Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Mother of All Sauces


From my earliest days of cooking, I learned how to thicken a sauce and how to make a white sauce. Did I know that I was making a roux or slurry? Did I know that a white sauce was called a béchamel? No. These were just things I learned how to do cooking alongside my mother, grandmother, and my friends’ mothers. How appropriate that here we are talking about mother sauces.

In cooking, there are a handful of sauces that are considered the foundations for many dishes and other sauces.  These are called Mother Sauces. For example, the sauce you use to make macaroni and cheese starts with a roux that becomes a béchamel that turns into a mornay or cheddar sauce when you add Gruyère or Cheddar cheese.

But before we get into sauces, we need to start with thickeners. These are what give a sauce its body so that it coats and clings to food instead of running all over the plate. One way to thicken a sauce is by cooking down and reducing liquids like tomato sauce, which will naturally thicken as moisture evaporates, but most sauces need a little more help.  A roux or a slurry are two ways to thicken a sauce.

A roux is made by whisking one part flour into one part fat (usually butter) until it forms a smooth paste. These will cook briefly to cook out the floury, pasty flavor in the flour. Some dishes will call for cooking the roux until it turns a dark, rich brown, which will bring a nutty, toasty flavor to the sauce. When liquid is added to the roux and everything comes to a boil, the flour-fat mixture will thicken the liquid, making a velvety sauce.

A slurry is a combination of starch (usually cornstarch, flour, potato starch or arrowroot) and cold water, which is mixed together and added to a soup or sauce to thicken it. Why cold water? If the starch is added directly to hot liquid, the starch granules cannot disperse easily and clumps form.  When the slurry is added to the soup or sauce, the liquid must be brought up to a simmer to ensure the starch reaches its full thickening potential before more is added. Add a bit at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Cornstarch slurries are used a lot in Asian dishes.

Now, let’s move on to the mothers of all sauces. This is by no means a comprehensive list. Each type of cuisine has its foundations, but these are, for the most part, widely accepted as mother sauces and what every culinary student is expected to memorize.

Béchamel (bay-shah-mel)
Make a roux. Add milk gradually, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Some will argue that you must use white pepper to keep the sauce white, but I actually prefer the flavor of black pepper in my white sauce. A béchamel is a base for many sauces, including the mornay and cheddar sauces, which are used to make macaroni and cheese. I use a béchamel when I make scalloped potatoes.


Espagnole (ehs-pah-nyol)
Start with a browned mirepoix. Add a brown roux, tomato paste, beef or veal stock, and a bouquet garni, which is a tied bundle of herbs, usually thyme, bay leaf, and sage, but could also include others. This sauce is sometimes used as the foundation for boeuf bourguinon and demi-glace.


Hollandaise (hol-uhn-dayz)
Emulsify white wine, egg yolks, and butter in a double boiler. Add lemon juice, salt, and white pepper. This is a very delicate sauce because the emulsion can easily break. A rich hollandaise is usually used as a dipping sauce for asparagus or a finishing sauce for dishes like eggs Benedict.


Tomato (toe-mah-toe)
Start with a soffritto. Add tomatoes and tomato puree. Simmer for 45 minutes until the tomatoes have cooked down into a thick sauce (you could also thicken this with a roux). Add basil, salt, and pepper.


Velouté (veh-loo-tay )
This may or may not start with a white mirepoix. Make a pale or blonde roux. Add a veal, chicken, or fish stock. It is usually served over fish or poultry that has been delicately cooked, like poaching or steaming.


These sauces are full of flavor and enhance whatever they’re served with. While some are used more than others, they are all versatile and provide solid building blocks for many other sauces. After all, they are all Mother Sauces and we need to respect our mothers.

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Chipotle Chili


Chilis are great because they are easy to make and hard to mess up. You can easily adjust the spice level to your liking or just add a dollop of sour cream and you’re good to go. Chili is solid camping food. Pair it with chips and/or a cornbread and you have a great meal.

The chipotle chili and adobo sauce in this chili brings a nice mellow heat, strong enough to taste and warm your belly, but not so hot that it lights your nose hairs on fire.

It has three kinds of beans, giving each bite a slightly different flavor. However, if you’re partial to a particular bean, you could use all the same beans and this chili would still taste great.

Start to finish, this takes about 90 minutes to get this chili on the table, which means plenty of time to make a cornbread to go with it.


6 quart (12-inch) Dutch oven or pot

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced (1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, diced (1 cup)
2 carrots, diced (1/2 cup)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 can (28 ounces) crushed or diced tomatoes
2 cups water
1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced
2 teaspoons adobo sauce from the jar of chipotles
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 can (15.5 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15.5 ounces) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15.5 ounces) pinto beans, drained and rinsed

Heat the oil in large pot or Dutch oven over moderate heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and carrots, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the ground beef; raise the heat and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until the meat is no longer pink. Stir in the tomatoes, water, chipotle and adobo sauce, oregano and salt and pepper. Simmer, partially covered, stirring from time to time, for 30 minutes. Stir in the beans and cook, partially covered, 20 minutes longer. Season to taste, with salt and pepper.

Serves 8 (1 1/4 cup servings)

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The Root of All Cooking


The flavors of various cuisines have a lot to do with how they start. Called aromatics, they are combinations of vegetables and herbs (and sometimes even meats) that are heated in some fat at the beginning of a dish. The heated fat helps these ingredients release addictive aromas and impart deep flavors into the dish that’s being cooked. These culinary foundations help define what makes a French dish French or an Indian dish Indian. While some of these are more exact with specific proportions, others are more loosey goosey. However, none of these are carved in stone and will vary depending on the dish. Here are some of the most common sets.

