Ah, sauce! The secret weapon of cooks everywhere, with the power to make or break even the tastiest of meals. They’ve been used since cooking began to add flavour, moisture and visual appeal to a dish. Just think how integral they are to famous pairings: Eggs Benedict and hollandaise sauce, lasagne and bechamel, pasta and tomato sauce, lamb with mint sauce, and peri-peri chicken. The list goes on, with many versions of sauces unique to countries and regions around the world.
Having these 5 basic sauces up your sleeve will take most meals a very long way. Each of them is filled with flavour on their own, but like any recipe, you’re able to add or switch ingredients to make them unique to your kitchen.
This is a classic white sauce base that can be used for a cheese sauce, mushroom sauce, mustard sauce and mornay sauce.
- 15g butter
- 15g flour
- 300ml milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat
- Add the flour and cook, stirring for a couple of minutes
- When the mixture starts to bubble, remove from the heat
- Add the milk slowly while continuing to stir until all the milk has been incorporated
- Return the saucepan to the heat and stir for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken and just starts to bubble
To make this a cheese sauce (for macaroni cheese, for example), add 250ml of grated cheese when the mixture starts to thicken – and do not let the mixture boil. For something extra, try adding half a teaspoon of mustard or a pinch of nutmeg.
Bechamel Sauce (microwave version)
For when you need this sauce in a hurry. The time required depends on the power of your microwave, so could take a little longer than indicated.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 500ml milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place butter in a 1 litre glass ovenproof jug or bowl
- Microwave on ‘melt’ or at full power for 30 seconds – or if butter is cold, in 30 second bursts until melted
- Stir in the flour and microwave on high for 1 minute until it bubbles
- Add the milk gradually, stirring continuously until all the milk has been added
- Microwave for 4 minutes, stirring each minute to avoid lumps, until thick
- If mixture is too thick, add a little more milk
- Add salt and pepper to taste
To make this a cheese sauce, add 1 cup of grated cheese once the sauce has thickened, and microwave for another minute before seasoning to taste.
A creamy, tangy sauce best paired with poached eggs, poached fish, and vegetables, such as asparagus.
- 2 egg yolks
- 125g melted butter (clarified)
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ teaspoon lightly crushed white peppercorns
- Juice of half a lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste (cracked black pepper is best)
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Put the vinegar, water, and crushed peppercorns in a saucepan and bring to the boil
- Lower the heat and simmer for a minute or until reduced by half
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool
- Strain the liquid into a heatproof bowl, then add the egg yolks to the liquid and whisk together
- Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water (with the base of the bowl not touching the water) and whisk the mixture for 5 to 6 minutes or until the mixture becomes thick, creamy and ribbon-like in texture
- Slowly add the clarified butter in a slow stream and whisk until the mixture becomes thick and glossy
- Add the lemon juice and season with the salt, pepper and cayenne
To enjoy this sauce at its best, serve immediately or keep warm in a bain marie.
A staple sauce – irresistible when served with roast lamb, lamb chops, rack of lamb or lamb ribs.
- 2 cups fresh mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon boiling water
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
- Crush the mint leaves and sugar in a mortar and pestle (or chop very finely, or process just until chopped)
- Add the boiling water and leave to draw for 30 minutes
- Add the vinegar and mix to combine
- Set aside until needed
If you prefer the taste, replace castor sugar with brown sugar, and white wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar in place of malt vinegar. Add a bite to the sauce with half a chilli, chopped.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
Usually used in pasta dishes such as eggplant parmesan, lasagna, and as a base for bolognese.
- 2 tins (410g) chopped tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (olive, sunflower or canola)
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 6 large basil leaves, chopped
- 3 tablespoons water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Brown sugar to taste, if needed
- In a saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onions until soft
- Add the garlic and basil, and cook for 30 seconds
- Add the chopped tomatoes and water, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until thickened
The sauce can be mashed for a finer consistency or left rustic as is. Do a taste test for seasoning and if too tart, add some sugar.
If preferred, the basil leaves can be replaced with 4 tablespoons of parsley or 2 teaspoons of origanum.
Mozambique Peri Peri Sauce
A hot and fiery favourite. Can be used on roast chicken, chicken wings, chicken livers and prawns. Don’t forget to serve bread with the meal to mop up every last drop of this fabulous sauce.
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chilli powder (or cayenne pepper)
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
- 10 bird’s eye chillis (do not remove the seeds, as they provide the heat)
- Combine all the ingredients in a sterilised glass jar
- Put the lid on the jar, shake well and you’re done
This sauce improves with time and will get better and more fiery after standing for an hour or a day. It keeps very well and you will definitely use it up quickly. To adjust for more or less heat, add or reduce the amount of chillies and chilli powder used.