A superb sauce is an essential part of many classic French dishes, and that means something more than the pathetic skidmark put on the plate according to current fashion. So today I’ll be making the sauce to go with filet of beef on Christmas Day. It’s little wonder that so many English restaurants have the menu in French; if I tell you I’ll be making ‘brown sauce’ you’ll likely say I’d save myself a lot of work by buying a bottle from the local supermarket. But I’ll be making a classic ‘Sauce Brune‘. I’m drafting this in advance, so it’s in the future tense, but it will be posted when the sauce is made.

The ingredients which turn good bouillon cubes into something approaching classic bouillon

The ingredients which turn good bouillon cubes into something approaching classic bouillon

Way back in the ’70s when I fancied myself as an ‘haute cuisine cook’, I lived in a fair-sized 17th century house with an enormous kitchen complete with Aga, had an equally enthusiastic ‘classic cooking’ partner, and had ‘dinner party’ guests at least twice a month, so I/we made my/our bouillon from scratch. Now I cheat, using some bouillon cubes as a starter.

There are only two of us for Christmas dinner so I’ll be making a little under a pint of sauce, the starting point being 2 bouillon cubes in a pint of water in a pan. To this will be added finely chopped carrot and onion (about 3 tbl – tablespoons – of each), and finely chopped celery (about 1 tbl). A couple of sprigs of parsley, a small bay leaf, a pinch of thyme, and a 1/4 pint of red wine will be added. This will be simmered for about 1/2 hr. Now I have my ‘cheat’ bouillon. 10 mins from the end I’ll begin the next stage.

In a thick-bottomed saucepan, I’ll ‘sweat’ finely diced onion, carrot, celery (about an ounce of each) in about 3tbl of clarified butter, with 1.1/2 tbl of finely chopped boiled ham, for about 10 minutes. Then I’ll slowly add an ounce of flour, stirring continuously over a moderate to low heat until the flour turns golden brown – 8 to 10 minutes. STOP – too brown and the sauce will have a bitter taste and will not thicken properly. Although making this sauce seems a long-winded process, in fact this is the only part of the process which, like scrambled eggs and risotto, requires your complete attention.

Off the heat, the boiling bouillon is tipped in all at once while blending with a wire whisk, then 1 tbl of tomato paste is beaten in before adding a a small herb bouquet tied in a bit of cheese cloth (a couple of parsley sprigs, a very small bay leaf and about 1/8 tsp of thyme).

Now it’ll be simmered very slowly, partially covered, for not less than a couple of hours, skimming off fat or scum from time to time and adding a little boiling water if it thickens too much. I should end up with a little less than a pint of liquid, which will be strained then degreased completely. A fine film of bouillon, reserved for the purpose, will be floated on top to prevent a skin forming, then when cool it’ll be into the fridge until Christmas Day. It isn’t quite finished of course; it’ll get its final fillip after the meat has roasted (watch this space!).

I’m leaving the pudding until tomorrow morning; it’ll then have a day and a half to ‘improve’ before Christmas Day evening. I’ve decided on the Malakoff/Bavarois cross – Le Pelerin en Timbale, I thought the day deserved a nod to the pilgrims – leaving out the apricot sauce for my non-fruit eating wife but with some poached apricots laced with kirsch on the side for me! There’ll be a jug of Chantilly cream on the table too.

By the way, it’s Sunday so earlier I made our usual Sunday breakfast – bacon, eggs and a Yorkshire sausage, what else? But don’t get the wrong idea; I don’t do all the cooking, I just write about some of mine. I do a bit more than half which is fair as I work part-time but Petronela, my wife, works full-time in the arduous job of a high school teacher. She will be making today’s evening meal – tochitura with mamaliga; that’s Romanian. She’ll also be making pretty much all the food for New Year’s Eve, the big Romanian celebration known as Revelion (same word as the French but their’s is Christmas Eve I understand), even though it’s also her birthday.

I said I’d post this after the sauce was finished but it’s now simmering away and I want to make the butter-toasted cake slices for the ‘Malakoff’ part of the desert so I’m posting it now.