Classical French cuisine, spanning the 19th and 20th century up to the birth of nouvelle cuisine, was characteristically defined by its sauces. Sauces in French cuisine date back to the Middle Ages… and there were hundreds of them in the culinary repertoire. In the 19th century the chef Antonin Careme classified them into four families, each based on a mother sauce. These four sauces, or grandes sauces, were:
- Bechamel, based on milk and thickened with a white roux
- Espagnole, based on brown stock, usually veal, and thickened with a brown roux
- Veloute, based on a white stock and thickened with a white roux
- Allemande, based on veloute sauce and thickened with egg yolks and heavy cream
Chef Auguste Escoffier updated this classification in the early 20th century by adding sauces such as tomato sauce, butter sauces and emulsified sauces such as mayonnaise and hollandaise.
Sauces derived from one of the mother sauces is sometimes called a small sauce, or secondary sauce. The most commonly used sauces in classical cuisine are secondary sauces since mother sauces are generally not served as “stand alone” sauces.
As a student at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco Dayton was required to be both knowledgable and proficient in the preparation of both grandes sauces and their derivatives. One of the sauces that he learned from the coterie of French chefs at the academy was demi-glace, a rich, glossy and intensely flavorful sauce prepared by hours of stock reduction. The term demi-glace by itself implies that it is made with traditional veal stock. The preparation in our kitchen, however, is a beef demi-glace, or demi-glace au boeuf. We’ve found it impossible to find a purveyor of the veal bones necessary to make demi-glace but continue to be more than pleased with the rich and velvety texture and flavor of the demi-glace au boeuf that is derived from the beef bones we’ve been able to purchase through the meat departments of markets such as Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl.
Be forewarned… making demi-glace at home is an extremely time consumptive proposition! It requires many hours to roast the bones, slowly simmer the stock, strain the solids, skim the fat and then reduce the stock to its appropriate consistency. However, the end result is more precious than gold and sumptuous to the palate as it is added in small quantities to sauces of all types. It truly adds a higher dimension of flavor and distinction to even the most delicious of preparations! Since a demi-glace or, in our kitchen, a demi-glace au boeuf is such an intense concentration of flavors it is always used sparingly in a dish, perhaps as little as a teaspoon… and rarely ever more than a tablespoon at a time. A little goes a long way so the efforts to make it are rewarded for months and years before another batch needs to be prepared. A great plus is that it keeps virtually indefinitely in the freezer. We recently made another batch after not having to do so since the last batch was made five years ago!
The amount of the final product is dependent upon the size of the roasting pans and stock pots available in your kitchen. We have two commercial 10 gallon stock pots and two large commercial roasting pans so we decided to make as much as we possibly could. Our end result was appromimately 5 cups of intensely flavored demi-glace au boeuf, which we portioned into 2-oz containers and placed into the freezer for years of palate-pleasing pleasure! Since our initial volume of liquids was large the process took three days from start to finish. Know, however, that the preparation time depends on the amount of liquid that needs to be reduced so a lesser amount of liquid will require less time in its reduction.
Demi-Glace au Boeuf
Chef’s Note: The thirty pounds of beef bones and trimmings that we used because of the size of our roasting pans and stock pots is, unquestionably, daunting to most! Therefore, we are additionally including a pared down version of Demi-Glace au Boeuf that is more approachable and manageable for the home chef… the technique is the same!
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Divide between two large roasting pans:
30 lbs beef bones with trimmings, particularly femurs and knuckles, if available
Chef’s Note: Ask the butcher to cut the bones into small pieces with his meat saw… he’ll be glad to do it!
Roast for 1 hour, then add:
1 – 1 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 2″ – 3″ pieces
6 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
1 bunch celery, leaves included, cut into 3″ – 4″ piece
4 heads of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half across the equator
Return to oven and roast an additional 1 hour, occasionally stirring the mixture as it roasts, then add:
2 8-oz cans tomato paste, 1 can for each roasting pan
Return to oven and roast an additional 1 hour… bones and vegetables will be very well-browned!
