When I was cooking in France just a couple of years — okay, decades — ago, nouvelle cuisine was just beginning to emerge onto the haute cuisine scene. At the time, it was almost heretical to think of French food prepared without massive quantities of cream and butter. Michel Guèrard, proprietor of the idyllic resort and spa Les Pres d’Eugenie, and my boss at the time, was daring to cook without either, using vegetable purées or yogurt to thicken luxuriously flavorful sauces. His enlightened style of cooking drew crowds of gastronomes from around the globe.
How did Chef Guèrard manage to polish up centuries of baked-in Gallic tradition? After a few months apprenticing in his kitchen, I managed to crack the code. It didn’t involve a complicated formula or fancy equipment. It came down to a simple technique: the reduction.
The foundation of most French sauces and one of the first goalposts of classical training, a reduction couldn’t be simpler. Start with superior ingredients such as a dry wine or homemade stock and some aromatic vegetables, put them in a pan, and boil them down to about a sixth of their volume. Strain out the solids, then mount the brew with something luscious and creamy.
When I was making tofu steaks the other night, I was curious to see if I could come up with a vegan version of the sauce I learned during my stint with Guèrard. So I turned to two of my favorite staples, coconut milk and miso paste.
I poured some leftover red wine into a wide pan with a handful of sliced shallot dug out of my garden that morning, simmered it down to a syrupy tea, and then whisked in salty miso and velvety coconut milk. To my surprise, it became a deep, sumptuous sauce in a matter of minutes without any additional seasoning. I could have guzzled the whole batch on its own.
Try saucing seared tofu or fish, roasted chicken, grilled steak, even fried eggs. It’s a nouvelle way to turn everyday cooking into haute cuisine. Around my table, luxury just got lighter.
Makes 1 cup, about 8 servings
3 cups dry red wine
2 shallots, sliced thinly (about 1/2 cup)
1 heaping tablespoon organic white miso paste
1/2 cup light or regular coconut milk (not the beverage)
2 tablespoons chopped chives (optional), for garnish
1. In a wide sauté pan, bring the wine and shallot to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer until the mixture has reduced to 1/2 cup, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Strain the sauce into a small saucepan. Over low heat, whisk in the miso paste and coconut milk until smooth. Taste and add additional miso or coconut milk if needed. Serve under grilled or seared tofu steaks, fish, poultry, meat, or fried eggs, garnishing with chopped chives if desired.
If you like things saucy like I do, try these easy Fall dinners:
- Chokes ‘N Cheese
- Moroccan Tofu Stew with Couscous and Vegetables
- Whole-grain Pasta with Creamy Vegan Vodka Sauce
- Chanterelles and Grits
For the complete recipe packet from my last class, Reset Your Life with Macro Cooking from M Café, send me an e-mail here with your mailing address and a check for $9.99 to Beverly Hills Farmgirl/ 9950 Santa Monica Blvd./ Beverly Hills CA 90212. Upon receipt of your check, you will receive 5 recipes plus a handy pad of Farmgirl shopping lists.
Photo credit: Epicurious.com
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