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To Sauce or Not to Sauce


FOOD FOR THOUGHT - May 21, 2008
Mark R. Vogel - - Mark’s Article Archive

Sauces run the gamut from being an optional ingredient in a dish, to an outright deal breaker; an indispensable item that makes or breaks the dish.  Can you imagine eating a ham and cheese sandwich without mayo or mustard?  Or a beloved Italian hero devoid of oil and vinegar?  Or how about a shrimp cocktail sans cocktail sauce?  These are just a few examples of how a sauce can be imperative, but that’s not always the case.

     At the beginning of the continuum are dishes that don’t necessitate a sauce.  They can stand alone without any flavor augmentation.  The best example I can think of is a steak.  Beef purists would argue that with a really good steak, all you need is salt and pepper.  Anything else detracts from the quality of the meat.  Much like adding vile vermouth to a pristinely flavored and elegantly smooth vodka.  Nevertheless, there are a wide variety of sauces that can be employed on steak.  These are done primarily to add gustatory variety but again, the point I wish to stress at this juncture, is they aren’t absolutely necessary.  With that in mind, allow me to present to you chimichurri sauce.  Chimichurri is a sauce haling from Argentina.  Chimichurri is to Argentina what ketchup is to America. Argentina is one of the Meccas of cattle production and beef consumption in the world.  Chimichurri is the traditional sauce served on their world renowned steaks.  While I still maintain that any good steak can stand alone, the flavor combination of grilled beef and chimichurri is awesome.  Chimichurri is basically a salsa, which means sauce is Spanish.


    • 6 garlic cloves, minced or run through a garlic press
    • 2 jalapenos, finely chopped
    • 1 serrano chile, finely chopped (optional)
    • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
    • ½ bunch oregano, chopped
    • Juice of 2 limes
    • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
    • Salt and pepper the taste
    • 1 cup olive oil

    Mix all of the ingredients except the oil first.  Then drizzle in the oil, simultaneously whisking to form an emulsion.  Then slather the chimichurri over your freshly grilled steak and enjoy.

    Chimichurri has lots of variations and the ingredients and the amounts are not etched in stone.  You can substitute cilantro for the parsley or oregano, exchange a bell pepper for the hot peppers, go with lemon juice instead of line, etc.  Tweak it to your liking. 

Moving along the sauce continuum, we come to victuals which can be eaten without a sauce but usually aren’t.  Fried fish fillets and crab cakes come to mind.  Tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, remoulades, or at least a squirt of lemon are normally paired on these items.  While the sauce isn’t absolutely essential, the marriage of a perfectly battered and fried piece of fish with a tasty sauce will never end up in divorce court. 



    • 4-5 tablespoons mayonnaise
    • 2 oz. heavy cream
    • 6 radishes, grated fine on a box grater
    • 1 celery stick, small dice
    • 2 tablespoons capers
    • 1 small batch cilantro, chopped
    • Lemon juice, to taste
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    Simply combine all of the ingredients with a whisk.

    Like the chimichurri, these ingredients and the amounts are not ironclad.  Adjust the creaminess, acidity, type of herb, and salt and pepper to suit your taste.  While I usually employ this sauce on fried fish or crab cakes, it also works well on fried veggies, (such as fried zucchini), or even grilled chicken breasts or lamb.

At the extreme end of the continuum are dishes that are basically never eaten without sauce.  Mixed green salads and pastas are completely dependent on sauce.  Nobody, unless they have issues with food, eats pasta or lettuce just for the pasta or the lettuce itself.  Indeed, one of the edicts mandated by my culinary professors in cooking school was never to place undressed greens on a plate.  I am forced to agree.  Take away the dressing and a salad is a borderline inedible heap of roughage suitable only for rodents and anorexics.  And many Italian chefs would cringe at me stating this so absolutely but………….for all intents and purposes, pasta is just a vehicle by which to consume the sauce. 


    • 1 head Boston or green leaf lettuce, or half a head iceberg lettuce
    • 2 handfuls of bean sprouts
    • 1 batch of cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped
    • 2 tablespoons (1 oz.), seasoned rice wine vinegar
    • 3 garlic cloves, run through a garlic press or finely minced
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 6 tablespoons (3 oz.), light sesame oil

    Combine the lettuce, bean sprouts and cilantro.  In a separate bowl mix the vinegar, garlic, and salt and pepper.  Slowly drizzle in the oil continuously whisking until an emulsion is formed.  Combine the dressing with the salad and serve.

Also Visit Mark’s website: Food for Thought Online


  Freezing Food & Frozen Food   |   Freezing: What Not To Freeze   |   Costly Kitchen Mistakes   |   Advice to the Cook (1913)   |   Blanching 101   |   Boiling, The Boiling Point   |   Braising takes out winter chill   |   Bread, Many Uses of Stale Bread   |   Bread & Batter   |   Broiling, Turn the Dial to Broil   |   By the Numbers   |   Cutlets and Other Thin Cuts   |   Debunking Myths   |   Deep Frying I   |   Deep Frying II   |   Deglazing: Fond Memories   |   Emulsions, When Opposites Attract   |   Fast Food, Quick meals at home   |   Key to Cooking is Temperature   |   Leftovers: The Right Leftover I   |   Leftovers Part 2: How to Use Them   |   Maximizing Flavor I   |   Maximizing Flavor II   |   Measuring: Do You Measure Up?   |   Mix It Up   |   Pan Frying   |   Peel Out   |   Poaching 101   |   Practical Points & Household Hints (1913)   |   Recipe for Recipes   |   Recipes, Follow the Recipe   |   Recipes, When Recipes Go Awry   |   Recipe for Success   |   Roasting: Born to Roast 1   |   Roasting: Born to Roast 2   |   Sauces, Getting Saucy!  |   Sauce, When Harry Met Saucy   |   Sauteing, Into the Frying Pan   |   Sear ious Flavor  |   Simmering 101   |   Steaming, Hot & Steamy   |   Stir Frying   |   Stock Market   |   Switch Hitters: Substitutions   |   Sun Drying Fruits   |   Thickening, In the Thick of It   |   Think Like A Chef   |   Timing is Everything   |   To Sauce or Not to Sauce   |   What's in a Name?  


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