Transfer the bones and vegetables to the stock pots and deglaze the roastings pans with:
2 750 ml bottles of hearty red wine, 1 bottle for each roasting pan
Transfer the deglazed bits and wine to the stock pots. To each pot add:
2 leeks, trimmed and coarsely chopped, greens included
1 bunch Italian parsley
3 – 4 fresh bay leaves
1 T whole black peppercorns
1 bunch fresh thyme
Heat a heavy 12-inch skillet over high heat. Do not add oil. Peel and cut in half at the equator:
1 large yellow onion
Stick each onion half with:
6 – 7 whole cloves
When the pan is sizzling hot add the onion, cut side down, and cook until caramelization and charring have taken place:
Add one half to each stockpot. If you are utilizing one stock pot add both halves. Fill the stock pots with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the stock is barely bubbling:
Simmer for 24 – 36 hours, skimming to remove impurities as they rise, and adding water as necessary during the first 24 hours to keep the bones covered.
Chef’s Note: With this large of a volume of liquid we allowed the pots to simmer overnight. You can, alternately, turn the heat off at night, return it to a boil the next morning, reduce the heat and continue simmering and reduction.
When reduced to the point that the bones are no longer submerged, remove the bones with a pair of tongs and discard. Strain the liquids through a China cap, pressing on the solids with the back of a ladle to remove as much stock as possible. Discard the solids and allow the stock to rest so that the fat rises to the surface. De-fat the stock.
Chef’s Note: At this point you have a wonderful, rich beef stock that can be used for sauces and dishes such as French onion soup. It also freezes well for future use.
Strain through a fine sieve and return the de-fatted stock to a clean stock pot, bringing it to a simmer. Reduce heat and continue reduction, skimming off impurities as necessary, until thick and syrupy, an additional 8 – 10 hours. It is ready when glossy and coats the back of a spoon. While warm portion it into small containers and refrigerate or freeze. It keeps well when refrigerated, about six months and, as mentioned earlier, almost indefinitely when frozen.
For those who have smaller stock pots, roasting pans and oven space but are willing and wanting to prepare this incredible sauce, follow this scaled down version!
– Demi-Glace au Boeuf –
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a roasting pan place:
6 lb beef bones and trimmings
Roast for 1 hour then add:
2 medium yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, cut into 2″ – 3″ lengths
2 celery stalks, leaves included, cut into 3″ – 4″ pieces
1 head of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half at the equator
2 fresh bay leaves
Roast for an additional 1 hour, occasionally stirring the bones and vegetables as they roast, then add:
4 T tomato paste
Return to oven and roast for an additional 45 minutes – 1 hour. Transfer the roasted bones and vegetables to a 3-gallon stock pot. Deglaze the roasting pan with:
1 1/2 C dry red wine
Transfer the deglazed brown bits and the wine to the stock pot and add:
1 leek, trimmed and coarsely chopped, green parts included
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
7 – 8 sprigs of parsley
3 -4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 medium yellow onion with 6 – 7 whole cloves, caramelized and charred as above
Fill the stock pot with water and bring the stock to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce to a simmer, skimming off fat and impurities as they rise. Simmer for 8 – 12 hours, adding water as necessary to keep the bones covered. Remove the bones and strain the liquid through a China cap, pressing on the solids with the back of a ladle to capture all of the stock. Discard the solids and allow the stock to rest, permitting the fat to rise. De-fat the stock and return it to a clean stock pot or large saucepan. Bring the strained stock to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer, skimming often, until a gallon of stock remains, approximately 8 – 10 hours. Strain once again and return the stock to a clean saucepan. Simmer until the demi-glace au boeuf is thick, syrupy and glossy. Yield will be approximately 1 – 1 1/2 cups. Refrigerate.
Use creatively! It truly does add great new dimensions of flavor to many dishes. Demi-glace can be found at upscale markets and on-line as well. It is very expensive but well worth the extra dollars for that exceptional dish that calls for it if you choose not to make your own. We use it often and will be including it in upcoming preparations… Bon Appetit!
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