12 Essential Sauce Tips You Need to Know

Cooking How-To, Featured Article, Recipes
on April 17, 2013
Modern Sauces_Rice Pudding
Ellen Silverman

modern-sauces-more-than-150-110083l7When it comes to using sauces, many of us take the “easy” route and grab a pre-packaged bottle or jar off the grocer’s shelf. But nothing tastes quite as good as a homemade.

Here is a list of advice on how to make perfect homemade sauces from the author of Modern Sauces, Martha Holmberg:

Read through your recipe. You don’t want to be surprised half-way through that you need to “chill for 24 hours”.

Gather your tools and preheat. By having everything you’ll need on-hand, you won’t be scurrying to find that perfect whisk, especially in a time sensitive recipe.


Grab your ingredients. This makes sure that you not only have everything the recipe calls for, but also that you have enough of it and it’s nearby. With all the flavor in this Fried Eggs with Garlicky Chard and Saffron-Red Pepper Hollandaise, you won’t want to under-season or miss a single ingredient.

Do “dirty” prep. Dirty prep includes anything that will produce waste before you start your sauce—chopping, peeling, washing. Doing this will ensure you don’t have a mess on your countertop or a hiccup while cooking.

Do “fine” prep. Pre-measure all of your ingredients so they’re ready to go when you are. With this done, you won’t be rinsing measuring cups throughout the cooking process.

Taste raw ingredients. This is important because items such as fruit vary in taste depending on when they were picked, what season it is, and their size. By knowing what you are working with from the beginning, you can be prepared to adjust seasoning.

Taste as you go. Just because a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of salt, doesn’t mean that your batch will need it. As we all know, it’s much easier to add more than to take it away.


Final Critique of Seasoning. Do a taste test before you pour  a sauce over your final dish to ensure it tastes exactly as you’d like. Plus, with a recipe like Pastry Puffs with Cardamom-Coffee-Caramel Cream and Rich Dark Chocolate Sauce, we don’t think you’ll mind sneaking a taste of the chocolate sauce before everyone else.

Don’t undersalt. As important as it is not to oversalt, it’s equally important not to undersalt. Salt brings a depth to a dish that is unforgettable if applied in the proper amount.

“Done” is when it looks right, not when the timer rings. Even though chefs list cooking times in recipes, it’s not an exact science. The numbers are more of a guide. Ovens, stoves and altitudes vary from kitchen to kitchen. Use descriptions of what the sauce should look or feel like before you trust the timing.

Rice Pudding

Know when to make—and use—sauces. Some sauces should be made ahead of time, and some are better when mixed right before the dish goes out. Some sauces can be refrigerated; others should be frozen. Most recipes that call for sauces assume they have been made ahead of time, but not all. Check the recipe (see tip #1) to be sure. This Rice Pudding with Cardamom Meringues, Lime Creme Anglaise, and Chunky Mixed-Berry Coulis has many components that can be made ahead of time and some that need to be.

Choose good ingredients. It’s very hard to make a great sauce out of bad ingredients no matter how great the cook. Choosing the best quality ingredients will produce a much better sauce.

Ready to try your hand at sauce making? Our twelve fresh recipes below in addition to those Martha shared above, are a perfect place to start.

—By Alexandra Rose