Cajun Holy Trinity: Sauté 3 parts onion, 2 parts celery and 1 part green bell pepper in butter and olive oil. Supplement with garlic, parsley, shallots, and/or paprika.

Chinese: Sauté garlic, scallions, and ginger in cooking oil. Supplement chilies, shallots, chives, cilantro, Chinese five spice, and/or star anise.

French Mirepoix: Sauté two parts onion, one part each celery and carrot in butter. This can be supplemented with parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and/or herbs de Provence. A variation, called a white mirepoix, replace the carrots with parsnips.

German Suppengrün: Sauté one part each leeks, carrots and celery. Supplement with parsley, thyme, celery leaves, rutabaga, parsley root and onions.

Indian: Sauté onions, garlic, chilies, and ginger in ghee. Supplement with tomatoes, cardamom, cumin, curry, cloves, fenugreek, garam masala, and/or turmeric.

Italian Soffritto: Sauté onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in olive oil. Supplement with fennel, bay leaves, wine, parsley, sage, prosciutto, and/or pancetta.

Latin Sofrito: Sauté garlic, onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes in olive oil. Supplement with chilies, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, paprika, cilantro, bacon, chorizo, ham, wine, and/or vinegars.

Middle Eastern: Sauté garlic, onions, tomatoes, scallions, and raisins in cooking oil and clarified butter. Supplement with ginger, saffron, turmeric, and/or cinnamon.

Polish Włoszczyzna: Sauté leeks, carrots, celery root, and parsley root. Supplement with carrots, parsnips or parsley root, celeriac, and savoy or white cabbage leaves, and sometimes celery leaves and flat-leaf parsley.

Thai Curry Pastes: Sauté shallots, garlic, and chilies in cooking oil and coconut milk. Supplement with galangal, kaffir lime, and/or lemongrass.

These ingredients provide strong foundations and signature flavors for many of the world’s dishes. No matter what you’re making, it’s good to start with a solid base on which to build a great dish.

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Mozzarella Stuffed Pizza Bombs


These are so good. When we made these for the first time, they disappeared in about 5 minutes. They are best hot out of the oven while the cheese is still gooey. I’m not sure how they taste cold or reheated because they never last that long. Make sure you serve them with warm marinara sauce. They are a hit all by themselves, but dipping them in warm marinara knocks them out of the park!

These would make a great pre-dinner appetizer or as a side dish or as part of an evening cracker barrel. If you’re making these for an evening cracker barrel and want easy clean up, you could foil line your Dutch oven, but be sure to liberally grease the foil.

If you made enough of these, they could even be a main dish. To make them even more pizza-like you could wrap the mozzarella in a slice of pepperoni or Canadian bacon before wrapping them in the pizza dough. I just might have to try that.

They are a bit messy to make. Your hands end up covered in the butter-garlic mixture. I would have some hot soapy water standing by or use disposable food serving gloves.

You can make these using fresh oregano and garlic cloves or you can use dried minced garlic and dried oregano. I use dried oregano and dried, minced garlic and hand mix it.

I make a single batch in my 10-inch Dutch oven in camp or in my cast-iron skillet at home (it’s about the same size). I have not tried larger batches yet, but I imagine that if you doubled it, you could squeeze them into a 12-inch Dutch oven. They’d be cozy but it’s okay if they touch. If you do and it works, let me know.

I wonder how many I could squeeze into my 16-inch Dutch oven?! Hmmmm….

10-inch Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet.

8 cloves of garlic, fresh, or 2 teaspoons dried, minced
1 tablespoon oregano, fresh, or 1 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
9 ounces of pizza dough or 1 tube of refrigerated pizza dough
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
10 ounces of mozzarella, cut into ¾-inch cubes, or 8 mozzarella sticks, quartered
Extra olive oil and butter for greasing the Dutch oven or skillet
Marinara sauce for dipping, warmed

At home in a food processor, combine garlic cloves, oregano, melted butter, olive oil, and salt until well mixed. Load into a container for transport to camp in the cooler. You could do this in camp without the food processor by just mincing the garlic and herbs by hand or using dried, minced garlic and dried oregano.

In camp, using a mixture of olive oil and butter, liberally grease a Dutch oven (if making these at home, you could use a cast-iron skillet).

On a flat, floured surface, roll out the pizza dough into a 9-by-9-inch square that’s a ¼ inch thick. Brush with the melted garlic-butter mixture and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 equal-sized squares. Place one piece of mozzarella or ½ of a stick (2 quartered pieces) into the middle of each piece of dough. Wrap the mozzarella up in the dough and seal the edges completely. In the Dutch oven or skillet, arrange all the balls, seam side down, so they’re touching. Brush each dough ball thoroughly with the garlic-butter mixture.

Bake in a 375°F oven, using 16 coals on the lid and 7 underneath, for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and puffed up. Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.

Serves about 5 as an appetizer, 3-4 as a main dish (because we can’t eat just 3 or 4)

This post has been shared at Homestead Bloggers Network. If you like this blog and don’t want to miss a single post, subscribe to Chuck Wagoneer by clicking on the Follow Us button in the upper right corner and follow us on Facebook and Pinterest for the latest updates and more stuff!

Categories: Dutch Oven, Main Dishes, Recipes, Sides, Snacks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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