Sauces - The Forgotten Art Form
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
As a connoisseur of fine foods and traditional cooking techniques, I am always in search of something that brings another dimension to the foods I prepare. As a student of fine food, I tend to gravitate to one specific area of knowledge and stay glued there until I have learned all there is to know. I have embraced many different culinary philosophies over the years, including raw food-ism, vegetarianism, low-fat-ism, and even outright fasting....all have enchanted me at times. The underlying theme that I learned from all of this is that I am a meat eater, and I like fat. This was not a conscious conclusion; rather it was more of a deep visceral feeling. My body was screaming for me to feed it clean fats – once I learned how to listen the message was loud and clear, and I knew on an intuitive level that I was on the right track.
Having made the rounds, so to speak, of modern dietary fads, I have come to find myself enraptured in the culinary traditions of old. I am fascinated by the food culture and traditions of our ancestors, especially as they are becoming obfuscated by trendy cooking shows, endless grocery store aisles of packaged foods, and an outright attack on real food by the industries that stand to gain from prepackaging our lives and serving them to us on a microwave safe plate.
Given that I know I am firmly a meat eater and lover of natural fat in all its glorious forms, I have been dead-set on finding new ways to recycle the same basic dinner components into variations that satisfy hunger, yet also please the side of me that needs something different and exciting.
It is interesting to me how the stepping-stones along life’s path tend to leave traces of them selves with you as you march along towards some eventual culmination of all things leading to who you are. A few of the more profound bits of wisdom that stuck with me along my dietary escapades are:
Raw food is good for us.
I’m not just talking about salad, or over-priced cold pressed juices. What I’m referring to is real deal stick to your ribs farm fresh goodness like raw eggs, raw butter, and yes, even raw meats when properly done. Our general cultural hesitancy to consume raw eggs, dairy and meat is admittedly born out of some amount of necessity due to filthy industrial farming practices, overpopulation in city centers, and a general decline in the quality of farm life for factory farm animals. But there has always been, and hopefully always will be, a coalition of resistance farmers that refuse to give way to the modern practices preached by industrial giants on the pulpit of greater profits and conformity. Products from these precious few farmers are by and large fresher, cleaner, and safer to eat in their raw, natural state. Learning to prepare rich, decadent sauces, meats and meals without compromising the life giving energy within the food is absolutely a lost art form, but it is wisdom that continues to make its way through the ages. One of my greatest hopes is to adequately play my role in moving this tradition forward.
A diet high in animal fats and high quality nature-made oils like olive oil and coconut oil is the best way to go.
The writing has been on the wall for a while now, and you have likely heard whispers of this recently, as it has permeated the greater social consciousness and even made its way into popular media outlets. The fact of the matter is that pretty much everyone ate a diet based on healthy natural fats until about 70 years ago when for some reason the medical establishment decided to demonize natural sources of fat. You can draw your own conclusions about why this ideological change was instituted, but I consider that to be irrelevant as long as we can all agree that it is time to revert back to the tried and true dietary practice of sourcing natural healthy fats as the basis of our meal planning.
Breads, grains, and starches should be eaten in minimal amounts.
What I’ve found from planning meals around healthy fats is that carbs are rarely an essential component to a meal. They can serve a valuable purpose in a meal, however, and that is to serve as a medium on which to serve more fats. Not only are carbs a great medium for loading on tons of fat (think heavily buttered bread…yumm), but also they often make it much more palatable. Many of the most refined food cultures use bread to dip in rich sauces, or to sop up creamy gravy. In France, certainly one of the most sophisticated (and healthy) food cultures in the world, it would not be uncommon to see someone eating a dinner roll with more butter on it than actual roll! This should serve as a shining example of just what roll carbs are meant to play in our diet.
I have been living by these three basic tenants for about a year now and by most standards I am still a spring chicken when it comes to the glorious world of cooking with real fat. Yet in other ways the experiences that I’ve had before coming to this dietary way of life have contributed to give me a unique and insightful understanding of how and why this is absolutely the way we were meant to eat.
