Have you ever been frustrated when trying to make a sauce (or even a simple gravy) for dinner? Here’s a basic sauce recipe that you can personalize to fit any meal… and it’s easy! I’m also including a mash-up of step-by-step photos so you get a feel for how each stage should look… hopefully that will help as you create your own masterpiece.
Start with butter, olive oil, and flour. I typically will start with a 1:1 ratio of fat to flour, so if I’m using one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of oil, I’ll use 2 tablespoons of flour. Note: Much of this is driven by the amount of sauce you want to make, so if you’re hoping for a large amount of sauce for a casserole, feel free to double these amounts. Saute’ your fat/flour in a pan until it’s bubbling and gets just a slight bit “toasty” looking… you’re making a simple roux to start this sauce. (This is the first photo I’ve included in the upper left corner.)
Once you’ve given the flour some time to cook, you’ll begin adding your liquids. I like start by adding wine first. I use whichever wine I feel will go nicely with the end product. I used James River Cellars’ Montpelier (a Cabernet Franc “Blanc”, if you will) and thought it paired well with the cheese I was using. (The second photo, below the first shot) Feel free to use red wine if you’re making a sauce for something heartier than chicken or fish. I always use a whisk and make sure to thoroughly incorporate the liquid into the sauce at each point before moving on to the next. How much wine you add is entirely up to you. I like to add about a cup at the beginning (use your morning coffee cup if you’d rather not get another thing dirty). Whisk the wine into the sauce and as it starts to tighten up, you’ll begin to recognize when to add more liquid.
After adding wine, I like to then add stock to my sauce. I try to always have some chicken stock (or broth) in the fridge but feel free to use whatever flavor you feel will best fit the rest of the meal. When taking the photos for this post, I was making a sauce for my Chicken Divan casserole, so I used chicken stock. If I were making a sauce to top a steak or piece of beef, I would have used beef stock. Try to always keep your final product in mind while making segments of a meal so that everything coordinates nicely.
At this point, you’ve got a lovely, smooth gravy. Add some Worchestershire sauce, liquid smoke, or a dash of Liquid Aminos and you’ll have a great way to bring some pizzazz to your meal. Since I was making a sauce for a casserole, I needed more “heft” to this sauce and decided to add 4oz of grated cheese. I used a Monetary Jack cheese to pair with the Montpelier wine I used earlier, but sharp cheddar would pair nicely with a big red wine and a mild colby or creamy goat cheese can accent the crisp taste of a bright Chardonnay or Vidal Blanc. Choose your favorite and make the sauce your own!
Once the cheese is incorporated, and the sauce is smooth and creamy, add your spices at the last moment. Again, I was making a Chicken Divan, so I chose to add a palmful of curry powder and some dried parsley. This is another opportunity to personalize your sauce and make it taste the way *you* want. Allow the sauce to cook for a moment, whisking as you go, and use it however you like. In this case, I poured the sauce over a casserole of chicken and broccoli – it was the perfect piece to pull all the flavors together. YUM!
Now, I *DID* promise you a “bonus recipe”… here it is: Buttered Bread Crumbs!
I’ll admit that “Buttered Bread Crumbs” doesn’t sound like much of a bonus, but if you’ve never made this wonderful topping for a casserole, you have no idea what you’re missing.
I reused the pan in which I had just made the curry sauce and warmed some olive oil, butter, garlic, and salt. I simmered this mixture a bit while I cubed up four potato rolls that I had on hand. I have made this using chiabatta bread… homemade bread… leftover rolls… I’ve even used a few slices of a simple white bread. Use what you have on hand… this is a topping and meant to be a way to use leftover loaves of bread. No matter what you use, it’s a really tasty addition.
Once your butter mixture is warm and your bread is cubed, add the two together and toss them over medium heat until they pick up some crispy edges. They don’t have to be entirely cooked… they’ll toast up in the oven after you put them on top of the casserole. NOTE: If you’re making bread crumbs for a salad, you *will* want to toast them long enough to get them crispy on all sides.
Simple, right? I adore this bread crumb topping… it’s something from my childhood that brings back wonderful memories of comfort foods and family meals. I hope you enjoy trying this topping for your family casseroles!
Helpful hint: If you’re reheating a casserole, you can add some fresh buttered bread crumbs to the top and toast it in the oven before serving… no one will guess that you’re serving leftovers!