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BROWN SAUCE
Basic brown sauce, cream sauce and tomato sauce

Finnish brown sauce Thinking of basic brown sauce induces a feeling of utmost disgust in some Finns  —  and they cannot be blamed when one has seen the horrid "gravy" they have been fed with throughout their lives in most Finnish homes, restaurants and school and workplace canteens, poorly prepared by unskilled cooks.

In addition, as the unimaginative dish of "boiled potatoes with brown sauce" was the staple, cheap daily grub of the poorer bygone generations, the sauce is generally frowned upon, usually by those who have never had it properly made. Of course, there are also those who always eat it quite happily, no matter how grainy, starch-tasting and unappetising it may be :-)

At its worst, badly prepared brown sauce is a slimy, lumpy, brownish-grey "glue" made just by thickening some low-grade, watery stock with uncooked flour, or, perhaps even worse, using ready-made instant thickener flours or starch mixes.

However, when prepared with a little care, knowledge and good ingredients, this simplest of sauces is quite good-tasting and can be used as a base for several other sauces and dishes.

The following recipe shows the way brown sauce has been made in my family by my Russian great-grandmother, grandmother and my mother. The first step of browning the flour in a skillet is known as "passerovanie (muki)" [пассерование (муки)] in Russian cuisine (muka, мука = flour). This method creates a "red passerovka" (красная пассеровка), meaning flour browned in skillet either dry or with some fat, used as a base for brown sauces made with meat stock. The terms passerovanie, passerovka, etc, come from the French verb passer  —  eg "to go through (or over or under)" something.

Basic sauce:

1 tbsp flour
knob (about 1 - 2 tbsp) of butter
about 500 ml beef stock
(salt and pepper to taste)
Addition for cream/smetana sauce:
about 50 - 75 ml cream or smetana
Addition for tomato sauce:
tomato paste to taste

Preparing the basic sauce:
Bring the stock to the boil and keep it hot. Preferably use homemade stock, or use some good-quality fumet and water. Sprinkle the flour in a medium-hot, dry skillet. Using a wooden spatula, keep stirring the flour without a break until it turns golden brown in colour and starts to develop a nutty aroma (see the pictures below). This will take a few minutes. Be careful not to burn the flour, or you will have to start over.

Add the knob of butter to the flour and mix quickly, so that it will be absorbed in the flour (see the pictures below). You may need some extra butter  —  all of the flour should be mixed with it. Immediately start pouring the boiling hot stock in the skillet a little at a time, stirring continually to make the mixture completely smooth. Watch out for the hot steam rising from the skillet. You may not need to use all of the stock. Mix well and strain the sauce to remove any possible lumps (which may be likely to form if you are making this sauce for the first time).

  Pour flour in skillet Arrow Stir constantly until browned
  Pour flour in skillet   Stir constantly until browned
Arrow Add butter Arrow Stir until butter is absorbed in flour
  Add butter   Stir until butter is absorbed in flour
Arrow Pour in hot stock Arrow Add smetana to strained sauce
  Pour in hot stock   Add smetana or cream to strained sauce

Wipe the skillet clean, pour the sauce back in it and continue cooking on medium heat, stirring every now and then, until the sauce starts to thicken. Add some more stock if the sauce seems too thick to your taste. Season the sauce with some salt and pepper, if required.

In my family, this basic sauce is enriched with some cream or smetana when served with meatballs, or flavoured with tomato paste if it is to be used as the sauce for beef Stroganoff.

Cream/smetana sauce:
Add some cream or smetana to the sauce, stir it smooth, bring to the boil and let simmer until thickened, stirring every now and then. Serve the sauce with meatballs.

Tomato sauce:
Add some cream or smetana and tomato paste to the sauce, stir it smooth, bring to the boil and let simmer until thickened, stirring every now and then. Use the sauce as a base for beef Stroganoff.

Recipe source: family recipe.


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