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Saucy Resolution: Reduce, Reduce

December 26, 1991|FAYE LEVY | Levy is a cookbook author

For celebrating the New Year, most of us allow ourselves some sort of special delicacy. Some of my friends, who rarely eat red meat, pamper themselves with grilled beef tenderloin. Others feast on foie gras , caviar or oysters.

For me, the ultimate New Year's treat is a dinner graced with a fabulous sauce. I love to savor a rich, creamy sauce with a piece of fresh salmon or some scallops or shrimp, or sauteed chicken on a bed of pasta. The wonderful sauce is what makes the dish exceptional and turns even a simple menu into a festive, memorable dinner.

How thrilled I was to discover in France a whole category of modern sauces perfect for my kind of feast. You make these sensational sauces by simmering wine and flavorings to a concentrated essence and then, instead of adding flour to thicken it, by cooking the mixture with cream. Because the sauces are simmered until their volume is reduced to give them a concentrated flavor, they are known as cream reduction sauces. They have a smooth, velvety consistency that is lighter than traditional bechamel-type sauces made with flour.

In my opinion, this family of sauces is one of the most outstanding modern contributions to the fine art of cooking. They are the soul of many of the best new dishes created on both sides of the Atlantic.

Chefs have used this principle of sauce-making to create delicious sauces in almost every flavor imaginable--Dijon mustard, Roquefort cheese, saffron, garlic, curry, every type of fresh herb and even hot pepper and fresh ginger.

Whenever I am teaching a cooking class, no matter what the menu is, if I include a sauce of this type in any recipe, that dish is always the favorite. My students have been delighted to taste ravioli served with sun-dried tomato cream sauce, or chicken breasts with mushroom-garlic sauce, especially when they saw how easily these dishes are prepared.

Although these modern cream sauces are luxurious, they are convenient, quick and simple to make. They can be served hot or cold, can be prepared ahead and can be easily reheated.

Serve these superb sauces with fish, shellfish, chicken, turkey, vegetables or pasta. There is no need to allow more than three or four tablespoons of sauce per person. In both flavor and satisfaction, a little of these luscious sauces goes a long way and will give you a tasty beginning to the New Year

This easy sauce is made with the dry version of sun-dried tomatoes, which are much more reasonably priced than those packed in oil. As these pungent tomatoes simmer in the sauce, they give it a wonderful flavor and a light pink color. The festive sauce is also delicious with sauteed or broiled chicken breast halves.

RAVIOLI WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATO CREAM SAUCE

2 tablespoons butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup chicken stock or broth

1/2 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes

1 cup whipping cream

8 to 12 ounces fresh or frozen ravioli, agnolotti or tortellini

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried, crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, if using dried basil (omit if using fresh)

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Melt butter in medium saucepan over low heat. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add stock and tomatoes and bring to boil. Simmer uncovered over medium heat about 10 minutes or until tomatoes are tender. Remove tomatoes with slotted spoon. Cut small ones into quarters, large ones into 1/2-inch pieces.

Return tomatoes to saucepan. Add cream and bring to boil, stirring. Simmer over medium heat until sauce is thick enough to lightly coat spoon, about 5 minutes. (Sauce can be covered and refrigerated 1 day.)

Cook ravioli according to package directions. Drain well. Reheat sauce and add basil and, if desired, parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon little sauce onto heated plates. Top with pasta and spoon more sauce over top. Serve remaining sauce separately. Makes 4 to 6 first-course or 3 main-course servings.

The sauce in this recipe gains a terrific flavor from being simmered with sauteed mushrooms and garlic. When exotic mushrooms, such as morels, chanterelles or porcini are available, use them for a luxurious variation. I also love this rich French sauce with sauteed turkey breast slices or with roast turkey.

CHICKEN BREASTS WITH MUSHROOM-GARLIC SAUCE

3 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons butter

6 ounces small mushrooms, halved and thinly sliced

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 large shallot, minced

3/4 cup dry white wine

3/4 cup chicken stock or broth

3 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 cup whipping cream

4 boneless and skinless chicken breast halves (1 to 1 1/4 pounds)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and season to taste with salt and pepper. Saute about 7 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to bowl.

Add shallot and wine to skillet and bring to boil. Add stock and boil 2 minutes. Add garlic and cream and bring to boil. Return mushrooms to pan and simmer over medium heat, stirring, until sauce is thick enough to coat spoon, about 5 minutes. (Sauce can be covered and refrigerated 1 day. Reheat over low heat before serving.)

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to taste on both sides. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 1 tablespoon butter in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and saute, pressing on chicken occasionally with slotted spatula, 4 or 5 minutes per side or until meat feels springy and is no longer pink inside. Serve with sauce. Makes 4 servings.

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