From 'duxelles' to parsley and garlic purée, Simon Hopkinson reveals the armoury of easy-to-make sauces, spreads and stuffings that every professional chef falls back on in a culinary crisis

One of the wonders of the professional kitchen - and which can never be fully realised domestically - is the endless reliance on "back-up stuff": intense little essences and powerful reductions, savoury relishes and stuffings, purées and pastas, diverse derivative lubricants and juices so usefully generated by the initial cooking of something else entirely - not to mention all varieties of stocks. One only has to take a cursory glance at some recently published chef cookery books to note how necessary it is to have access to such aids; often so much so that one finds one has to first master the glossary at the end of the book - the "see page 293" syndrome and countless other pages of that ilk - before you may even attempt the original recipe in question. The maxim "first read the recipe" in cases such as these has now become not so much a suggestion as an imperative. Two of the following four recipes - "parsley and garlic purée" and "duxelles" - fit into this category perfectly. One of my earliest tasks as

One of the wonders of the professional kitchen - and which can never be fully realised domestically - is the endless reliance on "back-up stuff": intense little essences and powerful reductions, savoury relishes and stuffings, purées and pastas, diverse derivative lubricants and juices so usefully generated by the initial cooking of something else entirely - not to mention all varieties of stocks. One only has to take a cursory glance at some recently published chef cookery books to note how necessary it is to have access to such aids; often so much so that one finds one has to first master the glossary at the end of the book - the "see page 293" syndrome and countless other pages of that ilk - before you may even attempt the original recipe in question. The maxim "first read the recipe" in cases such as these has now become not so much a suggestion as an imperative. Two of the following four recipes - "parsley and garlic purée" and "duxelles" - fit into this category perfectly. One of my earliest tasks as a 16-year-old apprentice chef in the most precise of French restaurant kitchens was to make duxelles for the coquilles St Jacques. Chef Champeau was inordinately proud of the fact that several of his regular customers would always be able to tell whether it had been chef, himself, who had made the duxelles, or if the job had been farmed out to someone such as moi (this was to be one of his milder put-downs, you'll be thrilled to know): the finesse of the chopped shallots, the wafer-thin dimensions of the sliced mushrooms, the bravery of seasoning and the correct amount of reduction of wine and juices resulting in just the right consistency between too sloppy and too dry was, apparently, that which those sycophantic Lancashire businessmen and their wives were referring to. Excuse me? In 1970? Near Rochdale? But to learn is to have wept over a pan of chopped mushrooms, that's all I'm saying. (And they drank copious pints of mild and bitter after dinner and the wives "partook" of the occasional brandy and Benedictine ... )

'Sauce soubise'

Makes enough to serve with a nice leg of lamb or chops for four

The very word soubise - just say "soo-beeze" - seems to instantly suggest smooth and silky, warm and enveloping, soft and soothing; gastronomic balm of the highest order, I guess. It would be quite wrong of me to suggest that this sauce/purée is as useful a kitchen aid as the duo that follow, but it most certainly possesses a remarkable quality in its own right.

Sauce soubise is as voluptuous a sauce or purée as it is possible to think of. No other vegetable quite so magnificently, so generously (garlic can never truly be enjoyed in similar quantities, as a purée, that is), so very helpfully homogenises so beautifully well as that of a mass of buttery, thoroughly over-cooked onions.

Sauce soubise also emerges so wonderfully white! - or, at the very least, the palest ivory hue if the stewing onions have happened to catch in a moment of distraction. But, apart from its use as a splendid sauce (it caresses lamb as if forever a case of first love), soubise can also play a useful role as a stored pot of instant goodness in the fridge of the vegetarian cook: whisked into a vegetarian stock for soup along with an egg yolk for added richness (see the "parsley and garlic" recipe); as the basis for a dish of baked eggs with chives and cream; to unctuously dress pasta (penne would be a particularly good choice); set with beaten eggs and baked in a pre-baked tart case. Essentially, treat sauce soubise as an ingredient.

100g butter

3 large onions, peeled and chopped

salt and freshly ground white pepper

50ml white wine vinegar

100ml dry white wine

400ml whipping cream

2 bay leaves

Melt the butter in a roomy pan and add the onions. Season, and allow them to stew quietly, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or until very soft and melting. Stir occasionally and be careful not to allow the onions to catch or colour. Add the vinegar and continue to simmer until there is absolutely no trace left of any liquid, be it naturally exuded onion juices or vinegar.

Now add the wine and similarly simmer away, but this time arrest the cooking a few minutes before the wine has had a chance to fully evaporate. Then pour in the cream and add the bay leaves. Finally, bring the mixture to a simmer and leave to stew for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Once again, be sure not to let the sauce catch; you can use one of those heat-diffuser pads, if you have one.

The penultimate look should be a mass of thickly creamed onions. Pick out the bay leaves and tip the whole lot into the goblet of a liquidiser (a food processor will do the job, but you won't get the same velvety smoothness that is achieved by using a liquidiser) and purée until extremely smooth. Pass through a fine sieve into a small pan, check the seasoning and use as and when you need it.

Mushroom 'duxelles'

Makes about 250-300g

Apart from forming the savoury basis of a scallop shell for coquilles St Jacques, duxelles have many other uses too.

