Chips without ketchup? Hot dogs without mayonnaise? Mashed potatoes without gravy? There’s no denying that without the right sauce, even the most basic food would fall short of expectation. But there’s a lot more to sauces and dressings besides ketchup, mayo or gravy. Created as accompaniments to dishes, sauce and dressings are an invaluable addition to the meal. Designed to enhance the ingredients in a dish and retain moisture, sauce making is an art in itself.

Classics reinvented
Speaking with chefs from leading hotels, one discovers that the classics are being reinvented, thanks largely to customers demanding lighter, healthier options – which can put chefs on the spot. Chef Pallav Singh from the JW Marriott, Chandigarh says, “Heavy sauces are being phased out and instead have been replaced with modernised versions of the same. They’ve become lighter, fluffier and are being substituted with gels, foams and emulsions.”

He gives the example of a vanilla bean sauce that goes surprisingly well with grilled fish. “It’s all about fresh ingredients and blended sauces which are then sieved. Even in Indian cooking, we’re using techniques that make the sauces lighter so that instead of overpowering the main course, they serve to simply enhance it.”

Expanding on this is Chef Deepak Mishra of Swissotel Kolkata who elaborates that the once popular heavy sauces which are roux-based are now evolving with the base being created from stock reductions, the additions of wine and butter or olive oil. “We also use dried vegetable powders and dehydrated vegetables to alter sauces into foams and gels. People are getting a lot more exposed to good food by watching television series like Iron Chef and Master Chef, and they expect the same experience when they visit five-star hotels,” he states. “Food that looks good, tastes good, so we work on the presentation with an eye for detail.”

Someone who works extensively with Indian food, Chef Arunava Mukherjee from Courtyard by Marriott, Mumbai International Airport has done a lot of research on sauces and dressings that can be prepared easily at home. “People want to experience the subtle flavours of the meat or the vegetables they are served, they don’t want their food to be overpowered with lashings of sauce or dressing. Dressings basically aim to retain the moisture of the food and they need to be understated, not overpowering,” he says.

He goes on to share that dressings are going the way of light infusions that are aromatic and steeped in delicate spices like saffron or vegetables like beetroot. He also adds that sauces like citrus reductions pair well when served with seafood salads.

Authentic never goes out of fashion
All said, the fact that some classics will always have a place on the table means that guests do still prefer the old-fashioned sauces every now and then. Chef Mayur Tiwari, Executive Chef at Spice Kitchen, Pune Marriott Hotel and Convention Centre comments on how ‘Classics are classics for a reason.’ “People like it that way. The presentations have although become contemporary,” he claims.

A staunch believer in the traditional, he says, “There is no end to innovations for sauces and dressing. With so many varieties of ingredients there is something for everyone, so I feel there is no need for substitutes. However, at times substitutes like canned juice to fresh juice or mayonnaise to fat free yogurt are acceptable.”

Echoing these sentiments is Chef Neeraj Tyagi of The Claridges, New Delhi, who works a lot with Chinese cuisine and declares that at the root of all experiments are the time-honoured bases of soy and Sichuan spices. “Classic sauces are still relevant in this type of cuisine, but we’re introducing new ways to serve them,” he says. His artistry lies in the transformation of Tapas but with an Asian twist to it i.e. dim sums that are shaped like tapas, and the use of European herbs that are married with Oriental ones to create tantalising items.

Chef Mukherjee’s extrapolations with food items have seen him come up with new variations based on traditional methods and philosophies. He highly recommends the method of slow cooking and roasting techniques from the North West Frontier Province cuisine style and Pakistani cuisine. “The stock of lamb bones creates a gelatine when reduced, which can be used as a sauce when blended with tomato puree. The result is so delicious that we are trying to introduce this on pizzas as well,” he describes.

Another chef who loves the traditional as much as does the modern, Chef Paul Kinny addresses the need of the hour – substituting heavy ingredients with innovative items in order to make healthier options for demanding guests. “There are enough variations available for the consumers who are calorie conscious. Low calorie mayonnaise, vinaigrettes, spreads and condiments are easily available. Also, Isio ActiStérol is a grape seed oil-based dressing that is rich in Omega 3 and fortified with natural vegetable sterols. This salad dressing makes it possible to reduce cholesterol effectively after three weeks of use,” he claims.

In this quest for dressings that are light, flavourful and low calorie, cost is a factor that comes into play as well. Cheg Tyagi elaborates that substituting items like mayonnaise and butter with olive oil and balsamic vinegar can be very expensive. “Around 40% is what it can go up to,” he says.“It all depends on what kind of ingredients you go for. Olive oil, for example, is like wine; you get so many varieties, from different regions and of different ages. Balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar are also costly.”