These 4 essential sauces are the secret to great modern dishes

Sixty years ago, a sauce generally meant a classic French mixture, from basic flour-thickened bechamel to satiny emulsions such as hollandaise, to the labor-intensive, stock-based brown sauces of Escoffier. In the 1970s and ’80s, nouvelle cuisine heralded flourless sauces, such as beurre blanc, as well as sauces fashioned from pureed vegetables.

These sauces have not disappeared, of course, but in recent years, they’ve had to share the limelight with a whole new saucy cast. American tastes have broadened and grown more adventurous. Today, sauces can be cold or room-temperature concoctions, salsas, dipping sauces, mixtures whipped up in a bowl rather than a saucepan. Here are four easy sauces that fall into the latter category and promise to dramatically up your kitchen game.

A Provencal aioli

In France, this tasty Provencal garlic mayonnaise is typically served in the middle of a large platter as a Large Aioli, surrounded by cooked, room-temperature vegetables — such as new potatoes, baby artichokes, eggplant and green beans. Fish, usually salt cod, and hard-cooked eggs are often included. But over the past several years, aioli has become de rigueur as a topper for everything from hamburgers to grilled oysters or French fries.

This tasty Provencal garlic mayonnaise is traditionally made from scratch, using a mortar and pestle to grind the garlic and salt into a paste, then blending in an egg yolk and finally adding olive oil, drop by drop, using the pestle to stir and mix it all the while.

I use a food processor to speed up the preparation. And I take other liberties, too, using good quality mayonnaise, instead of making my own, and adding interesting ingredients.

Aioli, a garlicky Provencal mayonnaise, is easy to make at home, especially if you use a food processor and cheat a bit with store-bought, not homemade mayo — and you can amp up the flavor by adding other ingredients, from roasted red peppers to lemon zest. (Getty Pictures)

I often add pureed roasted red bell peppers, for example, because of the flavor boost they bring, then serve it atop crab cakes or slathered on toasted bread as a garnish for fish soups. If you like a little more attitude, you can add 1 to 1/2 teaspoons chile powder and/or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin.

For a spicy, slightly smoky version, add a spoonful of pureed chipotle chiles. The chiles are packed in a tomato-based adobo sauce. I puree the adobo sauce and the chiles together in a small food processor and freeze any leftover puree for future use.

And if I’m topping seafood, I add minced fresh herbs (such as minced basil or parsley) and a pinch of minced lemon zest.

Easy Aioli

Makes about 1 cup


3 large garlic cloves, peeled

2 to 3 pieces roasted red bell pepper, drained, patted dry, optional

1 cup mayonnaise

Pinch of cayenne pepper


With the motor running, add garlic to a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until thinned. Add roasted red bell pepper and process to puree. Add 1 cup mayonnaise and pinch of cayenne. Process until well-combined, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Refrigerate, airtight, up to 2 days.

Use It: Serve it on cooked crab cakes or slathered on toasted bread as a garnish for fish soups. It’s divine as a dip for French fries, fried zucchini or chicken wings or as a sauce for kebabs. Or add fresh herbs and lemon zest and serve it on grilled or broiled fish.

Argentinian chimichurri sauce

This alluring green sauce is a staple in Argentina, where it is served with the country’s legendary grilled steaks. It’s typically made with a mixture of cilantro and flat-leaf Italian parsley, but feel free to alter the ratio to suit your taste — use all parsley, if you are a cilantro hater, or omit the parsley, if you’re a cilantro lover .

Fresh parley and cilantro are the key to an Argentina-style chimichurri.  (Getty Pictures)
Fresh parley and cilantro are the key to an Argentina-style chimichurri. (Getty Pictures)

If you like, you can use half the sauce as a marinade for skirt steak, hanger steak or flank steak before grilling. Refrigerate the marinating meat in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight. Serve the grilled beef with the remaining sauce, discarding marinade.