Duxelles are the traditional stuffing spread over and around a fillet of beef before being baked in pastry (boeuf en croute or beef Wellington). And, once again, that ubiquitous chicken breast can be quietly transformed by a modicum of duxelles stuffed inside it before being finished in a simple white wine and cream sauce.

Shaun Hill, most famed chef of he and his wife Anja's very special Merchant House restaurant in Ludlow, continues to present the dish known as "artichaut farci à la Nissarda" (although originally, I believe, a recipe imported by Richard Shepherd from the French Riviera to The Capital Hotel, Knightsbridge, London, when he first opened the kitchens there in 1971 - or possibly 1972?), where he generously fills a poached artichoke heart with a smooth dome of duxelles and then neatly masks it with a covering of hollandaise sauce.

And then there is Michel Bourdin, the legendary chef (a remarkable 25 years of service) at London's Connaught Hotel who also uses duxelles in similar mode as part of possibly his most famous creation, "croustade d'oeufs de cailles Maintenon".

Here, two impossibly light and buttery pastry boats courageously carry a particularly refined ballast of this fungal filling, but whose further cargo then involves four precisely - and that description has never been more appropriate than here - soft-boiled quail's eggs (in the history of restaurant kitchen stories, it has never been fully revealed quite how many damaged quail's eggs have been consigned to staff lunch over the last 25 years; have you ever tried peeling a soft-boiled quail's egg?) followed by a welter, albeit a diminutive welter, of immaculate hollandaise sauce. The knife goes in, molten egg yolk bursts forth (ruining a particularly favourite tie of mine on one memorable occasion), duxelles splurges and pastry crumbles. The rest is history - and is true gastronomic history of the very finest kind.

50g butter

4 large shallots, peeled and chopped

350g button mushrooms, chopped, stalks and all

salt and pepper

2 tbsp port or Madeira

150ml dry white wine

squeeze of lemon juice

1tbsp of equal amounts of chopped tarragon and parsley

To make the duxelles, fry the shallots in the butter until golden and add the mushrooms. Season and stew together until fairly dry, and any juices from the mushrooms have been driven off. Add the Madeira and wine, and simmer until the alcohols have reduced to almost nothing. Squeeze in the lemon juice and tarragon, and then briefly work in a food processor, using the pulse button, until the mixture becomes an evenly coarse purée; it should not be too smooth.

Parsley and garlic purée

Makes about 200ml

The simplest chicken broth is transformed into something quite different when a spoonful or two of bright green, pungent garlic and parsley purée is whisked into it at the last minute. And it can also be further enhanced into glorious richness with the addition of a little beaten egg yolk and cream, then gently re-heated - but take care not to allow the soup to boil.

It may also be spread upon a fillet of fish or the ubiquitous chicken breast before being baked in the oven. Stirred into the resultant winey cooking juices from a big pot of moules, it is a revelation. When a few smearings are judiciously spread upon some freshly opened oysters, the same then briefly grilled under a fierce heat, the aromatic result might even tempt the most wary of oyster eaters (large Spanish mussels treated in the same way is another option). Simply spread upon a length of split baguette and baked on the top shelf of a hot oven it will produce a garlic bread of perfection previously unknown.

1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves removed

30 large cloves garlic, peeled

250ml light chicken stock

salt and pepper

 

Bring a pan of water to the boil and tip in the parsley. Cook for no more than a minute or two, quickly drain in a colander and cool thoroughly under cold running water while running your fingers through the leaves to speed up the process. Squeeze out excess water in a clenched fist and then further desiccate within the folds of a screwed-up tea-towel. Set aside.

Put the garlic cloves in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and drain. Repeat, twice. Return the garlic cloves to the pan, pour over the chicken stock and finish cooking the garlic until very tender and the consistency of the stock has also become nicely syrupy. Tip all into a food processor or liquidiser and add the reserved blanched parsley. Add seasoning and purée until very smooth. Decant into a container that may be sealed and store in the fridge until needed.

'Skordalia'

Enough for a small pot-full

Originally, I had planned on presenting just the three recipes for this piece, so I guess the following offering is a bonus. l know skordalia has made an appearance in these pages before, but I thought I would just keep it in reserve in case I hadn't enough to say about the other three ... Oh, the cheek of it.

In essence a condiment, skordalia is the Greek variant on the Provençal aioli and - if I may be so bold - methinks I fancy the Greek a little more. Serve as a pungent accompaniment to such things as crisp fried fish, similarly crusted slices of aubergine or courgette or, my favourite, spread on halved hard-boiled eggs.

50-75g slightly stale, white country bread, crusts removed and torn into bits

150ml warm milk

2 cloves garlic, peeled (green germ removed if prominent), crushed to a paste with salt

pepper

1-2 scant tbsp red wine vinegar

about 50-100ml olive oil

 

Soak the bread in the milk for a few minutes until spongy. Squeeze the excess milk out with your hands and put the bread into a food processor with the garlic, pepper and vinegar. Pulse this poultice, adding the olive oil in a thin stream, until thick and paste-like; try not to overwork the mixture, however, as you want to retain a little texture of the bread.

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