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June 22, 2019

Tried & Tested: Mastering Sauces by Susan Volland

by Julieta Lucca

The first time I skimmed through “Mastering Sauces” I thought “this one’s a keeper”.

I have recently come to the realisation that most home cooks don’t really pay attention to sauces, in fact, as someone who loves to cook, learn and create recipes for others to try, I have never bothered with sauces too much, until now.

Sauces are quite marvellous things, Susan describes them as “moist full flavoured enhancements of foods”,  they pull ingredients and whole dishes together so seamlessly you don’t even realise they are there.

It only takes visiting some good restaurants to understand how important sauces really are, which is why professional chefs know their sauces to perfection.

The book doesn’t shy away from dairy-free and gluten-free options either. In fact, it offers substitutions for almost every recipe. Which is a definite win for me!

Susan Volland’s book “Mastering Sauces” is an incredible resource and guide not only to sauces but to cooking in general. With chapters solely dedicated to the six tastes (salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami) as well as collections of sauces organised by what they go well with under “A few excellent sauces for”; this book has earned its right to a place in my bookshelf.

Key Takeaways

“Ingredients don’t have to be expensive.”

“Trust your own taste and common sense.”

“Focus on three fundamental principles: maximise flavour, manipulate texture, and season confidently.”

These recipes appear in

“Mastering Sauces: The Home Cook’s Guide to New Techniques for Fresh Flavours” by Susan Volland

Easy, Adaptable Vegetable Stock


🕑 1 hour

  • makes 4 cups
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion (sliced)
  • 2 medium carrots (sliced)
  • 1 stalk celery (sliced)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/3 cup white wine (or Tamarind water as an alcohol-free alternative)
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 6 to 8 black peppercorns
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 to 5 cups cold water

A Bouquet Garni

Bouquet Garni is French for “garnished bouquet” which is really just a bundle of herbs used to infuse herbal aromas and flavours into stocks, soups, stews, and sauces.

A Bouquet Garni is typically a bundle of fresh thyme, a bay leaf, and a few sprigs of parsley tied together with twine. Although you might be able to find ready-made dried bundles, it’s always recommended to use fresh herbs if possible.


– Begin by having all ingredients prepped and ready to be used. Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and cook until the vegetables have softened slightly for 5 to 7 minutes.

– Stir occasionally to ensure all vegetables cook evenly but not so much that they turn into mush. Pour in the wine and reduce by half to boil off the alcohol and concentrate the flavour.

– Follow this by adding the aromatics, that is the bouquet garni and peppercorns, then the salt and enough cold water to cover everything. Bring to a boil and partially cover with a lid. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 to 45 minutes.

– Have a sieve ready over a container and strain the stock without pressing on the solids. Once done, discard all solids.

– Let the stock cool before covering and storing in the fridge for up to 5 days. Otherwise, freeze for up to 6 months.

Port Reduction

What is a reduction?

Reductions consist of removing excess water from liquids to end up with a concentrated version of the original liquid. As a result, flavours become more intense, textures become more syrup-like and richer.

If a sauce appears to be too watery, simmering it for a bit will help the flavours become more intense and less diluted.

Liquids that make great reductions are those that contain some sort of natural sugar, pectin, starch or gelatin which means the finished sauce will be full-bodied, glossy and packed with flavour.

How to reduce a sauce

In Susan Volland’s words, “In order to reduce a sauce, you bring a liquid to a boil and simmer it until enough of the water has evaporated in order to reach the texture and flavour you are looking for.”

The section on Reductions (p. 145 of the book) is unsurprisingly extensive and filled with invaluable information which is why I urge you to have a look if you’d like to play around with reducing different types of liquids.


🕑 30 minutes

  • makes 1/4 cup
  • 1 cup Ruby port
  • can be served with
  • poached or raw pears
  • blue cheese
  • nut tarts
  • soufflés or galettes
  • seared foie gras


– Port becomes concentrated and saucy when it’s reduced to about a quarter of its original volume. In this case, we’ll start with 1 cup so ideally, you should end up with 1/4 cup.

– As a rule of thumb, the better the port the better the reduction will taste, however, I wouldn’t recommend using a good quality port but an affordable one.

– Making this reduction is as easy as placing the 1 cup of port in a saucepan and reducing over medium heat for about 20-25 minutes until the consistency of the sauce is sticky and glossy. Serve with blue cheese, grapes, and pear for an easy and elevated cheese board.

OUR verdict

Although I wouldn’t class it a light read, “Mastering Sauces” really is what it says on the tin, a complete guide on how to make, adapt, use and reuse all types of sauces, that touches on other food-related subjects that will help you understand food and food preparation altogether. As Susan puts it, “Mastering Sauces is about confidence, control and customisation.”

Would I call it a beginners’ book? Yes and No. There’s enough information to make you an expert in sauces. Yet, if you’ve never made bechamel before and you are interested in learning how to make it the right way, this is the cookbook for you.◼


– Pear and Campari Puree (p. 179)

– Lemon Tarragon Butter (p. 399)

– Coffee-Banana Rum Sauce (p. 176)

– Mortar-and-Pestle Pesto Genovese (p.194)

✚ Mastering Sauces: The Home Cook’s Guide to New Techniques for Fresh Flavours. (£29)

Buy at: Wordery UK | Amazon US

Mastering Sauces: The Home Cook’s Guide to New Techniques for Fresh Flavours by Susan Volland. W.W. Norton & Company, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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