No matter how much I love classic technique, because I'm self taught, I sometimes get a little intimidated by certain dishes. Almost always though, when I step back and look at it, I realize it's not the preparation of the dish that's the problem. It's usually description, definition or bad instructions. Sauce Allemande , poor little thing, is one of those - mainly because it has all three - confusing definitions on what it is, arguments over what composes it, and unclear instructions on how to make it. It even sounds scary. This sauce took me a while to figure out, because no sooner did I think I had it down, I'd come across another authority with an entirely different set of rules.
This sauce - silky, buttery, enriched with egg yolk and finished with cream, livened with fresh herbs and aromatics - is pure delight. Instead of being well known and beloved for the easy and simple preparation it is, it's been relegated to the ranks of nothing but upscale restaurants and food snobs. Injustice, I say!
So let's break it down, then build it back. What we will end up with will be one of the culinary foundation stones. You're gonna LOVE this one. Let's go...
The Mother Sauces are - what?!?
Careme included only four Mother sauces in his book, Bechamel, Veloute, Espagnole, and Allemande. Ever since there have been others trying to work their way onto the list, and some trying to jump ship and get off the list. Sometimes you'll see Allemande left off, and others added, including Hollandaise, Mayonnaise and Tomato. Don't panic - it's not you.
The Mother Sauce Argument
Two centuries ago, at the beginning of the modern era as far as French haute cuisine is concerned, Chef Antoine Careme published a nifty little work titled The Art of French Cooking in the 19th Century . This was the first appearance of the classification of the French Mother Sauces. They've been scaring would be chefs ever since. But they shouldn't - instead of being held up as a summit approachable only by the best, think of these sauces as building blocks. Careme listed four Mother Sauces - or building blocks; Bechamel, Veloute, Espagnole and Allemande.
Which sauces made the list and which should be on there is really rather irrelevant. Don't faint. Yes I said that. The reason is that it's the IDEA of a Mother Sauce that's important. Careme introduced the idea of the building block - learn one master dish or technique, and forever ever after you build with it - in any direction you choose to go and with whatever ingredients you have at hand. Each one is a solid dish on it's own - and then allows you to do hundreds more in turn. Cool, huh?
The problem people have with Allemande - and this is silly - it that you first have to make a Veloute, and THEN finish it a certain way to get Allemande. The argument is something like "Allemande is not a true Mother Sauce, it's a compound sauce, which is what you turn a Mother Sauce into with variations". I know - people actually spend time on that, and get truly upset. Gee whiz, people. You know what? Who cares? They're all phenomenal.
And you thought you'd never use algebra...
While struggling with how to explain the whole building block thing, a friend of mine stopped by and helped read through my text. He went silent, grabbed a piece of paper, and handed me this:
Flour + butter + Liquid = Veloute, Veloute + Eggs + Cream = Allemande
That's just funny.
What's in a name?
Careme first named the sauce for it's pale yellow color - calling iit Sauce Allemande - French for German Sauce. Blonde? German? Which was just fine, up until the outbreak of the second World War. Oopsie.
The great Escoffier renamed, and therefore rescued it, calling it Sauce Blonde. Somewhere along the way it also came to be called Sauce Parisienne.
All right - an Allemande is a veloute that has been worked on a little more. So to make one, you do have to know two things - first you make a roux, then you add good stock. That's veloute.
Next, reduce the veloute, add egg yolks, cream, salt and pepper. That's it - that's really, truly it. Now - with that said, I have to let you know that you won't find that recipe out there anywhere, unless it's on my own website. The reason is that I took all the different 'Allemande' recipes out there and reapplied the idea that Careme first introduced. You want a building block. So there isn't a recipe per se - because it's a technique, and it's adaptable and you can make it do whatever you want.
Think of it this way. You have a formula - a ratio for how the ingredients interact. A tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of flour will thicken a cup of liquid. 1:1:1 - and that's veloute. Continue with that thought pattern - one egg yolk and a tablespoon of cream result in Allemande. 1:1:1:1:1 - see?
