Today’s post gives you a Quick Guide to Sauces for those days when you feel a little saucy like I do today. When I dine away from home, I prefer locally owned restaurants with really tasty food. That may mean eating tacos asada in the back of a mercado, barbecue in a dilapidated house, or ossobuco in on of those F-A-N-C-Y places. No matter what the menu, I’m careful to avoid sauces that may contain gluten.
A sauce is simply liquid, a thickening agent, and flavoring, plus a possible bit of fat from rendered meat, butter, or olive oil. If a sauce contains gluten, the culprit is usually the thickening agent. Some sauces are automatically more suspect because the traditional recipes contain flour. To make it easier for you to navigate a restaurant menu without having to ask your server a million questions, let’s take a look at the traditional composition of some common sauces so you can narrow the field.
You don’t have to go to a high-end restaurant to find a sauce – hamburger steak, roast beef, and mashed potatoes are often topped with gravy. Unless you are in a specialty restaurant that deliberately cooks without wheat flour, avoid gravies. You don’t even have to ask; hey will be thickened with a flour=based product more often than not.
Restaurants that incorporate French technique will often offer variations of 5 basic sauces known as mother sauces: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and Tomaté (tomato). There are many variations that fall under these 5 categories. For instance, béchamel is hot milk (the liquid), white roux (the thickening agent which contains flour), and onion, cloves, and nutmeg (the flavoring). Béchamel with added cream and herbs becomes a Cream Sauce. Béchamel enriched with Gruyere and Parmesan cheese becomes Mornay. Add sautéed and puréed onions plus tomatoes and the result is Soubise.
You get the idea. The key here is that the base sauce is thickened with roux which contains flour which contains gluten. Any time you see these on a menu, they will most likely contain gluten and are best to be avoided. If you REALLY want one, you can always take the time to verify with the kitchen, but you can save yourself time and trouble by avoiding the category.
Here’s a quick reference list:
Béchamel – thickened with white roux. Variations: Crème Sauce • Cardinal • Mornay • Soubise • Nantua • Cheddar Cheese • Mustard
Velouté – thickened with roux. Variations: Chicken Velouté • Veal Velouté, Suprême Sauce • Allemande • White Wine Sauce • Normandy • Bercy • Hungarian • Mushroom • Aurora • Poulette • Shrimp • Curry • Herb Seafood Sauce
Espagnole or Brown sauce – thickened with roux then often further refined into a demi-glace. From the demi-glace come the following variations: Marchand de Vin (Red Wine Reduction) • Bordelaise • Robert Sauce • Charcutièere Sauce • Lyonnaise Sauce • Chasseur • Sauce • Bercy Sauce • Mushroom Sauce • Madeira • Périgueux • Port Wine Sauce
Hollandaise – thickened with eggs. Variations: Aurore Sauce • Béarnaise Sauce • Créme Fleurette • Dijob Sauce • Foyot Sauce • Choron Sauce • Maltaise Sauce • Mousseline Sauce • Paloise
Classic Tomato Sauce – sometimes thickened with roux. Variations: Chaufroid • Spanish Sauce • Creole Sauce • Meat • Portuguese Sauce • Provençal Sauce
That’s a lot of sauces, but of course there are more:
Aioli is a version of Provençal Sauce but in American cuisine has come to be used as a term for flavored mayonnaise.
Alfredo – traditionally Parmesan cheese and butter but American versions often have cream and flour, roux, or starch.
Arrabbiata – garlic and tomato base usually served on pasta
Au jus – means with it’s own sauce. In American cuisine, this refers to light sauce for beef often served on the side made by skimming the fat off the juices left from cooking the beef and bringing them to a boil.
Avgolemono – thickened with egg
Barbecue – most commonly made with a tomato purée or vinegar base, but sometimes tomato paste containing flour is used.
Beurre Blanc – emulsified butter sauce with a vinegar reduction
Beurre Noisette – a brown butter sauce. Meunière sauce is a variation of the brown butter sauce, but meunière is also a technique that includes dredging in flour so trout meunière will most likely have been dredged in flour even though the sauce contains none.
Carbonara – composed of cream, eggs, Parmesan cheese, and bacon bits most often served with pasta
Chateaubriand sauce is usually a Bernaise or Bordelaise although the traditional sauce is a variant of Bercy Sauce.
Chimichurri – green sauce with vinegar base
Clam sauce – usually made with minced clams and sometimes a tomato sauce
Cocktail sauce – ketchup base
Coulis – made with puréed and strained vegetables or fruit
Crème Fraîche – matured, thickened cream
Duck Sauce – fruit base
Duxelles – mixture of finely chopped mushrooms, shallots, and herbs slowly cooked in butter until it forms a thick paste
Fumet – fish stock with lemon, white wine, peppercorns, white onion, and parsley
Gastrique – caramelized sugar deglazed with vinegar used to flavor sauces
Genovese – onion base sauce usually served over pasta
Gremolata – parsley base with lemon zest and garlic
Harissa – Tunisian hot sauce usually made with hot chiles, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway, and olive oil
Marinara – tomato base
Mayonnaise – combines oil, egg yolks and vinegar. Variations include: Fry Sauce • Buffalo Wing Sauce • Marie Rose Sauce or Russian Dressing • Ranch Dressing • Rémoulade • Tartar Sauce • Thousand Island Dressing • Fancy Sauce • Honey Mustard (sometimes)
Mignonette – white wine & vinegar base
Miso – fermented soybean paste comes in 3 categories – barley, rice or soybean all of which are developed by injecting cooked soybeans with a mold and then aging them
Pesto – crushed basil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese
Ragù – meat based. Variations include: Ragù alla Bolognese • Ragù alla Napolentana • Ragù alla Barese
Rouille – aîoli with added olive oil, garlic, saffron & chili peppers and sometimes breadcrumbs
Salsa – often tomato based and typically piquant, it usually contains no thickening agent other than the vegetables or fruits from which it’s made. Variations: Red Sauce • Pico de Gallo • Salsa Cruda • Salsa Verde • Salsa Negra • Salsa Taquera • Salsa Criolla • Salsa Criolla • Salsa Brava • Guacamole • Mole (the kind in a jar almost always contains wheat) • Mango Salsa • Pineapple Salsa • Chipotle Salsa • Habanero Salsa • Corn Salsa • Carrot Salsa • Mojo • Piri Piri • Sambal
Sofrito – tomato base
Soy sauce – fermented paste of boiled soybeans, roasted grain, and mold
Teriyaki sauce – soy sauce base
Tzatziki or Cacik– strained yogurt or yogurt base
Hopefully this list will save you some time and trouble when reading menus and deciding what to order. If you dine at chain restaurants or purchase sauces from the grocery store, remember formulations may be different from traditional recipes. Often they will contain added starches or wheat to make the texture of the product stand up to lengthy stays on warehouse shelves. Please be sure to read the labels.
Do you have a favorite sauce that we missed? Please let me know so we can add it to our Cooking2Thrive® Quick Guide to Sauces.