Veloutè: a riot of beige

There is really no getting around it- veloutè is just about the least photogenic food ever. I’ve spared you from having to gaze at what looks like a big ol’ pot of wallpaper paste. But, unappealing as it may be, it sure does taste good. Veloutè is just about the most basic sauce in the classical repetoir. It consists of a blond roux combined with a white stock, and sometimes a bit of extra seasonings. From this jumping off point, you can turn it into any number of other Escoffier-approved sauces, but I decided to keep this one as simple as possible for the sake of science.

Roux is one of those things that seems a lot more complex than it is. Similar to stock, technique and proportion is really they key. Begin by heating 2 parts oil, then add 3 parts all-purpose flour. Don’t mess around with different kind of flours – since the gluten content varies, you’ll also have to adjust the oil ratio and cooking times – just don’t go there. Then cook gently, stirring so it stays smooth and doesn’t form a crust on the bottom. Cook for about 5 minutes, until as TPC eloquently instructs “it looks like smooth wet sand.” Then slowly add in the stock (homemade, of course :-)). Strive for something of a temperature differential between the stock and roux. Hot stock and cool roux or visa versa, but nothing too extreme or it will make it hard to combine. After each addition of stock, whisk till smooth and then add a bit more. Repeat…many many times. Add any flavorings at this point – I used a little white wine, a few clovers of garlic and few peppercorns. Either use a bouquet garni or be prepared to strain the sauce before using. Then simmer the concoction for about 30 minutes or until the roux no longer tastes “raw” – basically it should have no lingering papier–mache aftertaste or gritty texture. It should in fact be nice and rich and velvety, which is the meaning of it’s name in French.

As the sauce bubbled away, it let off a wonderful aroma, that oddly reminded me distinctly of Maruchan chicken-flavored ramen. The wave of college-age memories this triggered was a healthy reminder of the visceral power of aroma and taste. Interestingly, about 90% of “taste” is really our sense of smell. When O came into the kitchen, he said it smelled just like something his Nana used to make. Once my sauce was done, I very thinly sliced some potatoes and chopped a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme. In a baking dish, I layered the potatoes and sauce, sprinkling each stratum with herbs. Then I baked it in a 350〫oven until cooked through and browned on top. Like the veloutè, it wasn’t much to look at (thoroughly beige) but delicious. I was amazed by how creamy and flavorful it was, entirely devoid of milk or cheese. The leftovers didn’t stick around long either… always a good sign.

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