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Getting Sauced

A few years ago, my wife requested a red currant sauce to go with some venison we were cooking. After about 30 minutes, I had what can only be described as an utter failure. It was tart. Among other things. Fortunately, I hadn’t started cooking the venison. So, a few teaspoons of molasses, some tomato paste, and a few spices later, and I had red currant barbecue sauce. Talk about accidental gourmet! Grilled venison with red currant barbecue sauce: it doesn’t get any more accidental than that.

The problem is that sauces are a bit scary. Or are they? Have you ever made gravy for biscuits and sausage in the morning? If so, you’ve made an integral sauce.

I believe that integral sauces are the easiest way to get into making sauce and gain some confidence. Basically, an integral sauce uses either drippings or fond (the stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan when you’ve braised meat) and some sort of liquid. To that, you can add spices, thickener (flour or corn starch, for instance), onions, mushrooms…

So, here’s a simple sauce for steak.

Start with a pan-seared steak. Prior to cooking your steak, mince half a shallot and 4-5 mushroom caps. Cut a lemon in half. If you’ve got some fresh oregano, prep about 1 tsp. (pull the leaves off the stem and mince them); otherwise use dried.

While the steak is cooking, sautee the shallots and mushrooms in a little olive oil.

Once your steak is almost done, pull it up and place it on a plate in the oven on “warm.” Add 1 cup liquid directly to the pan you just pulled the steak out of. Try 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup wine (use the wine you’re going to drink with the steak). Throw in the shallots, mushrooms, oregano, a few dashes of pepper and salt, squeeze in some lemon, and then scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Keep cooking until you’ve boiled away about 2/3 of the liquid, occasionally scraping the bottom of the pan. Take a quick taste to make certain you don’t need any more salt or acid, pull your steak out of the oven, and ladle on a little sauce.

Once you’re comfortable with something simple like this, branch out. Add some corn starch to thicken it up. Add a little yogurt or sour cream to make it creamier. Throw in some butter to make it richer. Experiment. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t end up using your sauce.