Aug 24, 2017
Haven's Kitchen Summer School: Sauces

This week at #havenskitchencookbook Summer School is all about sauces. Our Culinary Manager Zoe Maya Jones preaches about how sauce can be one of the most important weapons you can have in your cooking arsenal. 


If you could only learn one lesson from our cookbook Alison would argue it’s sauces. She preaches that sauces elevate and enrich even the simplest dishes. Sauces teach us about balance, and are an accessible way to enhance your culinary prowess as a whole. 


In this week’s lesson, we cover a wide range of cuisines, flavor profiles, and textures by exploring three sauces. We have a bold nuoc cham (in The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School we have a version called Fish Sauce Vinaigrette), a creamy crunchy pesto, and a full-bodied, versatile curry. All of this week’s recipes are made with a mortar and pestle, the world’s original food processor. (Evidence suggests it has been used for cooking since 1500BC.)


nuoc-cham_mise_700Our mise en place for a nuoc cham, also called a fish sauce vinaigrette in our cookbook.


Nuoc cham, a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce consisting of lime juice, fish sauce, bird’s eye chilies, and sugar, is more versatile than one might assume. In our classes, we teach students to use it as a marinade for pork or chicken skewers, a dressing for a noodle salad or cabbage slaw, and a dipping sauce for summer rolls. The play of salty funk from the fish sauce, acidic lime, spicy chilies and sugar is a great way to practice the art of balancing bold flavors. We add lemongrass and garlic for an extra punch of aromatics.


nuoc-cham_mortar_700Using a mortar and pestle to make a sauce helps marry the aromatics and spices to create a fragrant and punchier sauce.


Pounding the ingredients in the mortar and pestle enhances the flavors of the chilies, garlic, and lemongrass by releasing the aromatic oils and integrating it into a unified paste, and infuses the fish sauce and lime juice. Some prefer the sauce to be sweet, others might love it with more fish sauce, or an extra chili for a seriously spicy version, so taste it and find the balance that’s right for your palate.


A good way to get your frustration out and make something worthwhile at the same time.

Pesto, whose name originates from the word “pestle,” is a go-to sauce for many home cooks, and can be made with a myriad of ingredients. Our version in this lesson relies on the classic version: basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan. Our grid below shows alternatives for herbs, nuts or seeds, and some added ingredients that spruce up the original. While some might think pesto is a pasta sauce, its uses are diverse: consider it as a spread for a caprese sandwich, a garnish for roasted salmon, or when diluted with lemon juice and olive oil it can be used as vinaigrette. 


Pesto Grid
This is a general guideline for pesto. Use about 2 cups of the base with 1/4 cup of the nuts or seeds, and you can use from a 1/4 cup of olive oil and use more depending on how loose you want the recipe. For the counterpoints, you want at least a 1/4 cup of Parmesan or nutritional yeast, add more if you need after you taste. For lemon zest or chili flakes, start with one teaspoon, and add more if you desire. You probably will want to add a good pinch of salt for balance.






Pine Nuts 




Lemon Zest


Sunflower Seeds

Chili Flakes



Nutritional Yeast

Curry is more often considered a powder or paste. However, I’ve included it here since at it serves as the base for many sauces. A homemade curry powder is more fragrant than any pre-made mix, and is an important lesson in creating balance through spices and aromatics. Curry, a Tamil word meaning sauce, can describe an array of mixtures depending on which part of the world you find yourself in. Our version uses whole spices which, when toasted and ground by hand, fill your kitchen with a delightfully potent aroma. I use this powder as a base for soups, a seasoning mix for popcorn, and blended with some peanut butter and coconut milk for a flavorful dipping sauce.


Did you know curries are a blend of spices, and each one tells us a history about travel, trade, and the economy?


As you become more familiar with the sauces and flavor combinations that please your palate, we believe you’ll find more confidence in the kitchen and, as Alison so aptly states, discover the “culinary wizard inside of you.”


Madras Curry Powder
makes 1 cup

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds

1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

10 to 15 whole green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon whole black pepper

5 to 6 long, mild Kashmiri chilies, dried

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons ground turmeric

Toast the first 6 spices, one at a time, in a medium hot, heavy pan until fragrant. This can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute per spice. (they should become fragrant, but not smoky). Place each in the same bowl and let them cool completely. Place the toasted spices, and ground cinnamon and turmeric in a the bowl of a mortar and pestle, and pound it into a powder. If you don’t have a mortar, use a spice grinder or powerful blender to grind it. To store, place it in an airtight tin in a cool, dark place. It should keep for at least 6 months, though the fresher the better.



Follow along as we cook our way this summer through our cookbook, The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School. Find our stories on our blog, Instagram, Facebook or through our hashtags: #havenskitchencookbook, #hknycookbook and #cookwithconfidence.