to get creamy (technically, the fats emulsify), you can stop at any point–thin, and you have the base for salad dressing or a sauce; medium, a dip for roasted potatoes (I had to physically remove myself from these at the table) or a base for chicken salad; thick, your usual sandwich spread but oh-so-much-better.
Fond+Fat+Liquid=Even better. Fat and liquid are also essential to the next lesson. From week 2’s sauteing/roasting lesson, fond is the crusty brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan. These add so much flavor to whatever you’re making and are the base of just about any pan sauce, gravy, or soup.
Pan sauces are one of my favorite ways to finish a dish, especially because they’re already half-made when you sautee or roast anything, and they’re infinitely flexible (and pretty hard to screw up). We made three pan sauces with different bases–cream, butter, and roux. The cream and butter sauces both start with a fond-y pan which is deglazed with liquid (broth, wine, alcohol, juice, etc.) making it easy to scrap up the bits before a fat is added to thicken the sauce. The roux sauce (my usual go-to) is slightly different as you whisk flour into the pan (and any fat leftover from cooking) before slowly adding the liquid. Most people know roux-based sauces as gravy from a roast. Pretty much any way you go, though, it’ll be delicious.
The most interesting thing this week was the see the parallells I hadn’t realized before, especially between pan sauces and vinaigrettes. We’ll see how well I can get them to work in my own kitchen!
*The Chopping Block allowed me to attend this new series for free in exchange for nothing more than feedback, but I thought it would be fun to share what I’ve learned with you, and with Chicago Food Bloggers since they shared the opportunity. My thoughts on the class are all 100% my own, un-paid-for, opinion.