A. emulsions - intro

These are the sauces that have edible oils as the main ingredient.

1. vegetable oils vs. animal fats

I consider vegetable oils and animal fats as functionally equivalent for making emulsions, other than the inconvenience of having to keep  the latter warm enough to remain liquid. 

  • Anything that can be done with (clarified) butter can be done easier with vegetable oils.
    • Case in point: The food industry uses primarily vegetable oils instead of butter for their hollandaise sauces. I have seen some with butter content as low as 5%.
    • The reverse is also true: Anything that can be done with vegetable oil can also be done with butter or other animal fats.
    • If I wanted to bother, I could make vegetable oil, butter, beef tallow, duck fat, lamb fat and lard equivalents for any oil-based sauce there is. I won't say anything about how they would taste, just that it is possible. I have even made Duck Fat Hollandaise.
  • Different oils have different flavors.
    There will also be a taste difference in whatever is made with them. I would not always judge in favor of butter for this.
    • The milk proteins and sugars in butter a.o. dairy products are responsible for much of the taste.
      • Milk proteins can be used to advantage, e.g. brown butter is the equivalent of searing meat.
      • They become a disadvantage at higher temperatures, because they will burn at about a relatively low 350 ºF. High-temp use will require clarifying the butter first. That removes the milk proteins, but ghee picks up quite a bit of that flavor.
    • Animal fats generally taste stronger than vegetable ones and some are outright overpowering. e.g. lamb and duck. I have used duck fat to turn a pig into a duck. A small amount of lamb's broth can flavor an large pot of vegetable soup. When I make duck fat cookies, I only substitute 1/4 of the fat, or the duck flavor would be too strong.
    • Liquid oils also have their differences:
      • extra virgin oil is very aromatic, good for salads and vinaigrettes.
      • Much of that aroma gets lost when cooked. I use the cheaper 'light' cooking version.
      • For deep-frying, I prefer animal fat (beef tallow) or a vegetable oil with high smoking point and neutral smell, e.g. peanut or grape seed. I will not use corn or canola oil because I don't like their smell.

A few comparisons

  1. Extra virgin olive oil vs. clarified butter
    • I wouldn't think of putting clarified butter on a salad.
    • I have no problems putting it over boiled or baked potatoes.
  2. Oil and garlic sauce vs. parsleyed / garlic butter sauce
    • Parsleyed garlic butter sauce is my favorite for steamed crab and lobster.
    • No-egg Aioli would be too overpowering for that, but a toned-down garlic mayo would be just as nice as the butter sauce.
    • I have not tried garlic oil with crab, but I like garlic-infused oil for cooking.
  3. Vinaigrette vs. brown butter vinaigrette vs. lard vinaigrette
  4. etc.

2. emulsions

Most sauces are emulsions. Fine droplets of oil are suspended in a watery solution; or the other way around, droplets of watery liquid are suspended in oil.

One common way to create an emulsion is thickening a sauce with starches. That method is used with sauces when there is much less oil than water.(see Chapter 5.2. Starch-thickened Sauces.)

For oil-based sauces, we need something else: emulsifiers. 

Common food emulsifiers:

3 main types of emulsions:

  1. Temporary emulsions:
    separate almost immediately to at most 1 hour.
    • Use no or very limited emulsifiers.
      Without an emulsifier to keep the emulsion stable, the 2 phases will separate again relatively quickly. Shaking the bottle rejuvenates the separated emulsion.
    • Vinaigrette:
      = a temporary emulsion made with oil and vinegar, often without an emulsifier. A typical ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid is used. These amounts would need to be adjusted based on the type of oil and acid and/or vinegar used.
  2. semi-permanent emulsions:
    will separate in 2 hours to 2 days at most.
    • Hollandaise made with clarified butter
  3. permanent emulsions:
    will last days to weeks without separation.
    • Emulsified Vinaigrette:
      = oil and vinegar vinaigrette, emulsified using whole eggs for a creamy permanent emulsion.  
    • mayonnaise and derived sauces
    • starch-based sauces
    • etc.

B. Cream Sauces - intro

The sauces in this category have milk cream as the main ingredient AND are not thickened with starches.

Sauce à la crème ( = Fr. cream sauce) in French cuisine is béchamel sauce with extra cream added. It does not belong in this category.

Cream is an emulsion all by itself.

C. Mushroom Sauces - intro

Mushroom sauces are those sauces that have mushrooms as the main—but not necessarily only—ingredient.

thickening of mushroom sauces

Mushroom sauce can be fairly thin when prepared with a lot of mushroom liquor.
These are a few methods to thicken the sauce.  I am not saying any method is better or worse than the others. You need to find out for yourself what fits your needs the best.

  1. Remove most of the mushroom liquor; or if you have time,
  2. Reduce it to 25% or less before adding at least the same amount of cream.
    Reducing mushroom liquor can be done faster and over higher heat without cream.
  3. Blend part or all of the mushrooms before adding the cream.
    Very effective, and the result is a smooth creamy sauce.
    See Creamed Mushroom Sauce recipe.
  4. Reduce after adding cream by simmering down over LOW heat while stirring.
    This one takes time and a lot of patience! I don't have time for this, unless very small quantities.
  5. Thicken with oil dough.
    Quick, easy and convenient, with less risk for flour lumps than starches dissolved in water.
    That makes it a velouté sauce, but I still don't go through Allemande (no egg yolks) and I flatly refuse to strain out the mushrooms. They're the best part of the sauce.
  6. Thicken with egg yolks.
    I have done that for soups, never for mushroom sauces.
    Maybe I'll try that one day. Mushroom mayonnaise. :-)


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