Sauce (sôs) n. A liquid dressing served with food.
The dictionary makes sauce sound simple, but it can be many things. A sauce can be hot or cold—think gravy or salad dressing—chunky or creamy, sweet or savory. You can put it over, under or on the side, depending on your mood and your food.
The idea is to dress up a meal's look as well as its flavor. Picture burgundy cranberry sauce with fresh turkey or zesty red cocktail sauce with shrimp.
What you don't want is too many sauces at one time with competing sensations. Other than that, you can be a saucier cook by using your imagination to combine color and ingredients you like.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's guidelines call for 2-1/2 cups of vegetables a day. Putting veggies in sauces is an easy way to add healthy nutrients to your meals. For example, tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C and the cancer-fighting compound lycopene, as well as potassium. But the best thing about your own sauce is how good fresh ingredients taste with no added salt or sugar.
Being smart about sauces doesn't mean you can never have the rich ones again. Just go easy on how much you eat at one time and how often you treat yourself.
Sauce on the side
What's in a name? Salsa is what Mexicans call sauce. Coulis is a French word for any thick, strained sauce. Pesto is Italian for what the French call pistou; they're both uncooked sauces made with fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and grated cheese. A little goes a long way.
Tomatoes play a big role in Italian sauces, from the simplest marinara to the heartiest Bolognese meat sauce. But watch the lingo. The elegant vitello tonnato isn't tomato at all, but veal in a sauce made with puréed tuna.
Tartar sauce and remoulade have the same mayonnaise base, minced pickles, onions, and herbs. Remoulade adds anchovies and might call for homemade mayo. You can make a healthy tartar sauce by stirring a tablespoon of India relish into a half-cup of reduced-fat mayonnaise and adding a squeeze of lemon juice.
Hollandaise is always a rich, creamy sauce made with butter, egg yolks, and lemon juice. Add tomato purée and minced parsley to hollandaise sauce and you get figaro sauce, perfect for fish or poultry.
You can use a mortar and pestle or a blender to grind the ingredients for your pesto. Inexpensive strainers take out the seeds. A food mill is a nice, nonelectric tool to purée cooked vegetables. To serve with flair, use a plastic condiment bottle to squirt your sauce on the plate in an appealing design.