In many ways what Careme was trying to do with his Mother Sauce concept was close to what my friend did with his food formula. And that does result in the same thing happening every time. What Careme did not do - and which messes people up - is explain that the artistry of food has to be included. This is why we have so many billions of recipes for dishes, and sometimes so little understanding of why two people can use the same formula exactly, and the results are very different.
And the rest is gravy...
Seriously. It's gravy. Sounds completely different doesn't it? But gravies are just the country cousins of sauces. Love biscuits and sausage gravy? How about calling it bechamel au jus de saussise ? Is turkey gravy your reason for showing up at Thanksgiving? Allemande au jus de dinde. My French is actually pathetic, and I don't think those are right. But it does illustrate that everything sounds intimidating in French. If all these French sauces sound scary - translate it. Gravy is just good cooking.
This is the part that throws many people off when trying to perfect ANY dish, and why some home cooks surpass professionally trained chefs. You have to understand flavor, texture and seasoning as well as the simple formula. Yes - if you follow the formula you'll have Allemande, but it'll taste like wallpaper paste. To make it correctly is one thing - to make is sing is the artistry part. You're after something someone will try to lick off their plate. Here's how to do that part as well.
Flavor - at it's most basic this comes from salt. Salt is perhaps the most underutilized thing in most kitchens. People are afraid of it, and then don't understand why the flavors in dishes is just tepid. The best thing you can do for yourself as a cook is to learn how to season well - and by that I mean salt well. Use good kosher salt, and season in layers. And TASTE. I can't state that often enough. Taste everything you're using, at each stage in the prep. And yes, I mean everything. If you take the time to learn how each ingredient tastes at different stages, you'll be Bombshell. I even taste flour before using it in breadings or coatings. If it won't hurt me (i.e. raw chicken) I'm going to taste it. And season it. So - in this case, season your veloute, and salt it until it tates good. Then once you've created Allemande, do it again. Seasoning throughout the cooking process allows flavors to build in layers, creating complexity. The food will taste seasoned, not salty...unless you wait until you're ready to serve and try to salt only then. At that point it's too late to develop the complexity of flavor you're after. Salt makes everything taste more like itself. You want that.
Seasoning - yes, salting is called 'seasoning' but seasonings can also mean just about anything you want to add. Think thyme, parsley, red or white wine, capers, tomatoes, chervil, terragon, onion or shallot, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, nutmeg, mushrooms, butter or truffle oil, oyster fumet...anything. Allemande is called a Mother Sauce because all of these seasonings can be added as the cook wishes - it's a building block.
Texture - remember that the first step of an Allemande is a veloute, and veloute is French for velvet. The texture of a sauce is critical - so you do have to pay attention at each step. The best way to do this is to be very careful with temperature. When first making the roux, whisk. When adding the stock to the roux, make sure the stock is warmed, which will help reduce the possibility of lumps. The sauce should simmer, not boil. And once the egg yolks and cream are added, never let the sauce go above 140F - or it'll break, or curdle. The second best way to get silky, luscious texture is to whisk, whisk, whisk. It keeps the liquid agitated, and this also helps the flour from forming lumps. The eggs will cook gently in the sauce, instead of scrambling, and creating their own lumps. The cream will incorporate instead of breaking. Finally - for truly perfectly textured sauce - strain it. You'll see recipes calling for a chinois - that's just a conical strainer. But any fine meshed strainer will work. This last step ensures that any accidental lumps or bit of egg don't end up in someone's dish.
With all that said - pay attention to your food. Allemande is simple - there are few ingredients, and the technique is easy as well. Which means you do need to ensure it's treated well. Remember your working on a foundation block with Allemande - and if your foundation is strong enough you can build as high as you like. Listen to it, watch it, taste it - and you'll end up exactly where you want to be.
- The Thrillbilly Gourmet
Applying classic technique to everyday food for spectacular results!