Gastriques for the Gastronome
BY STEVE “MO” FYE
The saucier’s art has a long and proud tradition, but few of us have time to invest in long-simmered stocks and complex reduced mother sauces, nor the room for quarts of demi-glace. Most restaurants, as well, no longer have the staff nor space for complex and time-consuming sauces. Thus, many professional kitchens have shifted to pan sauces.
Pan sauces can be as easy as deglazing with a bit of stock and/or wine, with a few seasonings and herbs, then reducing to the proper flavor and consistency. These techniques can be easily adapted for the home cook with a decently stocked pantry.
The basis for any pan sauce is the fond, those wonderful brown bits stuck to the pan after searing or pan-frying a protein. The fond is concentrated flavor and is loosened and dissolved by deglazing the pan with a liquid – usually wine, liquor or stock. That’s the flash of flame seen in open kitchens: The alcohol or stock burns off in an impressive gout of fire.
A current popular pan sauce is the French gastrique. Originally, a gastrique was the combination of caramelized sugar or honey and vinegar. This was added to sauces to give a sweet-and-sour element. The Italian agrodolce and Asian sweet-and-sour sauces are used in a similar fashion.
My favorite way to serve a gastrique is with a pan-roasted duck breast cooked to medium-rare or so. Duck has a bold, fatty flavor, so the sweet-and-sour works well.
Unlike nearly all other proteins, duck breasts need to be started in a cold pan. Score the skin and fat with a very sharp knife so the fat will render before the duck breast is overcooked. Salt and pepper both sides. Low to medium heat works best. There is no need to add oil. A perfectly cooked duck breast will have a crisp skin, very little rubbery fat, and still be red in the center.
At the same time, simmer a bag of frozen raspberries in a bit of water and a pinch of sugar until soft. Purée with an immersion blender or push the berries through a fine-mesh strainer. We’ll need this later.
Cook only on the skin side, then let it come to medium-rare in a 350°F oven in a clean pan. While the duck finishes cooking to 135°F, pour off all but a tablespoon or two of the fat from the original pan. Save it: It’s liquid gold. Let the duck breasts rest on a cutting board while making the sauce.
Deglaze the pan over medium-high heat with a few tablespoons of cider vinegar or sherry vinegar. Add a few tablespoons of the berry puree and let the sauce reduce. A bit of fresh thyme gives a nice floral kick.
Adjust flavoring with salt and pepper; if the sauce is too thick, thin it out with a bit of chicken stock. Slice each duck breast longwise a few times with a sharp knife and present it on a plate with the sauce underneath to show the lovely, crisp skin.
This technique will work with nearly any fruit and vinegar combination.
Steve “Mo” Fye is an Instructional Tech in the Culinary Arts program at Central New Mexico Community College and a complete sauce geek who keeps quarts of demi-glace in his freezer.