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What Is Au Jus (Beef Jus With Stock), and How Do I Make It?
The Dish on this Basic Sauce
Au jus is one of the glories of the culinary world. With that said — unequivocally —let me elaborate.
It sounds fancy — but it’s only French, and I think the French have coasted for years on the fact that anything sounds intimidating if said in French. Especially with a good accent and your nose in the air.
All it means is ‘with juice’. OK? That’s the base. From there you have two main points and a couple of sub-points. Mainly because I like outlines.
True jus is simply the juice of something. That’s it. It can be the juice of anything — vegetables, meats, fruits. So the jus we encounter here in America most often — made from roast beef — would be jus de boeuf. Tomato juice is jus de tomates. You could have ugly juice — jus laid.See what I mean by things just sounding good in French?
- So if you want to be a purist — and I can never figure out if I am or not — then jus for you would be made in the more traditional French manner, with simply the unadulterated, or lightly seasoned juices of whatever food with which you are working. These are often delicious, as in really good freshly squeezed orange juice — jus de citron. And sometimes they are irreplaceable, as in jus de limmette, or lime juice freshly squeezed in my margarita.
Au Jus in America
However, in America, we don’t stick to the rules. Yay America! What this means though is that several things have happened in regard to jus here.
The first of these is that jus is rarely served in its pure form. Most Americans are used to and therefore prefer seasoned jus. In most fast food or casual dining settings (which is where we encounter it most) jus is bolstered by Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, beef stock, sugar, onion, garlic, lemon juice — anything that increases the intensity of the flavor. This is all right, except there are two problems.
The first is that you lose the ‘beefiness’ (or other food flavors) of which the jus is the essence. Anything but a few select ingredients will overwhelm and overtake the delicate flavor of the beef. In that case, you have a sauce or a gravy. (Sauce and gravy are also lovely things — more on those later), If you are after jus, then treat it like jus. If you mess it up, call it something else.
Saltiness. Many of the ingredients used to bolster jus are salty on their own. If the jus is simmered or reduced, then the salt is concentrated along with the other flavors.
How Jus is Made
Many liquids that are called jus in America really aren’t jus at all. Instead, for a jus de boeuf, or beef juice in English, beef stock will be flavored and simmered until it has reduced. Remember that true jus is the liquids that collect from a food. This is a very fine point — but an important one. Jus for meats is meant to enhance and intensify the meat — not stand on its own. The best jus is what is released from the cut of meat during cooking — it will echo and mirror the flavors and complexities of the meat, not cover it up or compete with it. This is one of the reasons the French have earned the right to have their noses in the air — at least in regard to food. This small detail makes the difference between a good dish and a stellar one.
Please don’t ask me to comment on that powder stuff in the little red packets from the grocery store. That’s not jus at all. Think about it — it’s not even juice — of any kind! It looks and tastes a lot like the stuff my kids track in out of the yard. Don’t do it.
So — how do you make it? It’s French — so it’s hard, isn’t it?
Ah, mais non, mes amis!
How to Make Real, Homemade Au Jus
Start with a simple beef or pot roast. This is the quickest and easiest way to get some jus de boeuf — give it a taste, and begin to imagine the possibilities. While you are letting the meat rest prior to carving, skim the fat off the top of the juices that are left in the pan. The easiest way to do this is with a fat separator, but you can just use a spoon too.*
Taste the liquid left — you should NEVER serve anything without tasting it yourself and adjusting the seasoning. This will let you know if you need to add salt and pepper, or if you need to keep hands off.
Bring the liquid to a simmer, and let it simmer until reduced by about 1/3. This is just about the same amount of time that the roast needs to rest — so you might as well make some magic. If you wish you can judiciously add one or two aromatics — red wine, shallot, a little garlic, fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary. But be careful. Reduce too much or add too much and you’ve gone beyond something that will enhance your roast and moved into the realm of covering it up. You want a very thin ‘liquidy’ liquid.
My favorite way to serve it is simply by the tablespoon over thin slices of roast. Or with a little cupful and a French Dip sandwich. Ok — a big cupful.
Now – won’t everyone be impressed when you serve au jus — the real thing? Good for you!
*Once degreased, you can strain the jus through a layer or two of cheesecloth before you reduce it if you wish, but you don’t have to.
** Actually, the real easiest way to degrease the fat from the liquid is to chill it. The fat will congeal in a 'lid' on top of the liquid and you can literally lift it right off. Save that beef fat - you can use it to roast the most heavenly potatoes you've ever tasted. But chilling doesn't help if you want to serve it immediately.
Strained Jus ready to be finished and served.
How to Make Au Jus - Another Method!
Do you have a favorite way to serve au jus?
What do you prefer?
© 2010 Jan Charles