Be they Oriental, Indian or Mediterranean, cooking sauces needn't just be about throwing in the ingredients and serving. Far from stifling creativity, ready-to-use sauces can enable chefs to create dishes inspired by flavours from around the world, with the bonus of being a valuable labour-saving tool in the kitchen.
In fact, its versatility is the test for any good cooking sauce, says Kelly Hance, culinary food technologist for McCormick Foodservice, which produces the Schwartz for Chef range of culinary sauces. "Caterers increasingly demand greater usage out of their products - long gone are the days of a single product serving a single purpose, certainly when it comes to pre-prepared sauces."
Research carried out by McCormick has demonstrated that chefs are now treating sauces as one of many ingredients in a dish, often using them as a basic element for marinades, dips or more complex sauces. "Cooking sauces can spare chefs the tedious legwork of creating their own base sauce, while still enabling them to add an individual spin to a dish," Hance says. "A simple tomato sauce, for example, can be adapted for use in everything from a tagine to soup, pasta, pizza or even meat and fish dishes."
For Norman Brockwell, development chef at ingredients manufacturer Macphie, the key to a good ready-to-use sauce is providing consistency and guaranteed results. "The use of the sauce depends on the skill level of the user," he says. "But using, say, a demi-glace to which chefs can add their own red wine and shallots guarantees the level of the base sauce."
The company offers a range of ambient sauces including b‚chamel, chicken velout‚, sweet and sour, and white wine, which it intends chefs to view as base ingredients or building blocks for innovation. "Busy kitchens want quick, simple, consistent, high-quality meal solutions in easy-to-prepare formats, while still including chefs in the preparation and cooking process. The act of adding to a sauce can deliver this," says Macphie food service category manager Arlene Smith.
IB Food sources ingredients direct from Italy to prepare more than 30 Mediterranean-style sauces, ranging from simple tomato to combinations such as aubergine and artichoke. What managing director Isabella Gambuzzi wants the company's sauces to provide is the versatility for chefs to be creative to the degree they wish. "It's hard to find chefs who admit to using prepared sauces but they can be used to help enhance dishes and ensure consistency besides cutting out some of the labour," she says. "How they're used depends on the scope and imagination of the chef."
With skill shortages and cost control near the top of most restaurants' agendas, the introduction of pre-prepared products such as culinary sauces is definitely worth serious consideration, says Trish Smith, marketing manager for Masterfoods. "However, for chefs who wish to use culinary sauces as labour-saving ingredients rather than as finished sauces, interesting recipes are a great deal harder to track down than the sauces themselves."
This was one of the main reasons behind the company launching a new food service website offering chefs free access to a database of more than 400 recipes, many of which use the company's Uncle Ben's and Dolmio culinary sauces as short cuts to a wide variety of dishes by using them as dips, marinades, glazes, braising ingredients and sandwich fillings.
Indeed, caterers are often not fully aware of the many ways in which cooking sauces can be incorporated throughout the entire menu, according to Sanjay Sighat, executive chef at the Authentic Food Company, which works with chefs from around the world to develop sauces and marinades for use in cuisines such as Mediterranean, Chinese, Thai and Indian.
"They're such versatile, adaptable ingredients that can go a long way to develop and enhance food offerings at a minimal cost," he says. "More innovative uses of cooking sauces can be employed, including using them as marinades, and by doing so, simple and easy menu enhancements can be made, which can make a real difference to the food offering and subsequently the bottom line."
Innovative use of cooking sauces earlier this year won Leanne Haberfield the Tilda University Chef of the Year title. "A lot of people think you purely throw in your ingredients with a sauce and serve up as a conventional dish, but I like to use sauces in unconventional ways," she says.
Her winning dish was sesame sticky chicken in a sweet and sour chilli sauce, made with Tilda's sweet and sour sauce. The chicken was coated in egg, flour and sesame seeds, then fried and put on a bed of vegetables flavoured with five-spice, ginger and soy sauce. The sweet and sour sauce was then blended with garlic, chillies, honey, treacle, orange marmalade and sake, heated and used to coat the chicken.
The dish has been a hit on the specials menu at the University of West of England in Bristol, where Haberfield has worked for five years. "Many of our dishes that go on the specials menu are often created by playing around with the sauces and other ingredients," she says. "We've even started to introduce fusion dishes such as vegetable jalfrezi cottage pie using sauces to make standard dishes more exciting."
In the Brunch Bowl restaurant at the London School of Economics, the main attraction is the International counter, where Knorr, Patak's, Oriental and Americas sauces and pastes from UBF Foodsolutions are a key ingredient in creating a range of dishes influenced by culinary styles from around the world.
