Taking Stock: Stocks, bases, and sauces provide rich opportunity to construct complex flavor
By Dan Follese (May 28, 2020 | Published with Prepared Foods)
Stock is defined as a cooking liquid that is flavored by simmering animal bones and/or meat, fish, in water or wine with vegetables typically comprised of onion, celery, and carrots (also known as mirepoix) and sometimes other vegetables (or vegetables alone) until a desired flavor is achieved. The classic stock flavorings are beef, chicken, fish, and vegetable/mushroom/miso, and each type finds itself at various stages of use on today’s menus.
Stocks are the foundation of flavor, the building blocks for creating thousands of varieties of sauces, soups, bases, and even sweet applications. They offer the flavor that elevates everything the chef mixes into it to create the most mouthwatering product.
Bases are created by prolonged simmering or boiling of the stock, rendering the collagen from bones and reducing the liquid, thereby creating a more viscous liquid body or even a paste. Due to their concentrated flavor, bases are used in smaller portions to create sauces, soups, and gravies.
Sauce is the finishing touch to create a flavorful dip or dressing and can be a liquid, cream, or semi-solid food. The category has the broadest reach for application opportunities. Sauces can be served hot, warm, tepid, or chilled, depending on the base of the formulation. Sauces can be used for sweet or savory dishes, and, in addition to those sauces served hot, can vary from a cold sauce like mayonnaise to a room temperature concoction like a pesto or a sauce such as hollandaise. The base for a sauce and how it’s prepared will dictate its functionality, application, and use.
The Mother Lode
Nearly 100 years ago, Auguste Escoffier – the “father of French cuisine” – developed classifications for sauces that still are in use today. He placed sauces into five “mother” sauces: Hollandaise, Béchamel, Velouté, Tomato, and Espagnole. From these five sauces, thousands of variations are possible.
Hollandaise: Eggs, butter, and lemon form the basis of this versatile sauce that goes beyond the breakfast or brunch table. The “make” process is one of the most challenging for cooks and today’s commercial operations as it’s classically created by whisking melted butter into raw egg until it forms ribbons of smooth, golden, sauce with a soft, custardy texture, then brightening it with a touch of lemon for acidity to balance the richness of the sauce.
It’s been poured over grilled and steamed vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, and broccoli, and served on the side as a dipping sauce for a range of dishes. Hollandaise has seen steady growth on menus over the past four years (with +13% penetration), according to Datassential and is most often paired with egg dishes such as Eggs Benedict.
Béchamel: The white sauce of the family, béchamel is a flavor canvas that begins with flour, butter, and milk. The seasoning is up to the individual chef. Classic French chefs usually keep it simple with a little salt and white pepper, while the Italian version often includes a dash of nutmeg.
Many chefs steep the milk itself with a bay leaf and a whole onion that’s been studded with cloves, giving the milk a rich flavor before it’s combined with the roux (cooked flour and clarified butter). Béchamel is the basis for nearly every butter- or cream-based sauce. Even a simple mac-’n’-cheese dish begins with this base.
Velouté: This silky blonde mother sauce shares some common traits with béchamel, but instead of adding milk to the roux, a clear stock is added. The velouté sauce has a pale blonde color because the bones aren’t roasted before creating the stock. Any bones – from fish, veal, beef, poultry – can be used as a stock base for velouté, as long as they aren’t roasted, as this darkens the stock and changes the flavor profile.
Velouté is not as commonly used as the previous two sauces, but with the right additions, it can be an excellent flavor delivery system. Once you have the base, a variety of other liquid ingredients can be added, such as wine, cream, or juices. Inclusions and particulates also can be added, such as mushroom, garlic, onion, or tomato. The unassertive base allows for limitless imagination and versatility.
Tomato: Escoffier’s traditional “sauce tomate” begins with salted pork belly, onion, bay leaves, thyme, puréed or fresh tomatoes, roux, garlic, salt, sugar, and pepper. With variations, this sauce remains a delicious foundation for tomato-based recipes. Today, tomato sauce has evolved into a variety of simpler versions – starting with stewed, rough-chopped tomato with garlic and basil – and is most often encountered in Italian foods, especially pasta dishes and pizza.
Other variations on this profile have blurred the lines of what a classic tomato sauce is. For example, tomato jam is a reduction of this sauce and is used more like a condiment. Rustic and bold-flavored, it can be paired with bacon, burgers, or other smoky flavors to deliver a slightly sweet yet acidic burst of flavor to elevate the dish.
Espagnole: Unlike the other mother sauces, the brown sauce espagnole has strong flavors and is usually diluted with another sauce or broth; it’s rarely served on its own. Its rich, distinctive flavor comes from roasted veal bone broth, rather than beef, setting it apart from its milder mother sauces. Sauce espagnole is the base of favorites such as sauce Bourguignonne, mushroom sauce, and the Creole-inspired sauce Africaine.
