The secret to intensely rich sauce

Daniel Neman

It is the nectar of the gods, it is the elixir of love, it is very nearly the meaning of life.

It is the best food ever invented. And you don’t even eat it by itself; it is just an ingredient you add to other foods.

Demi-glace is the secret to fine cooking. It takes ordinary sauces and makes them memorable, makes them exceptional, makes them immortal.

If you have ever been to a top-quality restaurant and a sauce that seems impossibly rich and lusciously coats your tongue, it was made with demi-glace. It is the sort of thing that you might think separates the professionals from the home cooks, the type of thing that only restaurants can do.

Time: But you can make it at home. It just takes time. Lots of time. As one friend said, you could watch the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in less time than it takes to make demi-glace.

But demi-glace is worth the effort. One batch makes enough to last a long time, if you use it sparingly — and you should.

Demi-glace is nothing more than veal stock that has been reduced and reduced and reduced until there is nothing left but an intensely flavored gelatin.

How reduced is it? One restaurant that I know used to start with 40 gallons of water, veal bones and vegetables, and simmer it for a couple of days until there was only 1 gallon left.

That’s dedication. But the result was astounding. All that flavor concentrated into such a little bit of demi-glace.

A full day: You don’t have go to quite such an extreme at home to make a demi-glace that will still knock your socks off, but it will take a full day out of your life. You can do other things while you’re making it, but you shouldn’t stray too far from the kitchen.

Once you get the hang of it, you can make demi-glace overnight. But you have to have a lot of confidence in your stove and your ability to get it to just the right temperature.

Like so much of cooking, it does not take much skill to make demi-glace, only commitment. It is the people who persevere who find success.

But first, a clarification: What I make is not, technically, demi-glace. Traditionally, demi-glace is an equal mixture of Sauce Espagnole and brown stock, which is then reduced. But to make both the Sauce Espagnole and the brown stock, and then to reduce them further, would actually take longer than it takes to make my version of demi-glace.

And the one I make is every bit as good.

The bones: I start with 10 pounds of bones — if you’re going to take all that time and effort, you might as well make a big batch. This time, I used all veal bones, but Jacques Pepin makes his with an equal mixture of veal, beef and chicken bones.

I’m usually not one to argue with Jacques Pepin, but veal makes a better, richer, more satisfying sauce. But veal, beef and chicken will still yield exceptional results.

You roast the bones in a hot oven for two hours, adding chopped onions and carrots for the last 30 minutes. This roasting will give you a nuttier tasting demi and turn it a lovely, dark color as well.

Then you pile the bones and roasted vegetables into the biggest stockpot you have and cover the bones with water. Then you simmer. And simmer. And simmer.

But it’s not all simmering (for 11 or 12 hours or so). For the first hour, you skim off the impurities that rise to the surface. And you periodically have to add more water to the pot to keep it at more or less the same level. If you let the liquid reduce while you’re still extracting flavor from the bones, some of the demi-glace will wind up sticking to them.

Once you remove the bones, then you can boil down the liquid to a mere quart and a half or so. Cooled in the fridge, this demi-glace will turn into a quivering gelatin that you can either refrigerate for a few days (if you’re a restaurant) or cut into wedges or cubes and freeze for future use (if you’re a real person).

So, what do you do with it once you’ve made it?

Uses: Demi-glace can be added to basically any brown sauce, and it will provide almost unimaginable depth. Saute shallots and mushrooms in butter, add red wine and a wedge of demi-glace and you’ll have a perfect mushroom sauce to enhance the best of steaks. Dropping a wedge of demi-glace into the braising liquid of a lamb shank or short ribs will give you a meal worthy of the finest of restaurants.

Even something as simple as a stew or soup can be raised to culinary nirvana with a bit of demi-glace.

You will find so many things to do with it, eventually you will run out of the stuff. It’s sad, but that’s OK. Once you’ve made demi-glace, you look forward to making more.


Yield: 12 servings

Note: Veal bones can be purchased from some butcher shops (grocery store butchers often cannot get them). They might need to be pre-ordered.

10 pounds veal bones, or equal parts veal, beef and chicken bones

1 pound carrots, washed and unpeeled, cut into 2-inch pieces

11/2 pounds unpeeled onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 large leek, cut lengthwise in half

3 celery ribs, cut in pieces

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the pieces of bone in a large roasting pan and brown in the oven for 11/2 hours, turning once, halfway through. Add carrots and onions to the bones, and continue roasting 30 more minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the bones and vegetables from the roasting pan and transfer to a large stock pot (at least 12 quarts). Pour out and discard the accumulated fat in the roasting pan. Add water to the roasting pan about 1/2-inch deep, bring to a boil and use a metal spatula to scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and melt the solidified juices.

Add this liquid to the stock pot and fill it with water. Slowly bring to a boil; then reduce heat to a low simmer with just a few bubbles breaking the surface at any time. If your heating element is too hot for a low simmer, move the stock pot so it only covers a part of the heating element. Simmer for 1 hour, using a strainer or spoon to remove the foam that rises to the surface.

Add the tomatoes, leeks, celery, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns. Bring to a boil again, then reduce temperature to a low simmer. Simmer for a generous 10 hours. As the liquid evaporates, periodically add water to keep it at about the same level.

Using a chinoise or a fine-mesh sieve, strain out the bones and vegetables. Place the stock in a clean pot and boil down until it reduces to 11/2 quarts (6 cups) of liquid. Let cool, then pour into a bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Skim all fat off the top, then remove gelled demi-glace from bowl. Slice into 12 wedges (each will be 1/2 cup). Wrap each wedge with plastic wrap, place all in a sealable plastic bag and store in freezer for up to 1 year.

Recipe is too variable for a meaningful nutritional analysis.

Adapted from “La Methode,” by Jacques Pepin