Reduction and Sauces
A reduction is a very popular way to add robust flavor and the perfect finishing touch to a gourmet culinary creation. If you’ve ever watched cooking shows, demonstrations, or participated in cooking classes, chances are you’ve probably heard the word reduction on more than one occasion. Reductions are very popular in gourmet cuisine with good reason. But what is a reduction? In order to answer this question and better understand why reductions are so popular, a little preliminary background about sauces in general is necessary.
Sauces created according to classic culinary traditions are typically made with liasons or thickening agents. Thickening agents, also known as thickeners, are substances that are added to solutions to increase the overall viscosity without significantly altering the other properties of the solution. Generally thickeners come from a few different categories including starches, vegetable gums, and proteins. Some common starches used in sauces include cornstarch and tapioca, while vegetable gums like locust bean gum and guar gum are effective, and proteins like egg whites and gelatin also quickly thicken sauces.
The most common French sauce is known as a classic roux. It is a simple combination made with flour and a fat such as butter. The classic roux is considered by many to be one of the mother sauces of classical French cuisine. This is because the roux provides the foundation for many well-known traditional sauces such as béchamel (butter, flour, and milk), espagnole (butter, flour, beef stock), and velouté (butter, flour, chicken or fish stock). Other variations of roux include flour and water, cornstarch, milk, and cream. A roux is typically rich, hearty, and certainly thick. However most people prefer to use fats only sparingly in their diets. This is why reductions are popular alternatives to traditional sauces. Reductions offer flavorful and healthy alternatives to creamy, high-fat sauces.
A reduction utilizes an alternative cooking method to achieve the thickening and flavor enrichment that is so desirable in sauces. Instead of adding a fat like butter to a solution to increase the viscosity or thickness, a reduction is made by applying low heat for an extended period. This process renders the water from the ingredients, causing the solution to thicken. The reduction simultaneously intensifies the natural flavors of the ingredients to enrich the sauce.
Reductions can be made with any liquid, but are typically made using wine or stock. Espagnole sauce is a very common reduction made using beef and red wine. Reductions are frequently made from the liquid created by deglazing a pan immediately after sautéing meat, poultry, or fish. Reductions can also be prepared using fruit or flavored vinegars. By applying heat to create a reduction, sugars from fruits and vegetables are concentrated, resulting in intense flavors. In addition to seasoning protein, reductions are wonderful complements to salads and other foods that benefit from a touch of sweetness. A nice raspberry balsamic vinaigrette reduction can be a wonderful drizzled on ice cream and other desserts.
Although reductions may seem very sophisticated, they are surprisingly easy to make at home. This simple recipe offers a terrific introduction to reductions and can be prepared in fewer than 30 minutes.
The next time you want to enjoy intense flavor in your favorite entrée but still maintain your healthy diet, try preparing a creative reduction of your very own!
By: Thomas Markham