Stocks and Sauces 2.020
Today’s stocks, sauces, and bases are getting a new life beyond the classic French styles that were made famous by Escoffier. An interesting recent development in stocks and bases, however, is one that Escoffier would approve of: a renewed focus on the meat and bones of a stock. Culinary artists are employing the highest standards of quality in sourcing meats, as well as taking advantage of the entire animal. For example, many chefs are using additional tendons in their stock to produce increased levels of collagen.
“High concentrations of collagen in a stock or base create a functional benefit and mouthfeel, offering a more voluptuous, flavorful sauce, stock, broth, or base,” agrees Brad Sacks, chef and CEO of More Than Gourmet, Inc., makers of the Kitchen Accomplice line of broths, stocks, and sauces. “The higher quality of these ingredients naturally offers a flavor booster, allowing the product to organically evolve its true flavor and not having to supplement it with artificial boosters and sodium.”
One example is the combination of heat, sweetness, and spice. “Sauces like a standard honey mustard as a replacement for yellow mustard [up the ante with] a touch of sambal, the Indonesian chili paste, to deliver on a bigger global flavor,” says Perry Stancato, CEO of Signature Sauces Co. “They also are tapping into fruits like plums and strawberries to bolster sweetness yet meet customers’ clean-label requirements. The popularity of ‘sweet heat’ is driving the combination of these fruits with peppers to stay on trend with consumer expectations and demands.” Stancato notes that one popular way the combination has been applied is in innovative dipping sauces for items such as fried chicken tenders.
Not Your Mother’s
While the mother sauces are the base for nearly all sauces used in savory formulations, condiment-like sauces, such as vinegar-based hot sauces and mustard sauces, and brewed and fermented soy sauce-based concoctions (like tamari, hoisin, and other Asian sauces) are increasingly popular additions to the sauce and base toolbox. (See “Soy Good Sauces,” page 38.)
As with soy sauce, mustard has been growing beyond its usual field of play, becoming a more central ingredient for sauces. Mustard is one of the oldest flavoring agents, with evidence of its use dating back at least 5,000 years. This long historical significance is a function of mustard’s broad utility, as mustard contributes to sauce innovation in multiple interesting ways.
“Mustard seed offers a variety of benefits, including emulsification, stability, water and fat binding, preservative properties, and nutritive properties,” explains Dorothy Long of the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Council. “While yellow or white mustard is one of the most common mustards used for condiments, they can offer more than just a yellow squirt on a bologna sandwich. Mustard protein concentrates or isolates can be used at levels up to 1% for soups, sauces, and bases to replace other proteins such as gluten, casein, or soy proteins.”
Long adds that these potential uses give sauce developers an edge in creating a cleaner label with a recognizable ingredient. Mustard gums and mustard flours also have exemplary rheological and texturizing capacity and can be used in formats and at levels that do not negatively impact flavor or production costs. It should be noted that using mustard-based ingredients in sauces also supports non-GMO, gluten-free, and dairy-free claims.
Fermentation is another trend finding its way into sauces. In the dairy category, fermentation creates clean-label building blocks of flavor. Fermented cultured dairy boosts the savory perception to replace ingredients such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Cultured dairy ingredients are especially useful for crafting smoother cheese sauces, as they will naturally enhance cheese flavors and allow for lower levels of cheese solids.
The magic of these ingredients is that they contain natural glutamic acid, whereas MSG is an isolated salt of glutamic acid. While numerous studies have failed to conclusively support negative health impacts associated anecdotally with MSG, consumers do not accept it as a clean-label ingredient. Natural glutamates inherent in tomato concentrates, yeast, fermented and aged cheeses, and similar sources, however, can be used in formulations while maintaining the clean-label classification.
Cheese sauce manufacturers also are working more frequently with fermented cheese, cheese powders, and concentrated cheese pastes. These ingredients offer all the benefits of clean-label status as well as allowing for “real dairy” marketing. They also are available in a comprehensive portfolio ranging from the basic cheddar, Swiss, Jack, and the like to Parmesan, French Bleu, Asiago, and other more trendy cheeses.
While fermented dairy can be used to boost cheese flavor and umami in a sauce, yeast ingredients can function in the same capacity. Nutritional yeast flakes and yeast extracts are excellent turn-to ingredients for creating vegan sauces that mimic the flavor profiles of animal protein-based broths.
The Sweet Side
Innovation is not dead in this sector, but consumer demand for sweet items with less sugar but no change in the unique flavor and organoleptic properties of sucrose makes for a host of challenges. The demand has driven manufacturers to offer a multitude of better choices in this space. Most of the sugar-free sweet sauces have been based in fruit purées, juices, and syrups.