Makes about 2 cups


1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed

3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled, minced

1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped

1 red Fresno chile or red jalapeño, finely chopped (remove seeds before chopping for a less spicy sauce)

2 cups minced fresh cilantro

1 cup minced fresh Italian parsley

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh oregano

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, garlic, shallot and chile peppers; let stand 10 minutes.

Stir in the cilantro, parsley and oregano. Stirring constantly with a fork, adding oil in a thin stream.

Use It: Serve chimichurri with grilled steaks, lamb or pork chops. It’s good with roasted chicken or salmon, and delicious spooned over sautéed shrimp, grilled kebabs or roasted vegetables. Stir it into cooked grains for a scrumptious salad.

— “The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit” (Andrews McMeel, $45)

Spanish Romesco sauce

A Spanish Romesco is a culinary jewel. This thick red-hued sauce can turn chicken, no matter the cut, into an irresistible dish. Salmon, too. Romesco is what makes Patatas Bravas so brave, and it makes a great sandwich spread, too.

This version is a thick, coarse mixture of roasted red bell peppers, toasted hazelnuts, cubed bread, sherry vinegar, garlic, smoked paprika and extra-virgin olive oil. If you wish a smaller amount, cut the recipe in half.

Romesco sauce is a classic Spanish condiment, wonderful served over grilled chicken or vegetables, Patatas Bravas or, in this case, a classic Spanish escarole salad.  (Getty Pictures)
Romesco sauce is a classic Spanish condiment, wonderful served over grilled chicken or vegetables, Patatas Bravas or, in this case, a classic Spanish escarole salad. (Getty Pictures)

A word about the nuts: I use Trader Joe’s whole roasted unsalted hazelnuts. Much, but not all the skin is removed — don’t worry about whatever remains. If you are using whole hazelnuts that have not been roasted, place them on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t burning and be sure to shake the pan to rotate nuts halfway through roasting. Transfer nuts to a clean kitchen towel, draw up the towel sides and let sit about 1 minute. Using the towel, gently rub the hazelnuts back and forth to release as much of their skins as you can.

Romesco Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use

1/2 slice hearty white sandwich bread, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed

2 large garlic cloves, peeled, cut into thin slices

1 cup jarred roasted red bell peppers, drained, patted dry

1½ tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch of cayenne pepper


Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet. Add the bread and hazelnuts and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until bread is toasted on both sides, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds.

Transfer bread mixture to a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, about 5 pulses. Add red peppers, vinegar, honey, paprika, salt, cayenne and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Pulse until finely chopped, 5 to 8 pulses. Sauce can be refrigerated, well-sealed, up to 2 days.

Use It: Spoon it onto grilled or broiled pork chops, lamb chops or chicken breasts or thighs. It is delicious atop roasted slices of French baguette or spooned over roasted vegetables.

—Cook’s Country magazine

Green Goddess sauce, dip or dressing

The classic, tarragon-tinged Green Goddess dressing room was invented in 1923 by Philip Roemer, the head chef at San Francisco’s iconic Palace Hotel, to dress an artichoke salad for a celebrity guest, Broadway actor George Arliss. The British actor was playing the lead in a play called “The Green Goddess,” hence the name for the new salad dressing.

(Unless your tastes run to racist movies with a colonial slant, best avoid the 1923 silent film version of the play and the 1930 talkie remake, and concentrate instead on the deliciousness of the blameless salad dressing.)

Classic Green Goddess dressing is easy to make at home -- and this version skips the anchovies.  (Getty Pictures)
Classic Green Goddess dressing is easy to make at home — and this version skips the anchovies. (Getty Pictures)

A classic Green Goddess contains anchovies. This milder version omits the small salty fish, uses the traditional bounty of fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice, and adds sour cream along with the mayonnaise. And it works equally well as a sauce, a dip or a dressing.

Quick Green Goddess Dressing

Makes 1¾ cups


3/4 cup mayonnaise

3/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1/4 cup minced fresh chives

3 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 garlic cloves, peeled, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

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