Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Getting the sauce on vegetables.

Today, January 10th …

Officials of the “Nomenclature Sub-Committee” of the “Customs Code Committee” of the European Union met behind closed doors on this day in 2002 to solve a riddle. How lumpy does a sauce have to be before it is a vegetable?

Do not mock, gentle readers, for this was no mere theoretical debate, this was a decision of great financial significance to food importers to the EU, because import tax on sauce was 20%, but on vegetables was 288%. The existing definition was that 20% lumps meant vegetable, and European growers were concerned that if this was raised, veges would be able to sneak across international borders disguised as sauce. Sauce manufacturers wanted the barrier raised to 30%, citing increased manufacturing costs due to consumer demand for “increased textural interest”.

So – how is the lumpiness of a sauce determined? In strictly monitored tests, the sauce is poured through a metal sieve with apertures of five millimetres; the lumps in the sieve are then rinsed in warm water. If they remain lumpy, they are vegetables. I kid you not.

A really, really, smooth sauce is the pinnacle of saucery of course, and is easy nowadays with electric processors. The legendary French chef Carême (1774 – 1833), “The king of chefs and the chef of kings”, had muscular kitchen slaves to press raw chicken flesh through metal sieves and almond pulp through silk for his sauces and mousses. A good kitchen work-out, Non?

The French still consider themselves the masters of sauce-making. Someone, perhaps the gourmet diplomat Talleyrand said: “England has three sauces and 360 religions, and France has three religions and 360 sauces”. Carême, who cooked for Talleyrand, claimed that there were four classic sauces, from which all others were derived: Bechamel, Veloute, Allemande, and Espagnol. Sauce Espagnol is said to have been one of the important factors in getting the tomato accepted as a safe and desirable culinary item several centuries after its introduction from the New World.

Sauce Espagnol.
2 ounces butter, 1 ounce flour, 1 pint dark meat stock, bouquet garni, 1 ounce tomato puree.
Melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook gently on a low heat until well browned. Add the stock and stir till it thickens. Add the bouquet garni and simmer half an hour. By this time the sauce will have reduced. Remove the bouquet garni, add the tomato puree, and simmer another five minutes.

A pearl of a recipe.

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