Some sauces, such as chocolate, sauces and especially true caramel are entirely dependent upon sugar. Creating a caramel sauce is challenging, because caramel changes at different temperature levels. At ambient temperature, it is a chewy solid; as it warms, it softens and becomes a thick sauce; and at high temperatures it becomes a highly viscous sauce that melts ice cream. If taken to extreme temperatures, the caramel crystalizes, becoming hard again and is no longer a sauce.
Manufacturers are using alternative sweeteners like monk fruit, stevia, and sweet potato juice or syrup to keep products as sweet as the consumer demands without having the label reflect added sugars. Top of mind for these manufacturers is leveraging the “natural” and clean label trends.
Looking at sauce flavor trends on the front lines, menus in midscale, casual, and fine dining operations have increasingly been highlighting “stock.” And they’re not alone. Although QSRs might not call out special stocks or sauce bases, they definitely are making use of the new flavors at hand.
On the retail side of business, there’s an incredible race to create the next flavor combination that will fly off the shelves. Using regional products or calling out the cooking technique seem to be popular ways to get consumers to pick up the jar. Makers of stocks, bases, and sauces need the courage to try something new, pushing past boundaries into new cuisines, ethnicities, and applications while maintaining their products’ authentic value.
Dan Follese is a classically trained chef and founder of Food Trend Translator, a forward-thinking culinary innovation firm with a focus on simple, unique development and formulation. Built on the belief that nothing is more exciting than creating new ways for clients to wow their customers, the company helps clients gain advantages, inspire flavors, and expand products beyond typical use. Food Trend Translator supports food manufacturers, restaurants, and retail operations, leveraging data, connections, and creativity to uncover easy yet profound opportunities in food and open doors to exciting new product applications and revenue streams. Learn more at www.FoodTrendTranslator.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Soy Good Sauces
Not all soy-based sauces are created – or used – equally. Each one has different biological, physical, and chemical attributes that play functional roles in processing and the resulting organoleptic qualities. The most common families of soy-based products are “light” soy sauce (casually termed “regular” soy sauce), dark soy sauce, thick soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, and soybean paste (miso). These are used separately or in combination.
For example, in a braised meat dish, regular soy sauce can act as the primary sodium source, yet dark soy sauce can also be incorporated for a deep, rich, almost reddish color as in the Chinese “Red Cooked” dishes from the Fukian region. Thick soy sauce has added caramel color, and its syrupy texture doesn’t dilute the marinade or make stir-fried noodles soggy. It also lends a rich brown color to nearly any food without severely raising the sodium content.
Soybean paste was originally created as a byproduct of soy sauce production but has become the main umami taste component of hoisin sauce. This concentrated form of soy sauce, very similar to the now-familiar Japanese miso, enables the manufacturing industry to leverage all the flavor-enhancing capabilities of soy sauce (including sodium reduction) yet not add all the moisture and jet-black color. It can help to control water activity levels and can even play an important role in organoleptic characteristics that must be considered during the R&D and scale-up process.
One example is using hoisin sauce in a thick marinade. Its consistency can help keep marinade viscosity high so it adheres to and flavors the target proteins. It’s packed with fermented soy protein, hence adding a small percentage to vegan stocks and broths can emulate the meat flavor profile that is partially developed by the same Maillard reaction that makes those brown ends of a prime rib taste so good.
Cleaning up food labels can be as simple as going back to basics, such as with soy sauce-based products that have been around for thousands of years. The various umami taste-active compounds (amino acids, nucleotides, and peptides) contributed by fermented soy sauce products have been proven to increase consumers’ perception of salt and sugar and reduce bitterness and sourness in nearly any liquid food system. Also, evolutionary biology suggests that humans have developed a craving for protein-based foods, and the various fermented soy-based products deliver that protein punch.
Soy sauce is not just for the cuisines of Asia. Tex-Mex fajitas often use soy sauce as a primary seasoning. A small percentage of soy sauce in an Italian-style tomato sauce rounds out the flavor profile, and since it influences the other four primary flavors — sweet, sour, bitter, and salty — it actually makes the sauce taste like it cooked longer.
In larger production facilities, developers are challenged to emulate the cooking techniques that chefs use in creating the gold standard in the lab. Take, for example, that notable flavor-layering technique used in most global cuisines, caramelizing onions. Adding some soy sauce to the fat and onions as they cook in the massive kettles will cause the onions to brown more quickly and develop a deeper flavor and color, thereby saving processing time.
For plant-based or ground meat mixtures, either soy sauce or soybean paste adds a tremendous layer of flavor, and if a sweeter flavor profile is desired, adding hoisin sauce that has a fermented soy base works nicely.
With so much attention on plant-based foods, it’s no surprise that vegetable stock has been trending upward. Vegetable stock in menu mentions has grown 19% since 2009, according to reports by research group Datassential. Still, and considering all the plant-forward innovations flooding the market, it has some catching up to do versus chicken stock, with Datassential reporting continued double-digit growth for that ingredient – up 31% in the past year and 13% over the last four years.