Classic French cuisine is founded on just a few basic sauce recipes - from there, great things are possible. Here at MSN Food and Drink we know just how daunting making even the most basic of sauces can be, so we've put together our top 10 sauces you need to know how to make which are all really simple to do. Join MSN Food as we simplify sauces for you.
How to make peppercorn sauce
The classic steak sauce, peppercorn is surprisingly simple -but stand well back when making it! Soften shallots in butter (preferably in the pan you cooked the steaks in), remove from the heat and pour in a couple of tablespoons of brandy. Let it flame then, when they go out, put it back on the heat, add some double cream, a little mustard and green peppercorns along with a splash of stock. Let it bubble down, season and serve.
How to make mayonnaise
Rumoured to originate in Majon on Majorca, a good mayonnaise sauce is a doddle. Whisk or blend egg yolks with Dijon mustard, a splash of vinegar and salt and pepper. Add oil (half groundnut/half olive oil works well) drop by drop, blending or whisking furiously until the mixture comes together, then pour the oil in a steady stream, continuing to whisk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Vary the basic recipe by adding garlic, herbs, capers or lemon juice and always feel free to get creative.
How to make Hollandaise sauce
Hollandaise sauce is the key to making a perfect Eggs Benedict, a superb breakfast if ever there was one. Boil a little vinegar in a pan with peppercorns, a bayleaf and a splash of water until you have very little left. Cool, strain and blitz in a blender with egg yolks and a little butter. Pop the lot in a bowl over hot water (a bain marie) and whisk, adding a little butter as you do - the sauce will thicken. Serve warm.
How to make beurre blanc
Literally 'white butter', beurre blanc is a French classic to accompany fish or chicken. This emulsion of water and butter is a bit of a challenge though. Soften a shallot in butter, add stock, vinegar and reduce. Pull the pan half off the heat and whisk in the butter bit by bit, keeping it warm without boiling and serve immediately.
How to make a white sauce
The roux, as it's known in France, is the ultimate basic sauce. Master this and you can make plenty of variations - parsley, onion, cheese, grain mustard... The secret is cooking out the flour. Melt butter in a pan, add plain flour, stir to combine and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes. Add milk, a little at a time, whisking as you go until your sauce is thick - then add whatever flavouring you like.
How to make cocktail sauce
The prawn cocktail sauce may have fallen a little out of favour in recent years, but done right it's still a great accompaniment to a wide range of dishes, particularly salads and shellfish. It's also really easy to make. Just mix equal parts of mayonnaise and ketchup with just a splash of whisky, a little orange juice and a few drops of Tabasco chilli sauce for some background heat.
How to make basil pesto
The traditional Italian accompaniment to pasta is vivid green, fresh - and brilliant tossed with cherry tomatoes or boiled new potatoes. Blitz fresh basil with pecorino (or parmesan), toasted pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. Try it with other nuts for a tasty variation - walnuts or hazels, or change the basil for parsley, or even nettles early in the year.
How to make bread sauce
A roast chicken wouldn't be right without this warming, smooth sauce. Boil milk with an onion studded with a clove and a few peppercorns - use the clove to secure a bayleaf in place. Once just boiled, remove from the heat, discard the onion and add a load of stale breadcrumbs. Let the mixture sit over a medium heat and stir. Once the bread has softened and absorbed the milk, the sauce is ready to serve.
How to make apple sauce
Sharp apple sauce works brilliantly with roast pork - and also goose. Peel, core and dice Bramley apples - they break down to give you a smooth sauce - and add to a pan with a splash of water, a little butter and a pinch of sugar. Place over a low heat, stirring occasionally until soft. Don't season the sauce - you can always add a bit more sugar and have it for breakfast with yogurt as a sweet apple sauce.
How to make chocolate sauce
Do desserts get much more simple than vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce? Or dipping fresh fruits into hot chocolate sauce? It's also surprisingly easy to make chocolate sauce. Melt high quality dark chocolate and butter in a bain marie, whisk in milk and serve. For a decadent version, add chestnut honey as you melt the chocolate.