Let’s get back to beef basics with brown sauce, a mother sauce of France. Like a good mother, brown sauce begets many delicious “child” dishes. It adds depth and character, a je ne sais quois, to your beef with barley soup. It takes a sauce poured over a steak over the moon. And turns gravy into a legendary accompaniment to a meal.
Brown sauce is key in French cooking as the base for many other sauces. It makes ordinary recipes sublime, and in this simplified and somewhat time-consuming recipe below, you will discover what the French sous chefs know.
When I was 21, I began training as an journeyman cook in a French restaurant called Henry Africa, in Old Town Alexandria. As I rotated around the kitchen in my role as Apprenti, I looked over, ever curious, as Urs, our Swiss-German Sous Chef, created a huge pot of brown sauce every couple of weeks. He was an artist, scraping and coaxing the flavors out of the roasting marrow bones and vegetables. He’d carefully pull the great stock pot from the oven and talk to it, encouraging it along, showing me how he turned the marrow bones as they roasted to a golden brown then adding ham, rough-cut onions, carrots and celery to the pan, letting them roast and caramelize in the oven to bring out their deepest flavors. We’d have gallons of the glossy stuff at the end to use in building our beef-centered sauces. It was epic.
The recipe below will require the same coaxing, scraping, and maybe even some talking. I promise that although it is several hours of work — mostly just roasting in the oven — the 4 1/2 cups of sauce that you produce from this recipe will be enough to get you through the winter months as a sauce base for several fabulous meals such as beef burgundy, beef with carrots and onions and even a sauce for a simple steak sauteed with a few shallots and mushrooms. Mai oui!
Brown Sauce – Back to Beef Basics
Make sure you have all the following on hand:
- 2-3 lbs beef marrowbones (I got mine at Whole Foods.)
- 3 oz diced ham (use bacon if you don’t have ham)
The following vegetables rough cut but no need to peel:
- 1 celery rib
- 2 carrots
- 2 onions, cut 1 in. thick (the skin on the onion will add the brown to your brown sauce!)
- 3 garlic cloves,crushed with their skins on
- 2 sliced leeks
(To prepare leeks for cooking: sliced stem to stern from a quarter-inch under the root all the way to the tip then quarter turn and do it again cutting all the way through each time. Keep cutting and turning until you have ribbons of leek attached to the root. This exposes the dirt in which they were grown which could make your sauce gritty if you don’t get it all out. Plunge into a basin filled with cold water until cleaned of any dirt.)
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 quarts (8 cups) boiling water
- 1 cup any white wine, the drier the better
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp dried tarragon
- A few sprigs parsley
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tablespoons clarified butter/Ghee (available at your supermarket and handy to keep in the fridge for other uses)
Cast of Characters: thyme & tarragon, coarse salt, flour, onion, garlic & parsley, white wine, celery & carrot, tomato paste, beef marrow bones, ham, bay leaves, leeks.
- Preheat the oven to 425° F. Grease a large stockpot or roasting pan with clarified butter add the marrow bones and roast for approximately an hour and a half, carefully turning the ingredients several times during the cooking until almost a deep golden brown. Be patient. This is worth it!
- Once the marrow bones are almost golden, add the ham, carrots, celery, onions and garlic to the roasting pan/stock pot and continue to roast for another hour and a half, turning the ingredients several times to ensure that nothing burns, as this will cause bitterness in the final sauce.
4. Once the mixture is roasted, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle flour over the contents and mix thoroughly. You can return the pot to the oven for another 15 minutes to roast or cook it on the top of the stove. Make sure the mixture does not burn. Remember the handles on your roasting pan are hot!
5. Move everything to a large stock pot with and add 2 quarts of boiling water to it. Meanwhile, in the roasting pan, add the wine to the stock pot/roasting pan and deglaze on top of the stove, making sure to scrape up all the good bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute. Then add the deglazed mixture, the leeks, parsley and dried herbs to the stock pot. Simmer uncovered for about three hours. If you notice scum rising to the top, remove it.
- 6. Strain the sauce through a sieve, cool, then freeze in one and a half cup increments. I use hefty freezer bags for this.
To use this delectable brown sauce, first remove the layer of fat from the surface of the sauce then follow your recipe that calls for brown sauce. With brown sauce as a base, you can make any delicious classic French sauce in 20 minutes.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know how your sauce turned out.
Thanks for reading!