Wide variety "We cover all types of cuisine, including Mexican, Chinese, Indian and Thai," says unit manager Lesley Causley, who is responsible for serving a daily average of 1,651 customers during term-time. "I use the pastes mainly for a wide variety of marinades and the sauces as a base for the main dishes." A popular choice is a Caribbean curry made by marinating chicken in a Caribbean paste with added herbs, spices and coconut and served with pineapple, plantain and sweet potato.
Indeed, with the demand for ethnic foods having taken off in such a big way, most menus now feature at least one Oriental-influenced dish. In its ready-to-use stir-fry, dipping and cooking sauces for food service, Blue Dragon aims to allow chefs at every level the opportunity to create authentic Oriental sauces.
"The leading light in Oriental cuisine is Thai, which in retail is valued at £21.5m and is growing at 10% year on year. We fully expect this trend to move into the food service sector," says Alfredo Lavorgna, food service manager for Blue Dragon. "We understand that some chefs may not have the time and facilities to create authentic Oriental meals and our food service range makes this cuisine more accessible."
Suggestions for using sauces - Marinate beef strips in tikka masala paste, then grill and serve in chapattis with mixed salad and sliced onion.
Marinate chicken in satay sauce paste, then stir-fry with a tablespoon of Thai green curry paste and finish with a creamy garlic and herb dressing.
Mix one part rogan josh sauce and five parts mayonnaise as dip for crudités or to serve with Indian snacks.
Mix barbecue sauce with mayonnaise for a creamy, smoky dip for serving with ribs, chops or barbecued chicken.
Add a kick to crispy battered prawns with a bowl of hot or cold salsa sauce for dipping. For an Oriental twist, accompany with sweet and sour sauce.
Stir tikka masala or jalfrezi sauce into a risotto.
Sweet and sour sauce can be used as a glaze for chicken while barbecuing or griddling - just use a pastry brush to brush the meat liberally towards the end of cooking.
Try layering cooked basmati rice with jalfrezi-flavoured mince for an Indian-style lasagne.
For an alternative hamburger, mix beef mince with Madras sauce, form into a burger then grill or barbecue and serve with raita and crispy onions between two naans cut to fit.
Stir balti or jalfrezi sauce through mince for an alternative shepherd's pie.
Use various sauces to flavour mash - korma for fish dishes, rogan josh for beef dishes and balti for lamb.
Stir sauces though mayonnaise to serve with fish and chips, or use in wraps.
Combine korma sauce with natural yogurt for a mild children's curry.
Add Cumberland sauce to a sausage casserole.
Mix red pesto with breadcrumbs to create a crust for a roasted salmon fillet.
Try adding some sherry to demi-glace to enhance the flavour of dishes such as steak and kidney pie, beef bourguignon and carbonade of beef.
Use chicken velout‚ as a base for chicken and mushroom soup, turkey and leek quiche, turkey fricassée, creamy chicken curry, potato au gratin and salmon with a chicken and asparagus sauce.
Use white wine sauce as a base for chicken and white wine stroganoff, sole véronique, chicken and vegetable pasta bake and seafood crêpes.
For sandwich or wrap fillings: korma with shredded lamb; sweet and sour with mango and roast courgette; arrabbiata with feta and grilled asparagus.
As a base for soups: tomato and basil for Tuscan bean soup; korma for curried parsnip soup.
Tomato sauces as a base for soup or for bruschetta.
Add some finely chopped red chilli and a touch of soy sauce to sweet and sour sauce and serve with chicken goujons as a dipping sauce.
Make a moules marinières but substitute the wine with coconut milk and Thai green curry sauce.
More than salad dressing
Like sauces, ready-to-use salad dressings have a multitude of uses. Here are some suggestions from Universe Foodservice, which offers the Salad Makers range of dressings including Caesar, Thousand Island and French.
Dressings such as sour cream and chive and garlic and herb can be used to liven up jacket potatoes.
Thousand Island is ideal for adding to fillings in baguettes or panini.
Flavours such as honey and mustard and blue cheese dressings make great dips for cold finger buffets with bread sticks and vegetables.
On the barbecue, a Caesar dressing can be used on burgers instead of ketchup.
Barilla 020 8939 9013
Blue Dragon 01622 713300
IB Food 0800 252 522
Latina 01483 202036
Macphie 0800 085 9800
Masterfoods 0800 952 0011
Nestlé 0800 742 842
Schwartz for Chef 08081 000363
Tilda Foodservice 01708 717777
Authentic Food Company 0161-495 4400
UBF Foodsolutions 0800783 3728
Universe Foodservice 01234 229 080