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A Saucy Affair

By Herb Gardener.

The French Enlightenment philosopher and playwright Voltaire observed: “England has 42 religions and only two sauces.” Cooks from Cornwall to Carnoustie, then, may find relief in George Geary’s 500 Best Sauces, Salad Dressings, Marinades & More (500 Sauces). One imagines that successful restaurants refer to similar dog-eared and oil-splattered compendia for creative nightly specials. But, does 500 Sauces satisfy as a consumer guide?

500 Sauces claims no coffee table pretensions. It harkens back to a bygone cookbook era where illustrations were scant (the very first photo, “cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette”, is obviously incorrectly captioned). The opening pages contain an ingredient glossary and practical information, such as a table with butterfat percentages of dairy products.

Geary’s pastry chef background likely informed his recommendation of high fat, low moisture European butters for beurre blanc and beurre noisette. Salad dressings, chili sauces, chutneys, pasta sauces, white and brown sauces, marinades, condiments, cheese spreads and more follow with basic instructions and tips, such as how to toast cumin seeds. Most of the latter will be familiar to cuisinistas, but novices will benefit from the advice.

The book is arranged with a table of contents for each category supported by a back-of-book ingredient/preparation index. I must conclude that the finding aids are flawed. For example, page 164 begins a section with a review of French mother sauces. Regrettably, the index does not contain such an entry. “avocado Gorgonzola salsa,” likewise, can’t be accessed via Gorgonzola in the index.

The true test of 500 Sauces will be recipe quality and kitchen-readiness. Our small sample produced good results — ingredients were familiar and available, directions straightforward. But does the world need another version of ambrosia no matter how well presented?

My assessment is that 500 sauces will be most welcome in a home starved for variety and short on shelf space; that is, ideal for young couples.

(500 best sauces, salad dressings, marinades & more by George Geary. Robert Rose,$24.95.)

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Flavors and More Magazine – December 2009

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