Bright and Saucy

The Kitchn’s Cooking School
Lesson 13: Sauces

I would love to learn to make the mother sauces like the bechamel and the hollandaise, but the weather’s been so warm and humid that I haven’t been in the mood for something rich. I’ve made mayonnaise and currently have a store-bought jar in my fridge. I’ve made Marcella Hazan’s renowned tomato sauce; it’s one of my favorite recipes in the world. I’m not feeling romesco or chimichurri, both of which are offered in the lesson. I do love romesco. I have never tried chimichurri.

But recently, I found a Food52’s video of Tamar Adler making “brighteners” with pantry basics. So why not? Olive oil and herbs instead of butter and eggs. No need to even turn on the stove. Just a bit of chopping and tossing. I suppose you could call these brighteners sauce. They’re definitely more than a garnish. And like sauce, they’re versatile.

Semantics aside, what the video makes clear is that these are not recipes, but ideas. You just need to put strong, bright flavors together to enhance the main component of a dish.

So I’ve been having fun playing with garlic (pounded to a pulp with salt), lemon (juice and zest), black olives, capers, herbs (dill, chervil, coriander), and walnuts. I’m not a fan of coriander, but I’ve learned to make peace with it. It’s just a matter of proportion and finding the right partners for it. If you want a little crunch, walnuts are a dream not only for its texture, but also for that hint of sweetness. Since last week, I’ve been making brighteners every day, putting them on pasta (the spätzle I had made), eggs, and grilled chicken thighs (a new favorite in my kitchen! I follow this recipe from Bon Appétit).

These brighteners are so simple and quick that you don’t need to learn a new skill or fret about getting a certain step right. But this way of cooking and working with easy-to-find ingredients has opened up so many possibilities for me. If anything, it’s a flavor exercise. It teaches you how to put different flavors together to add depth to a dish.