I am cautious to make such a broad stroking statement in saying that everyone should eat one certain way, so I will qualify that statement by saying that of course there are outlying examples of different dietary principles being necessary. A few that come to mind are those folks with certain food allergies, or people that are on a cleansing diet with the intent of purging some imbalance or disease. Absolutely I agree that there are periods in which one may need to deviate from these basic everyday dietary principles, but many of these reasons are temporary and can be overcome with proper treatment. That being said, I do believe that the basic biological makeup of all humans is most agreeable to consuming clean, natural, pastured (or wild caught) animal fat, meat, dairy, and eggs.
Along my journey to discovering lost food traditions that more closely resemble an ideal human diet I have made some interesting observations. I always appreciate when facts present themselves to me in an organic and natural way, as opposed to reading them in a book, or being told them by a ranting guru. The first observation and most obvious is that American food culture is in its infancy, and still has yet to be defined in any other way than “it makes you fat.” I could go on about the reasons why America is devoid of a coherent food culture, but I’d rather move on to discuss a culture that serves as a stark contrast to the infantile American food culture, and that is the wise old culinary expertise of France.
In my pursuit of finding ever more ways to retain the valuable life-giving enzymes in raw foods like butter, eggs and meat, I kept coming across recipes that had their basis in classic French cooking. Like, really… a staggering amount of attention to quality of food and nutrient preservation has been given to French cuisine. Sure there are examples of similarly wise and tradition steeped recipes in other parts of the world, but many of those still have their roots in French cooking. So what is it, I wondered, about France? What makes them so much different than everyone else? Even today popular culture will tell you that Le Cordon Bleu is the highest expression of a refined and traditional cooking school, and the most widely known restaurant rating system in the world is the Michelin Star rating, with roots in French food culture.
I cannot yet claim to know enough about the history of France and French cuisine to offer a satisfactory answer to why France is so different (a problem that I certainly hope to rectify in the future), but what I can offer is my personal observation that there is definitely something to French cooking.
As the 20th century Prince of Gastronomy, Maurice Edmond Sailland, a.k.a. Curnonsky, or ‘Cur’, the lauded inventor of gastronomic motor-tourism as popularized by Michelin, said:
Sauces comprise the honor and glory of French cookery. They have contributed to its superiority, or pre-eminence, which is disputed by none. Sauces are the orchestration and accompaniment of a fine meal, and enable a good chef or cook to demonstrate their talent.
Some of the most striking examples of nutritionally superior French sauce recipes that I have come across so far are:
· Béarnaise Sauce
· Beurre Blanc
· Hollandaise Sauce
· And Mayonnaise
What’s most important about these sauces is that when done properly and according to tradition, they are made with raw fats and raw eggs. While these sauces represent only a small sliver of the fine art form of “saucery” that the French have developed, I consider them to be among the most culturally significant. From what I assume was an intuitive assertion that warming the sauce without cooking it would preserve the life giving benefits of the ingredients, the French have distinguished themselves as especially understanding of the healing properties of raw foods in a way that few modern cultures have.
This distinction cannot be stressed enough because this draws the line between the traditions of old, and the starkly contrasted ready-made pasteurized and preservative laden sauces found on grocery store shelves today. Sure – some of the neatly packaged, over-promised and under-delivered sauces on the shelves may taste similar – heck, some even taste admittedly good, but they will not hold water when put to the test of determining the health giving properties. This is especially true when considering what to feed our children.
Mustn’t we as parents choose the absolute best when feeding our children? Are we not charged with giving them their best life? If so, then the decision to make scratch made real food with plenty of natural fat and life giving properties is an absolute no brainer.
Mastering the art of “saucery” is far from unattainable for the home chef, and what’s more I consider it to be a skill of relative ease when given certain modern kitchen appliances (thinking of you VitaMix Blender!). Apparently Julia Childs, a world renowned teacher of French cuisine, made it a point to help the home cook feel comfortable making these sauces – I’m certain it’s because she knew the importance of having a good sauce to accompany the mundane everyday meat and vegetables. Julia is particularly famous for her version of a blender hollandaise sauce that takes no more than 5 minutes to prepare.
As I dive further into the nuances of French cuisine and continue my pursuit of new and better ways to incorporate natural fats and farm foods onto our dinner plates, I will carry with me the foundation of having a great sauce to go with any dish. Once the basic sauce is mastered, the chef’s imagination is the only limitation on where it can go. There is truly no limit to how the sauce can be seasoned, flavored, or textured. Bon appetite!