The deeper we delve into the Superior course at Cordon Bleu, the further we discover classical French recipes. In this lesson we learn to make a Poivrade Sauce, which is traditionally paired with venison or other game meat. Pepper features in this classic but to jazz it up we would also be adding chocolate. Or all of the class would except for me – I forgot it in the end.
The beef is trimmed and marinated in red wine spiced with juniper berries, black peppercorns, vinegar, orange peel and aromatic vegetables such as shallots, carrot and celery. It needs only a short marinade, no more than 2 hours, so this is an easy dish to prepare. The marinade is used as the base of the sauce, therefore there is no waste.
The beef is removed from the marinade, which is strained to separate the wine and the aromatics. The wine is then set on the heat to boil. The trimmings from the beef are browned; the pan is deglazed with red wine vinegar, and then with cognac. Then the strained mirepoix is added back to sweat. The wine from the marinade is added, then some veal stock and crushed black peppercorns. The sauce is reduced by one third and degreased throughout the reduction process.
Degreasing with a spoon is essential for a good sauce as who wants a plate full of grease. I knew this but neglected my sauce until too late in the process and had trouble degreasing. I had forgotten the vinegar in the deglazing process and added it after the wine. A bit distraught, I decided to add more veal stock to counter balance the acidity. Then after the final strain of the sauce, I was “suppose” to add the chocolate but it slipped my attention completely and I served it without. Not my best effort!
Chef Clergue was happy with the cooking of my meat as it was exactly the perfect doneness but unimpressed with my sauce. Not a big surprise. It hadn’t even occurred to me I’d forgotten the chocolate until I plated and saw the other rich looking sauces the others had produced. The flavors were fine despite my vinegar mistake but the poivrade sauce was too greasy.
What did I learn in this lesson? Mostly – how to recover from mistakes in the kitchen! Perhaps that’s really what all good chefs know how to do? A little bit of this, a little bit of that, fix up the acidity, kick up the flavor – but one thing you can’t recover from is too much grease.
My top tips for degreasing meat sauces and jus:
- After browning meat trimmings for sauces in oil, strain them through a sieve and then blot them with paper towels to remove additional grease before adding back to sauce for the simmering stage.
- Before adding aromatics to the pan the meat was browned in, blot the pan with paper towels to remove additional grease. Use water to stimulate the sweating of the vegetables instead of additional oil.
- Have a small bowl of clean water and tablespoon prepared to skim off grease as the sauce reduces. Skim throughout right to the end.
- Skimming is easier if you stir the sauce to send the fat to the sides of the pan. Spoon off fat into your water. Change the water often.
- Remember the S words; skim, strain, skim, strain, skim, strain, serve – it’s repetitive but it works!