The Food Classics (+ one) Exploration of a Sauce

We taught a Summer Reading series for local libraries called The Food Classics (+ one) Exploration of a Sauce. Students read or cooked from the books of Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Charles Phan, Harold McGee, and Laura Stec, and shared what they learned while we cooked from the books in class. “Exploration of the Sauce” was the series thread; cooking and tasting the differences, similarities, and science of French, Vietnamese and Macrobiotic / natural food sauces.

Featured Books
Class #1: French. Featured book: Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
Class #2 Vietnamese. Featured book: Modern Vietnamese Cooking (Charles Phan, Slanted Door)
Class #3  Macrobiotic. Featured book:  Cool Cuisine – Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming (Laura Stec)

All classes referred to the work of Harold McGee and his book On Food and Cooking.


Class #1 French, starts at home making beef stock from femur and knuckle bones. Veal bones are preferred because the result is a more neutral taste (younger cows, milder flavor, broader options). Beef bones taste “beefier.” After the stock is made (8 hours later), I reduce it into a demi-glace.



During class, we make pincage (toasted tomato paste with mirepoix; carrot, celery and onion), and discuss how it adds umami to meat and vegetarian dishes.


We review the five Mother Sauces in French cooking, and discuss the four ways food scientist Harold McGee says there are to thicken a sauce (by particle, molecule, droplet, or bubbles),


Then show how this applies to the recipes made in class. We make a classic Sauce Robert using our pre-made demi-glace.


and a white sauce – Beurre Blanc.


Look back at the picture of Sauce Robert. You see three samples of tomato paste. We taste-tested canned tomato paste, tubed tomato paste and our class-made pincage (blended), so students could learn which they prefer. By far, the homemade “beefed up” pincage was favorite, followed by the tube tomato paste. Homemade pincage is also a good ingredient for vegetarians and vegans to use, because it lends great umami, and until you add beef stock, it’s only ingredients are plants.

Class #2 is about Vietnamese cooking and sauces, using the books of famed chef, Charles Phan of San Francisco’s Slanted Door.


Using a breadth of Asian products, we made the Vietnamese Mother Sauce – Caramel Sauce, which is a combination of palm sugar and fish sauce.


We also make a roasted chili paste with ingredients such as annatto seeds and ground bean paste, and taste-test this alongside store bought Sambal Oelek. (The winner was the homemade paste by far.)


We review the five basic components of a sauce (found in my book Cool Cuisine) and how the ingredients in our class recipes fit into this system.


Then using our caramel Mother Sauce, we make Caramelized Lemongrass Shrimp and Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken for students to taste.



In the final class of the series, we explore the world of macrobiotics. Lacking an “official mother sauce,” I decided to pick a few. Certainly soy sauce is one option. A complex mix of fermented soy beans, salt and water, soy sauce can be made quickly, in 24 hours, using a chemical called hexane to speed up the process, where as a higher quality, artisan soy sauce can take a year to cure. When we made soy sauce at Vega Macrobiotic School, it was stored in large wooden wine barrels for a year, and each morning we’d go downstairs to stir with really big wooden spoons. In this class, we do a soy sauce taste test comparing bottles costing $2, $6, and $12.


The other “mother sauce” highlighted is dashi, a baseline mix of water, kombu sea vegetable and shiitake mushroom.


We used the dashi to make two master sauces / dishes, Carrot Asparagus with a Sesame Soy and Kudzu Sauce, and Vegan Gravy over Tempeh.


The Macrobiotic class looks closer into the science of thickening, discussing the various properties and science of starch, including the 2 starch families, the two types of starch, and examples of starches used in cooking.




This trio of classes is filled with easy to understand and useful information to improve your cooking skills. It’s a perfect combination of cooking and reading into one great series!


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