Question: Some new sauce recipes do not call for flour or other thickening agent. However, they are simmered for a long time. Do these sauces really thicken? Also, the recipes often start with a great amount of liquids; why not just start with a small amount?
Answer: With the popularity of nouvelle cuisine using rich sauces in small quantity, flour is effectively replaced by whisked butter, heated cream or vegetable purees (with fewer calories) for thickening. Getting a well-reduced sauce is important to the success of this method.
The more that liquids are decreased in quantity, the more the flavor is concentrated, which no instant-type sauce can match. Using less liquid in the beginning may be a shortcut method but there is still no comparison to the fine flavors obtained from long, slow simmering of the sauce. To save time, two wide pans may be used in order to increase the surface area of evaporation. The mixture should be brought to a rolling boil in the beginning, followed by gentle boiling. Avoid using too much salt or seasonings at the start; it's easy to adjust the salt level at the end of cooking. Also, be careful about using canned broths in reduction sauces since their artificial flavors will be more pronounced when reduced.
Often it's difficult to match the taste of sauces served in restaurants because of the repeated reduction processes that are used, starting with making the initial stock to creating the basic sauce, then finishing with the final sauce.
Q: Would you advise buying metal pellets for using as weights in pastry shells, or are the beans and rice that are recommended in pie recipes satisfactory? I want something I can use over and over. What should be used to line the crust, foil or wax paper? Should the crust still be pricked with a fork?
A: Although beans and rice always do the trick for weighting down unfilled pie crust, there are a few advantages to using metal pellets. They act as good heat conductors, which help in preventing a soft or underbaked top. Rice and beans may be used over and over but the metal pellets are definitely more lasting. Sometimes, old rice and beans or some varieties of them may impart some off-smell to the crust.
The pastry may be lined with foil, wax paper or sturdy film wrap, but foil is the most satisfactory. Wax paper tends to brown (or sometimes burn) and smell in the high heat, and film wrap softens a bit.
To aid in heat circulation and in crisping, I like to pierce my pastry all over even if the pie is to be filled. After lining the pan and piercing with a fork, chill the dough for about half an hour (or very briefly in the freezer if you're in a rush). Line with a sheet of lightly buttered foil to keep it from sticking to the pastry shell, then fill with the weights. About 5 minutes before the crust is done, carefully remove the foil and the weights. To seal the pastry, brush with beaten egg yolk or egg white.
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